Newspaper focuses on local, newsworthy
A concerned reader wrote to me this week with a complaint: Are we the only ones guilty? Are we the only ones to bear the burden of shame? If not, why are we the only church in the news? (The letter writer used all caps.)
It was in reference to the sex abuse crisis plaguing the Catholic church. The writer was upset that this newspaper has published stories about the Catholic church’s problems and not similar problems of other denominations.
The writer requested that we not publish the letter, but I hope to shine a light on his concerns so we can all better understand what’s happening.
This newspaper has not, and likely will not, produce its own stories about the problems in the Catholic church. Should the local church find itself facing allegations similar to those in Pennsylvania, then we will. But the national and international coverage of the sex abuse crisis has been found on our pages because it is newsworthy.
Its “newsworthiness” is not simply in the fact that the horrors occurred, but that a system allowed it to flourish unchecked for decades.
The writer asks why the sex abuse scandals of Protestant churches are not found in our newspaper, especially considering most of our readership is Protestant. That point would be well deserved if it was 100 percent accurate. But it is not.
I have personally written about problems within the Southern Baptist Convention, and we have published news stories about the denomination’s failings when it comes to claims of sexual abuse. So, to suggest that we only publish stories about the Catholic church’s problems is not true.
What is true is that there has been more coverage of the recent Catholic sex abuse scandal than there has been of other issues in other denominations. But that is because the magnitude of the ongoing story is much greater.
Consider the scope of what a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed. More than 1,000 children were molested over decades in that state alone. The report stated that about 300 priests in six dioceses were likely guilty of rampant abuse. The scandal continues as allegations center on which Catholic authorities knew what and when.
The writer suggests that since most Americans are Protestant, the Catholic sex abuse story is about “them” while stories about similar allegations against Protestants are stories about “us.” That fact makes those stories less appealing and uncomfortable, according to the letter.
I won’t argue that point. Humans love to point out the flaws of others, while being hesitant to see the same in themselves. But this newspaper has been critical of Protestant churches and the Catholic church, and that criticism has been on the opinion page. We have been equal opportunity critics.
The writer goes on to point out several allegations against Baptist “predators.” The writer asks why we have not covered those allegations.
It’s the same reason we have not covered the Catholic crisis with our own reporting: unless it happens here, it’s not something we cover in our news pages.
I do not doubt that there are sexual predators in every denomination. Churches are full of people, and people are sinful. Should a grand jury uncover rampant sexual abuse in a Baptist church on the scale that was found in Pennsylvania, we will certainly publish stories about it.
But until it happens here, we likely won’t devote our own news resources to it. That’s not because it is not deserving of coverage, but because our focus is on what happens here. And there is plenty going on locally to keep our small newsroom busy.
Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.