The Oklahoman

For a former newspaper religion editor, a Catholic clergy sex abuse case hits close to home

For a former newspaper religion editor, a Catholic clergy sex abuse case hits close to home

Last week, I got a news alert from The Oklahoman, my local newspaper and former employer, with a headline that certainly grabbed my attention: “Damning report rips Oklahoma City Archdiocese for poor responses to credible child sexual abuse allegations against priests.”

For anybody paying attention to the latest Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals, the basic storyline probably sounds familiar.

The Oklahoma City Archdiocese is just one of many dioceses nationwide that have produced such reports.

This is the blunt summary from The Oklahoman:

For more than a half-century, Oklahoma City's Catholic Archdiocese responded to reports of child sexual abuse by its priests with bungled internal investigations that masked the problems and often enabled the abuse to continue for years, according to a damning report released Thursday.

"The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City failed to take prompt action despite credible evidence and warning signs of sexual abuse of minors," the McAfee & Taft law firm said in a report commissioned by the Archdiocese that was made public Thursday.

The report identified and named 11 priests in the Archdiocese who had been "credibly accused" of child sexual abuse since 1960. McAfee & Taft made it clear that its investigation is not yet complete.

"There are additional files still under investigation and as those investigations conclude, additional names of priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors will be released as warranted," McAfee & Taft said.

In some respects, that sounds like the same old, same old — but then I got to a part of the story that made my jaw drop.

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Touchdown! Oklahoman scores with smart feature on Sunday Sooners game combining two faiths

Touchdown! Oklahoman scores with smart feature on Sunday Sooners game combining two faiths

If you follow college football, you probably know that Oklahoma opened with an impressive win Sunday night, highlighted by 508 yards of total offense by Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts.

One game into the season (a small sample size, no doubt), it even seems possible that a different Sooners QB could claim the Heisman Trophy for the third straight year.

To which I say: Boomer Sooner!

Here in Oklahoma, The Oklahoman offered readers a special treat on the front page Sunday: a smart news-feature by longtime sports columnist Jenni Carlson on the Sooners playing on what many consider the Lord’s Day. (FYI: Carlson recently celebrated 20 years with the newspaper, which sparked a tribute column by colleague Berry Tramel.)

I loved the headline, which captures the storyline perfectly:

Why the Sooners playing on Sunday combines two religions — football and faith

Carlson sets the scene this way:

NORMAN — Joe Castiglione knew playing a home football game on a Sunday might cause a crimson and cream kerfuffle.

He understands, after all, where he is.

The Bible Belt.

Before deciding to move the season opener against Houston to Sunday, the Oklahoma athletic director talked to faith leaders, devout Christians and Sooner fans about a home game on a holy day. Would it be OK? Or would it be sacrilege?

During his conversations and his research earlier this year, Castiglione came across one tidbit that helped ease his mind — three years ago, Notre Dame played on Sunday.

“OK, now,” he remembers thinking, “this throws me off.”

The most predominant Catholic university in America played football on a Sunday, and it didn’t cause wailing and gnashing of teeth. Castiglione would know; he’s Catholic.

“I probably made some assumptions on what I had always heard, always thought … were the concerns of the day,” he said. “And then found they really weren’t.”

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Think like a reporter: What kind of American cities are booming? Any impact on religion news?

Think like a reporter: What kind of American cities are booming? Any impact on religion news?

I have a question for GetReligion readers, especially those who have experience in journalism or online publishing.

Here it is: Are readers “trolls” if they constantly write comments (and sends emails) that have little or nothing to do the journalism issues covered in our posts, but also provide — on a semi-regular basis — totally valid URLs for stories that deserve the attention of your GetReligionistas?

One of our readers, for example, is offended by references to “elite” newsrooms or “elite” U.S. zip codes, especially those along the East and West coasts. All of those studies showing that places like New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley have more clout than cities and towns in flyover country? Who has more power to shape the news, editors at The New York Times or The Oklahoman?

This brings me to a fascinating Axios piece that ran the other day with this headline: “The age of winner-take-all cities.” You have to see the simple, blunt, graphic that Axios editors used to illustrate data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (there’s a screenshot at the top of this post).

Now, what does this story have to say about religion news and trends?

Absolutely nothing, in terms of specific information or explicit references.

However, if you read this piece carefully and think like a reporter who covers issues linked to religion, morality and culture (and, yes, politics) it’s easy to see a burning fuse in this piece that is attached to many explosive stories in the news today. Here is the overture:

For all the talk of American cities undergoing a renaissance, economic success has been concentrated in a few standout metropolises while the rest either struggle to keep up or fall further behind.

Why it matters: This winner-take-all dynamic has led to stark inequalities and rising tensions — both inside and outside city limits — that are helping to drive our politics off the rails.

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A refresher course for journalists: What to do when you hear words like 'God,' 'prayer' and 'faith'

A refresher course for journalists: What to do when you hear words like 'God,' 'prayer' and 'faith'

Sunday’s front page of The Dallas Morning News featured side-by-side profiles of the two candidates for mayor of the city of 1.4 million people: Eric Johnson and Scott Griggs.

I was particularly interested in the piece on Johnson since the publication where I work, The Christian Chronicle, reports on Churches of Christ, and he is a longtime member of Churches of Christ.

I was curious to see if the Dallas newspaper — which, as we often lament, has no religion writer — would delve into the faith angle.

This profile, after all, was a “window into his soul” kind of profile aimed at giving voters an idea of what makes Johnson tick. The candidate talked about growing up poor in Dallas, and the reporter interviewed and one of his elementary school teachers as well as childhood friends and a former law professor.

See anybody missing from list of interviewees?

How about a minister or Sunday school teacher or fellow churchgoer?

“Well, maybe his faith didn’t come up in the reporting,” someone might protest.

Actually, that’s not true.

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Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Yes, the United Methodist Church's big meeting in St. Louis is national news, but it's something else, too

Some familiar Godbeat reporters with national audiences are in St. Louis covering the United Methodist Church’s high-stakes meeting on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Both Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service and Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (which is part of the USA Today’s national network) are on the scene reporting on the crucial developments.

Speaking of which, this is the latest — as I type this post — from the United Methodist News Service:

The Traditional Plan — with some amendments — won approval in the General Conference legislative committee, clearing a major hurdle in The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body.

The delegates also approved two plans that allow churches, with certain limitations, to leave the denomination with their property.

All the forwarded legislation still faces a vote in the General Conference plenary session on Feb. 26. 

The legislative committee voted for the Traditional Plan, which seeks to strengthen enforcement of the denomination’s homosexuality prohibitions, as amended by 461 to 359.

But while the meeting in the Gateway City is obviously national news, it’s something else, too: It’s a big local story in places such as Atlanta, Cleveland and, of course, St. Louis itself.

Those of us who follow religion news are accustomed to those few regional papers that still have Godbeat pros — such as The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper where Carla Hinton is the longtime religion editor — jumping on stories such as this. Indeed, Hinton had a big Page 1 preview on the Methodist meeting in Sunday’s edition.

However, this story also has generated some attention from metro dailies that don’t follow religion as closely. We mentioned a big story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this month. And this weekend brought some newsy, informative coverage from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others.

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Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Post-election storylines: Five religion angles as dust settles from Midterm voting

Good morning from blue America!

I mean, I guess Oklahoma — where I live — is still a red state. But my congressional district just flipped, electing a Democrat for the first time in 40 years in what The Oklahoman characterized as “a political upset for the history books” and FiveThirtyEight called “the biggest upset of the night” nationally.

(Neighboring Kansas turned a little blue, too, electing a Democratic governor.)

Religion angle? In advance of Tuesday’s midterms, we asked here at GetReligion if a post-Trump rise of the religious left was a real trend or wishful thinking.

Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, which Democrat Kendra Horn won in a nail-biter, was one of the places where a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good that toured the country brought its bus. The Oklahoman’s pre-election story noted:

If Horn, an Episcopalian and Democrat running for Congress, is to do what others claim cannot be done — namely, defeat Republican Rep. Steve Russell on Nov. 6 — she will need to make inroads with a voting bloc that has helped propel Russell's political career: evangelicals.

What role did religious voters played in Horn’s upset win in one of the reddest of the red states? I haven’t seen reporting on that angle yet. No doubt, changing demographics in the Oklahoma City area played a role, as did the rural-urban divide, but perhaps suburban evangelical women turned off by Trump did, too? Stay tuned.

As we begin to digest Tuesday’s outcomes across the U.S., here are a handful of religion angles making headlines or likely to do so:

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Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Post-Trump rise of religious left: Real trend or wishful thinking? We'll find out soon

Stories about moral concerns — beyond the typical ones — prompting some evangelicals to consider voting Democratic in the midterm elections seem to be on the rise.

But will Democrats actually bite into the 81 percent support from white evangelicals that Donald Trump got in 2016?

That’s the big question.

As we noted earlier, the New York Times recently delved into whether white evangelical women might push Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke over the top in his bid to unseat Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, a group of progressive evangelicals called Vote Common Good is touring the country in a bus and generating a number of headlines in its quest to persuade fellow Christians to abandon Donald Trump’s GOP.

Religion News Service and my local newspaper here in Oklahoma City — The Oklahoman — have given interesting coverage to the group. Vote Common Good has an active media relations team and actually contacted me by email and telephone before the group’s Oklahoma event. However, I was headed out of the state to report on Hurricane Michael in Florida.

I bring up Vote Common Good because NPR’s Sarah McCammon (relevant background about her here) caught up with the group in Texas and has an informative news-feature out today:

On a recent evening in Houston, under the heavy branches of live oak trees, Doug Pagitt stood before a couple dozen people gathered on blue folding chairs on the Rice University campus.

"You've heard it said that to be a true Christian, you must vote like a Republican," he said. "But we are here to be reminded that just ain't so."

Pagitt, 52, describes himself as a progressive evangelical. He pastors a church in Minneapolis and has been traveling the country by bus, preaching a message that juxtaposes Trump campaign slogans against quotes from the Bible.

"You have heard it said, 'America First,' but we are here to be reminded to 'seek first the Kingdom of God,' on behalf of all those everywhere in the world," he said, quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Pagitt's organization, Vote Common Good, is focusing on evangelicals and other Christian voters who feel out of place in President Trump's Republican Party. It's an uphill battle, given that more than 8 in 10 white evangelical voters supported Trump in 2016.

Keep reading, and McCammon offers important context on the group’s private funding — nearly $1 million — gives supporters an opportunity to explain their thinking.

But I especially appreciate two things about this NPR report:

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When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

When a sermon goes viral: Pastor finds himself in middle of social media storm over Kavanaugh

I don’t believe I’ve ever met the Rev. Bob Long, even though my time as religion editor for The Oklahoman overlapped with his tenure as pastor of a large United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.

But I know his voice.

For years, I’ve heard Long on the radio, often while driving to work. Long is a mini-celebrity here in Oklahoma, known for inspirational radio messages that include cheerful music and a quick life lesson from the pastor.

“That’s something to think about,” he concludes each 60-second segment. “I’m Bob Long with St. Luke’s Methodist Church.”

This week, Long has gained notoriety for a different reason — for a sermon in which he put the face of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on his church’s big screens.

As The Oklahoman’s Carla Hinton (who succeeded me as religion editor in 2002) reported on Wednesday’s front page, a social media storm erupted with a tweet from a churchgoer who was not pleased with Long’s choice of optics.

The church posted both written and video messages from Long apologizing for the hurt feelings his sermon caused.

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Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Clergy sex abuse news sparking fresh controversies in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City

Here at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly and Julia Duin have done a fantastic job analyzing national and international media coverage of the recent barrage of Catholic clergy sex abuse news.

I'm referring to the headlines that have followed the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the allegations by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Here in the Southwest, I've noticed, too, that the world events have helped bring attention to previously unknown cases on the local level, specifically in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

These are cases that perhaps would have remained under the radar if not for the attention on the larger issue.

In Oklahoma City, for example, the Pennsylvania report drew attention to the fact that a defrocked priest who had been accused of abuse years earlier was volunteering at a local church.

Carla Hinton, religion editor for The Oklahoman, reported that news on her paper's Aug. 25 front page.

The basics:

Local Catholic leaders will publicize a list of names of priests who are credibly accused of abuse, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City said Friday.

With such a list posted on the archdiocese's website, a defrocked priest like Benjamin Zoeller likely would have been prevented from volunteering at a local parish.

That is the hope of archdiocese leaders who learned that Zoeller was volunteering at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2706 S Shartel, when a staff member at the church called on Thursday to tell them about it.

"As soon as we received the call, we contacted the pastor and others to make them aware of his background and that he is not to volunteer or work at a parish or any archdiocesan entity," archdiocese spokeswoman Diane Clay said.

Clay said Zoeller was removed as a priest with the archdiocese in 2002 because "credible accusations of abuse" were made against him. She said he was laicized or formally relieved of his priestly rights and duties in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley asked for a review of Zoeller's file after receiving an Aug. 17 letter from a Minnesota man who said he had been sexually molested by Zoeller in the 1980s when Zoeller was a priest at an Oklahoma City parish. Clay said Coakley also called for an independent investigation into the matter.

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