Sharon Otterman

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

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

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

NYTimes finds 'signs' of life in imperiled parish catering to deaf

NYTimes finds 'signs' of life in imperiled parish catering to deaf

Having expertly covered the Fulton Sheen body battle, the New York Times' Sharon Otterman turns her reporter's eye to a new conflict taking place in Manhattan's Catholic community: the efforts of an Upper East Side parish to convince the Archdiocese of New York to allow it to stay open so that it might continue its ministry to the deaf.

The story's headline is long and pensive -- "On the Upper East Side, Silent Prayers to Save a Sanctuary for the Deaf" -- and so is the lede, but it pays off:

The choir members filed up to the altar in robes the color of the red roses of Saint Elizabeth, the patron saint of their beloved church. They arrayed themselves on two risers and looked to the choir director for a cue. Then they raised their hands in unison and began to sign.
“Jesus,” they signed together, touching their middle fingers to their opposite palm to represent the crucifixion. “Lord,” they signed, sweeping their fingers in an “L” formation across and off their chests. When it came time for the congregation to give the sign of peace, the worshipers, about 75 of them, raised their palms with their ring and middle fingers pointed down. They waved exuberantly. “I love you,” their hands silently said.
The deaf were celebrating Mass on a recent Sunday in the intimate Upper East Side sanctuary where they have prayed since 1980, when Cardinal Terence Cooke named the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary on East 83rd Street New York’s Roman Catholic parish for the deaf.
The church has become a haven to nearly 500 deaf New Yorkers, who not only pray there, but also come through the week to study religion, meet with clergy members and socialize. That era is about to end. On Nov. 2, the Archdiocese of New York announced that St. Elizabeth’s would be among 31 churches closing for regular use by next August, part of a sweeping series of parish mergers and closings.

Take a moment and read those first two paragraphs again. That is the kind of classic, relaxed, Sunday morning writing one hardly sees in any newspaper save for the New York Times on a good day. It is meant to be read in bed over coffee and a toasted bagel.

I like it that Otterman, in presenting the archdiocese's reasons for closing the parish, simply gives the facts rather than painting the diocese as insensitive, as one of her colleagues did in in a similar story:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

The New York Times took its time getting around to the news that broke Sept. 3 concerning the dispute over the remains of saint-in-the-making Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, but Sharon Otterman's story that went online yesterday is worth the wait.

Otterman, the Times' Metro religion reporter begins with a soft lead before getting to the, ahem, body of the story:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., has already constructed a museum in honor of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a native son whose Emmy-winning television show during the 1950s brought Catholicism to the American living room. It has documented several potential miracles by him and compiled a dossier on his good works for the Vatican.

It has drawn up blueprints for an elaborate shrine in its main cathedral to house his tomb and sketched out an entire devotional campus it hopes to complete when its campaign to have him declared the first American-born male saint succeeds.

There has been just one snag in the diocese’s carefully laid veneration plans: the matter of Archbishop Sheen’s body.

We are then given some straight-up details: Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky recently announced that the effort to canonize Sheen -- who was nearing beatification -- is being stalled because Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, refused to permit his body to be released from its crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Please respect our Commenting Policy