Hybels, McCarrick and Patterson: The sex abuse scandals that ruled #RNA2019 large newspapers

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I posted earlier this week on the winners of the Religion News Association’s annual contest, announced at a banquet in Las Vegas (yes, the nation’s religion writers gathered in Sin City).

When I wrote that, RNA hadn’t yet posted the specific stories for which familiar Godbeat pros were honored.

Now that RNA has done that, it’s interesting to see which topics emerged as the top storylines of 2018 (the contest period).

An old joke in journalism is that three similar anecdotes make a trend. If that’s the case, it’s easy to spot a trend in the three winning entries for the RNA’s award for excellence in religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

See if these three names ring a bell from last year’s headlines: Bill Hybels. Theodore McCarrick. Paige Patterson.

Let’s see, one gained prominence as the pastor of a Chicago-area megachurch. One served as the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C. And one was the president of a leading Southern Baptist seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

What ties the three together?

All three found themselves engulfed in sex abuse scandals — and in each of their cases, leading major newspapers played a prominent role in reporting the details that led to their unraveling.

The stories honored by RNA will be familiar to GetReligion readers. Click the links above for our analysis of the original reporting.

The specific winners:

Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a former GetReligion contributor) won third place for her coverage of the Patterson case. Her winning entries can be viewed here, here and here.

Sharon Otterman and Laure Goodstein of the New York Times received second place for their reporting on the McCarrick case, including their story headlined “He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal.”

Manya Brachear Pashman and Jeff Coen of the Chicago Tribune earned first place for their investigative reporting on the Hybels case. Here is their winning entry.

Want one more common thread in the above stories? All three projects involved at least one full-time religion writer (although Goodstein is now a Times international editor, and Pashman has left the Tribune). The bottom line: Religion stories benefit from seasoned Godbeat pros.

Next year’s outlook? Don’t be surprised if another sex abuse-related project — the big project by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News on Southern Baptist Convention cases — takes the top spot.

This sad topic ruled 2018.

But if anything, it’s only gained steam in 2019.

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