Bishop Wants to Continue Dialogue, Says Communication Is 2-Way Street [Erie PA]
December 14, 2003

In this space last week, I explained that the newspaper is not involved in any conspiracy against the Erie Diocese or Bishop Donald Trautman. During the days that followed, the response has been overwhelming: 53 readers support the newspaper's role and its reporting, three felt the church deserved a better fate. That said, I felt it only fair to offer Bishop Trautman the same forum to tell his side of the story. Today we publish his letter to the editor. To keep the debate alive, please write to the bishop directly or send your letters to the editor. It's your voice that matters.

Rick Sayers, Executive Editor

Dear Mr. Sayers,

In your December 7th column you advocated "open communication" between the Erie Catholic Diocese and the Erie Times-News. Communication, however, is a two-way street.

As you know, I initiated a dialogue in person with the publisher of the Erie Times-News, Mr. Jim Dible, regarding the omission of any reporting of positive Catholic Church events, such as its sesquicentennial celebration, and the extensive reporting of negative stories about the Church.

When I met with Mr. Dible I never voiced concern over the reporting of sexual abuse stories on clergy. I did, however, raise several issues: total omission by the Erie Times-News of any treatment of the 150th anniversary of the Catholic Diocese of Erie, a Cathedral packed to overflowing with 15 bishops present, television coverage on all three local stations, but no mention in the Erie Times-News.

One would have thought that on the editorial page there might have been a "Thumbs Up" for the education and charitable works of the diocese during the past 150 years.

Our Communications Office had forwarded to you detailed information regarding this celebration, but not one line, not one picture, not even a "Thumbs Up."

If you indeed "forgot" or through human error overlooked this celebration, when it was called to your attention, why was there not some public mention of the event or statement of why the paper failed to cover this sesquicentennial celebration?

On other occasions our Communications Office has forwarded to you information regarding the ordination of priests and permanent deacons. There was no coverage whatsoever of the ordinations. The results of a survey showing parents being extremely satisfied with Catholic schools was not reported. Other examples could be cited to demonstrate deliberate failure to treat positive stories.

On September 14th, the Times published a story headlined "Former Prison Warden Gets Tough with Church Leaders." The man interviewed questioned the appointment of a priest whom he said was a pedophile. No priest with that background was ever sent to him or appointed by me. The charge was not true, but no one from the Times bothered to verify it with me, no one asked my side of the story. An untruth was reported as fact. Why didn't the reporter contact me to verify the situation?

A November 13th story stated that I bluntly told the National Review Board monitoring the compliance of dioceses to the charter to protect children that it "would be better off to focus on writing about the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests whose only wish is to serve and do good."

The implication, of course, is that I am dismissing the work of the panel and have no compassion for victims. That is not true. I have spent endless hours with victims trying to minister to them. I never said what you attributed to me coming from a public session November 12th at the national meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

The following is what the EWTN videotape confirms as my actual words:

"When Pope John Paul came to Toronto for World Youth Day, he spoke these words to our young people: 'The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But I think of the vast majority of dedicated priests and religious, whose only wish is to serve and do good.'

"The thousands and thousands of young people assembled there in Toronto cheered, applauded. I suggest that's the proper perspective."

The following is what the Erie Times-News reported and editorialized on November 18th: "Trautman told the panel ... that he wished they had a different role. 'The vast majority of Catholic priests are dedicated and generous, and their only wish is to serve and do good. The Review Board would be better off writing and focusing on this,' Trautman said."

The editorial concludes with this statement: "By making these remarks to the independent lay Review Board, Trautman minimized the commission's important work."

This editorial takes me to task for comments I never made. There is no justification for saying I "minimized" the commission's important work. I ask that you recant what is a false characterization. I was actually quoting Pope John Paul II. You failed to even report accurately what I clearly said at the beginning and failed to ascribe the quote to the Pope. Your editorial writers misconstrued my entire statement.

If you value objectivity and truth, then I would look for a correction and a public apology. Your handling of this quote is a clear sign of negative reporting, unfair treatment, imbalance and distortion.

Since in this recent Sunday Erie Times you bring up the reporting of sexual abuse charges against priests of this diocese, I will comment as follows. The Times on November 13th devoted more than two full pages on allegations from 20-25 years ago against a priest whom I removed from all ministry immediately when the allegations were proved to be credible. The sexual abuse of minors by clergy is serious and we both grieve for and help victims and do all we can to make certain such deplorable incidents do not happen again. But two full pages on incidents from the 1980s? Would anyone from another faith community or a public figure receive such thorough treatment? I think not.

You have characterized this situation as a battle. That is not my perspective. My view has been and always will be accuracy and fairness. There are several items discussed in this letter that beg for clarification when it comes to accuracy and fairness. I have no interest in controlling the news but I do want a fair resolution of my concerns. I, too, welcome a continued dialogue a dialogue which I initiated.

Communication, Mr. Sayers, is a two-way street.


Most Rev. Donald W. Trautman, STD, SSL

Bishop of Erie


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