Crisis of Conscience, Question of Quality
The T&G’s Coverage of the Scandal in the Catholic Church Is Not What It Used to Be
By Chris Kanaracus firstname.lastname@example.org
Worcester Magazine [Worcester MA]
Downloaded February 14, 2004
For two years, Telegram & Gazette reporters Richard Nangle and Kathy Shaw led the paper’s coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the Worcester Diocese. That reporting was so voluminous that it remains archived on its own page on the T&G’s Web site, titled “Crisis in the Church.”
Check the dates on that page and you’ll see that while there are still stories being produced, local coverage has slowed dramatically. Nangle and Shaw’s bylines disappear after Dec. 5, 2003. On that date, Nangle filed his last piece on the subject. It detailed Superior Court Judge John Connor’s order that lawyers involved in one sexual abuse-related civil lawsuit against a priest speak “in a normal tone” during depositions.
Every church scandal story since then has been written either by other T&G personnel, pulled off wire services such as the Associated Press, culled from The Boston Globe, or simply not covered at all.
As it turns out, late last year Nangle and Shaw quit the church scandal beat after reported run-ins with management — specifically, with T&G Acting City Editor Roger Leo, their immediate supervisor — over the tone and content of their stories. Leo, a longtime veteran of the T&G who was previously posted at the paper’s North County office, is filling in for City Editor Jay Whearley. He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Both Shaw and Nangle are veteran and outspoken T&G employees. Both have been active in the employees’ union, which recently approved its first contract with the paper. Shaw is a longtime religion reporter; Nangle has moved on to covering the presidential campaign and other local news.
Some of Nangle’s and Shaw’s church scandal stories were run-of-the-mill; an account of court proceedings in one of the ongoing sexual abuse lawsuits against priests associated with the Worcester Diocese, for example.
But the team also broke big news. On July 29, 2003, Shaw was the first U.S. reporter to write about the Crimen Sollicitones, a 1960s Vatican document that church critics say instructs clergy on how to keep sexual abuse cases under wraps. (There have been other claims to the scoop.)
Tim Schick, the reporters’ union representative, says, “Management has made some bad editorial decisions and they’re blaming Rich and Kathy. Kathy had been trying to sell that story for more than two months.” Unlike the paper, which apparently procrastinated on the story, other media outlets jumped all over it. Her story was immediately picked up by the AP news wire and made headlines across the globe.
Schick adds, “There are some potential stories that they could be working on today [if they were still on the beat]. These include reporting on ongoing lawsuits related to the behavior of Robert Kelley and developments in civil suits related to Thomas Teczar.” Rev. Kelley is serving a five- to seven-year sentence for raping of two young girls in Leominster. Thomas Tezcar, a priest ordained in Worcester, is accused of abusing young boys from the Worcester area and is the subject of a lawsuit against a diocese in Texas, where he now lives.
“I think it’s a great discredit to the people in Worcester County. Clergy abuse information is there and it needs to be told,” says Mary Jean, a Leominster-based priest-abuse awareness activist who runs the Worcester Voice Web site. “The coverage has been very light and I know that stories are not being printed that I’m hearing from victims.”
Some sources familiar with the situation defend Leo, saying he was reacting to what he considered to be problems with the quality of the coverage being produced by the two reporters. A T&G insider repeats alleged newsroom criticism that Shaw’s and Nangle’s coverage of the church scandal was occasionally “sloppy and a little biased,” relying too heavily on sources such as Houston attorney Dan Shea, who has represented local, self-described victims of abuse by priests.
“This is not a situation where the managers or the editors kowtowed to pressure from the church,” the source contends, adding that the flap remains “a really sensitive topic” around the T&G newsroom. “It has nothing to do with people’s ideologies. This was a concern with the quality of the reporting that was being produced.”
Shaw declined repeated requests for comment. Although he will not elaborate on specifics, Nangle does react to those comments by calling them “cowardly.” “No one has ever said that to my face. My city editor [Whearley] loved the coverage and my city editor is the finest newsman who ever set foot in this building.”
“It is my understanding that Rich and Kathy have asked not to be assigned church coverage because of conflicts they’ve had with their managers regarding their coverage,” says Schick. “In general, it’s questions about whether their coverage of the church is fair and balanced. My understanding is that questions have been raised as to whether they’re paying too much attention to people who have complaints against the church.”
Schick says there has been no professional fallout on Nangle and Shaw, nor should there be. “It appears to be a conflict over news judgement, which generally is an internal management decision,” he says. He adds that to his knowledge, neither employee has filed a formal complaint or grievance against Leo. “There have been individual conversations but no formal grievances filed,” he says, adding, “I would be directly involved in that.”
Leo himself filed a story on Jan. 31 that covered the surprise release of a long-awaited report by District Attorney John Conte, detailing investigations from Feb. 2002 to the present. Leo writes a nature column; other than his coverage of that subject, it appears that the last story to carry his sole byline was coverage of an arrest in a home invasion incident in Phillipston in July, 2002. Conte was identified as the primary source for that story as well.
That Leo wrote the recent Conte/church scandal article troubled the employee union for another reason. “Why was a manager doing that, as opposed to someone else who was doing that work?” asks Schick. “Unions take a position that management is supposed to manage and when this begins, you start to have displacement of rank-and-file workers. We’re not aware of any extenuating circumstances in this case that would justify him doing that story.”
Chris Kanaracus may be reached at email@example.com
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