pedophiles

Texas papers deliver more hard-hitting, must-read reporting on Southern Baptists' 'Abuse of Faith'

Texas papers deliver more hard-hitting, must-read reporting on Southern Baptists' 'Abuse of Faith'

Back in February, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News published the results of a six-month investigation into sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The “Abuse of Faith” series, which can be read online, was mammoth in size and devastating in its findings. Here at GetReligion, I characterized the project as “exceptionally important, powerhouse journalism.”

Immediately, the stories sent tremors through the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and prompted SBC President J.D. Greear to propose reforms. However, our own tmatt noted that the SBC’s legal structure would affect the fight against abuse.

Fast-forward almost two months, and it’s obvious that the papers that invested so much reporting muscle and newsprint ink into the investigation remain on the case.

The Chronicle (and I’m assuming the Express-News) published important follow-up reports over the weekend. Since I subscribe to the Houston paper, I know that one piece ran at the top of Saturday’s front page and the other at the top of Sunday’s front page.

The Saturday story concerned a Houston church dropping out of the local Baptist association and the national SBC as a result of the Texas papers reporting on its pastor’s sex abuse history.

The lede:

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'Guys, you are not my opponent,' Southern Baptist official tells reporters investigating sexual abuse

'Guys, you are not my opponent,' Southern Baptist official tells reporters investigating sexual abuse

Is the Southern Baptist Convention facing a public relations nightmare?

Some might be asking that question after the first part of a bombshell investigative project by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News was published Sunday.

The opening installment of the “Abuse of Faith” series filled almost four entire newspaper pages — meticulously describing the findings of a six-month investigation by reporters for the Chronicle and the Express-News.

The sobering details:

It's not just a recent problem: In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.

They left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.

About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.

Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.

Journalists in the two newsrooms spent more than six months reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews. They built a database of former leaders in Southern Baptist churches who have been convicted of sex crimes.

So, to repeat the original question: Is the Southern Baptist Convention facing a public relations nightmare?

Not according to Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who wrote this in response to the newspaper report:

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Friday Five: Wuerl resignation, freed American pastor, Tebow's J-word, Texas accused, Mormon identity

Friday Five: Wuerl resignation, freed American pastor, Tebow's J-word, Texas accused, Mormon identity

Among the religion news breaking today: Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C.

As the Washington Post reports, Wuerl is a “trusted papal ally who became a symbol among many Catholics for what they regard as the church’s defensive and weak response to clerical sex abuse.”

But even in letting Wuerl go, Francis offered him a “soft landing,” as the Post described it.

Stay tuned for more GetReligion analysis of media coverage of that big story.

Another major religion story today: American pastor Andrew Brunson has been released after being detained for two years in Turkey, as Christianity Today reports. Look for more commentary on that news, too.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Tim Funk’s exceptional Charlotte Observer deep dive into the sordid history of a North Carolina pedophile — a former United Methodist pastor — is my pick for must-read Godbeat story this week.

As I noted in a post earlier this week, Funk’s 5,000-word report “is both conversational in tone and multilayered in terms of the depth of information provided.”

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From award-winning religion writer, a primer on how to tell a difficult story about a pedophile

From award-winning religion writer, a primer on how to tell a difficult story about a pedophile

Dear young journalists (and old ones, too): Want insight on how to report and tell an extremely difficult story?

Check out Charlotte Observer religion writer Tim Funk’s in-depth feature on the daughters of a pedophile pastor. Funk, a veteran Godbeat pro, was among the winners in the Religion News Association’s 2018 annual contest. His latest gem might well win him accolades again next year.

The 5,000-word piece (don’t let that count scare you; it reads much shorter) is both conversational in tone and multilayered in terms of the depth of information provided.

Funk’s compelling opening immediately sets the scene:

Their crusade began when Amanda Johnson visited the church of her childhood and saw a picture of her father on the wall.

She froze in fear, and felt the blood draining from her face. Then, she told the Observer, “I literally ran back to the car.”

For five years, she didn’t tell her older sister, Miracle Balsitis, who had asked her family not to mention her father’s name or any news about him.

But earlier this year, when Johnson found out from a friend that the photo was still on the wall, she finally told her sister.

Balsitis was shocked. Didn’t Matthews United Methodist Church know that Lane Hurley, their father and the church’s former pastor, was in prison because of child sex abuse crimes committed three years after he left the Matthews church?

Why, the sisters asked themselves, would a framed photo of him still be hanging next to pictures of other past clergy in a place of honor reserved for what a nearby plaque called “The Faces of Spiritual Leadership”?

The two sisters had left the Charlotte area 24 years ago — Balsitis, 39, now lives in California; Johnson, 35, in Kernersville.

They decided it was time to confront Matthews United Methodist about the picture.

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Look for the full AP report! Pope Francis is showing mercy to a few pedophile priests

Look for the full AP report! Pope Francis is showing mercy to a few pedophile priests

It is, without a doubt, one of the most frustrating, infuriating things that can happen to a reporter.

You write your story. You are extra careful -- since it's on an emotional topic full of fact-claims that are in dispute -- to make sure that you have included several qualified voices offering competing points of view. You make sure your story is the length assigned by the editors.

You turn the story in. Then, when it comes out (this happens A LOT in ink-on-paper news) you see that the copy desk has -- for some reason, often page layout -- basically cut the story nearly in half. To make matters worse, the editors didn't thin the story in a way that left the balanced structure intact. They just chopped off the end.

Some of your sources are furious. They accuse you of bias, because the story is so one-sided. They have no way to know that the printed story is not the story that you wrote.

I bring this up because I saw an Associated Press story the other day -- with a Vatican dateline -- that had me really shaking my head. It had, I thought, all kinds of problems in terms of balance and essential information. It didn't help that this was on a very controversial topic, one cutting against the grain of most reporting about Pope Francis. The lede:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis has quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of pedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the pope's own advisers question.

Now, there is no need for me to go into the many problems that I had with this report. Why? Because the story that I ran into online was a horribly truncated version of the full report by veteran reporter Nicole Winfield.

Oh the humanity! When I saw the full story on the AP homepage I was left with very view questions. Only one, in fact. Hold that thought. This is a very solid story about a very complicated topic.

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Let's be clear: It's rape, not a relationship, when a youth pastor impregnates a teen

Let's be clear: It's rape, not a relationship, when a youth pastor impregnates a teen

Jimmy Hinton is sick and tired of so-called "inappropriate relationships" between youth pastors and teenagers.

In such a case, Hinton declares, it's not a "relationship," it's a "rape."

He's absolutely right. More on the latest case drawing his ire in a moment. But before we get to that, a little background.

I first shared Hinton's story, headlined "A child molester's son shines a light," in The Christian Chronicle in January 2015:

SOMERSET, Pa. — Jimmy Hinton grew up at the feet of the wolf.
For 27 years, his father, John Wayne Hinton, proclaimed the Gospel to the sheep of the Somerset Church of Christ — a century-old congregation in this southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining community.
“I went into ministry because of him,” said Jimmy Hinton, 35, the middle child of 11 brothers and sisters.
But three years ago, the son — who became Somerset’s preacher in 2009 — learned a horrible secret: John Hinton was a longtime child molester who had sexually abused young girls and escaped discovery for decades.
Jimmy Hinton uncovered the truth after an adult molested as a child confided in him. The Holy Spirit, he believes, drove his response. 
“I believe you,” he told the victim.
He reported his father to police and prompted an investigation that resulted in the pedophile preacher, now 65, pleading guilty to sexually assaulting and taking nude photographs of four young girls, ages 4 to 7.
While his father — inmate No. KP7163 — serves a 30- to 60-year sentence in Rockview State Prison, Jimmy Hinton works to help heal his home congregation and create awareness far beyond Somerset, a town of 6,300 about 75 miles east of Pittsburgh.

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No surprise here: Godbeat all-star produces stellar journalism on a sickening subject

No surprise here: Godbeat all-star produces stellar journalism on a sickening subject

The details are sickening.

Even reading the lede on Wednesday's story by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette religion writer Peter Smith makes one want to vomit.

Yet the felony charges revealed in Pennsylvania this week against a Catholic religious order's superiors demand strong news coverage.

And that's exactly what Godbeat all-star Smith provides:

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — One of his Franciscan superiors knew Brother Stephen Baker had sexually abused a minor and ordered a psychological evaluation in the early 1990s. The evaluation came back with a caution — to keep Baker away from one-on-one contact with children, and no overnight trips with them.
Even so, the Very Rev. Giles A. Schinelli admitted under oath to a grand jury that he assigned Baker to work at Bishop McCort Catholic High School here in 1992, and Baker had plenty of one-on-one contact with students.
Baker became an athletic trainer there despite lacking any professional qualifications, and under the guise of offering massages or other treatment, Baker handled boys’ bare genitals with his hands and digitally penetrated their anuses, among other offenses.
A statewide grand jury, saying that he enabled a nearly two-decade rampage of abuse that claimed at least 100 victims, recommended that Father Schinelli and the two who succeeded him as head of a Hollidaysburg-based Franciscan province face almost unprecedented felony charges.
Each is charged with one count of endangering the welfare of children and criminal conspiracy, which are third-degree felonies.
The charges represent one of the broadest-ever drives to hold Roman Catholic higher-ups to account in any American criminal court for the sexual abuse of minors by those under their supervision. And they’re the first religious-order superiors to face such charges.

Producing quality journalism on a story such as this requires both factual reporting — with details attributed to named sources — and fair treatment of the various parties cited in court documents.

Smith's 1,200-word breaking news report illustrates his commitment to each of those essentials.

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Three things to know about 'Spotlight,' the new movie about journalists investigating clergy sexual abuse

Three things to know about 'Spotlight,' the new movie about journalists investigating clergy sexual abuse

I saw "Spotlight" over the weekend and loved it.

Of course, I'm a journalist, so I obviously would appreciate a film in which all the actors dress as crummily as me.

Seriously, I identify with the reporters and editors who meticulously dig to tell an important story. They knock on doors to interview key players, sue for access to crucial court documents and develop relationships with inside sources.   

With cheap ink pens and notepads as their major tools, they change the world. That's journalism at its best.

For Godbeat watchers, here are three important things to know about "Spotlight":

1. It's a great movie.

A Wall Street Journal reviewer gushed:

To turn a spotlight fittingly on “Spotlight,” it’s the year’s best movie so far, and a rarity among countless dramatizations that claim to be based on actual events. In this one the events ring consistently — and dramatically — true.
The film was directed byTom McCarthy from a screenplay he wrote with Josh Singer. It takes its title from the name of the Boston Globe investigative team that documented, in an explosive series of articles in 2002, widespread child abuse by priests in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, and subsequent cover-ups by church officials. The impact of the series, which prompted the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and won a Pulitzer Prize for the paper, was cumulative and profound — what began as a local story ramified into an international scandal. Remarkably, Mr. McCarthy, his filmmaking colleagues and a flawless ensemble cast have captured their subject in all its richness and complexity. “Spotlight” is a fascinating procedural; a celebration of investigative reporting; a terrific yarn that’s spun with a singular combination of restraint and intensity; and a stirring tale, full of memorable characters, that not only addresses clerical pedophilia but shows the toll it has taken on its victims.

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A sex abuse scandal, a divided church and three questions for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A sex abuse scandal, a divided church and three questions for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In a way, church leadership disputes are like car wrecks — ugly but impossible to ignore.

I still recall a piece my wife, Tamie Ross, then religion editor for The Oklahoman, wrote 15 years ago concerning a church where an internal squabble had resulted in police calls, changed locks and offers of more than $250,000 for the pastor to resign.

This week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch grabbed my attention with a front-page story on "The battle for First Christian Church of Florissant."

 

The lede sets the scene:

FLORISSANT — A nine-piece band plays inside a church auditorium, and three projection screens hang overhead, including one in the center that flashes lyrics. The band’s repertoire consists of Christian songs that could easily be mistaken for mainstream pop music. First Christian Church of Florissant members stand, clap and sway in response.
Yet, as he prepares to deliver his sermon, Pastor Steve Wingfield apologizes for the small crowd at the long-standing megachurch.
Wingfield has strawberry blond hair and is dressed in a black, long-sleeved, buttoned shirt and gray khakis as he digs into the current series of sermons focusing on the “Path to Restoration.” Today’s message is about broken relationships, a hardship afflicting even the closest knit families, including church families.
“If you want to be part of an imperfect church family, where flawed people are trying to figure this thing out together, you’re welcome here,” Wingfield tells a half-filled auditorium, while revealing details about his home life, including his role as a grandfather.
Members of the church are trying to figure things out, though whether the congregation has managed to do that in any kind of unified way is up for debate.

Keep reading, and the Post-Dispatch explains the circumstances behind the turmoil.

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