How bad reporting obscures the story

How bad reporting obscures the story

I’ve read so many news stories over the past four years about priests who abuse kids that I’ve become a sort of expert witness on them. They have a certain rhythm, almost a standard template, like a sonnet. That’s why when I read this article in the Houston Press, an alternative paper, my antennae went up. Something just didn’t ring true. For one thing, the article is full of inaccuracies, some large, some small, but all adding up.

For example, the reporter says that the 2002 Dallas charter adopted by the US bishops says that sexual abuse “need not be a complete act of intercourse. Nor, to be objectively grave, does an act need to involve force, physical contact, or a discernible harmful outcome.” But then he says:

Yet earlier this year, when a host of women accused a Houston priest of kissing them when they were children and young adults, the priest’s attorney argued that kissing is not sexual abuse, stating that none of the girls accused him of attempted “genital contact.”

That’s a non sequitur. It was the priest’s attorney who made the claim, not the Archdiocese of Houston or any official of the Church. The Church has no control over the defense that an accused priest will launch. In fact, the law would say that the lawyer is obligated to mount the most vigorous defense possible, regardless of any outside factors including Church rules.

Then there’s the frame narrative about a Costa Rican layman who was abusing kids in his parish for years, and somehow this is the Church’s fault. Is it now the case that any abuse by any Catholic at any time is to be blamed on the Church?

Or the case of the Colombian seminarian who was accused of abusing boys in the parish to which he had been assigned.

In 2004, Dallas attorney Tahira Khan-Merritt sued the archdiocese on behalf of the boys. The suit dug up memos showing just where the parish’s allegiance lay.

The memos show that the parish terminated Patino-Arango as a seminarian shortly after the allegation, although his health benefits would last for another month.

Excuse me for being dense, but the “parish”? Parishes do not hire seminarians. Seminarians are accepted and assigned by the diocese and remain in training for the priesthood at the pleasure of the bishop. If he was terminated, it wasn’t the parish that did it. The reporter also has a quote of someone saying that the pastor said Patino-Arango was “the priest who would be in charge of the Spanish-speaking masses” and referring to him as “Father Juan.” So which is it? Was he a priest or a seminarian?

The errors go on and on. Now, perhaps it is the case that there is valid criticism to level at the Archdiocese of Houston regarding how abuse cases were handled. But because of how badly the reporter has handled the story, you can’t trust what he has to say.

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