When Lawsuits Attack, Catholic Edition

Get Religion
August 1, 2013

A few weeks ago, a lawsuit in Nevada made news because it revolved around alleged 3rd Amendment to the Constitution violations. Third Amendment Rights are invoked so rarely as to be the butt of jokes. See, for example, The Onion‘s “Third Amendments Rights Group Celebrates Another Successful Year.”

The mainstream media went to town. Here’s Fox News, for instance:

A Nevada family is using a rare legal argument in a lawsuit claiming police tried to commandeer their homes for a surveillance operation and then arrested the homeowners for resisting — invoking the Third Amendment, which bars soldiers from being “quartered” in a residence without permission.

The Mitchell family, in a lawsuit filed July 1, detailed the incident from July 10, 2011. According to the complaint, it all began when the Henderson city police called Anthony Mitchell that morning to say they needed his house to gain “tactical advantage” in a domestic violence investigation in the neighborhood.

The story goes on to describe what the lawsuit alleges. I was speaking with a law enforcement officer who was appalled that so many people were just accepting the lawsuit’s narrative. I’ve reported on enough cases to know that one should never determine the facts based on either a police report or a complainant’s report. When I hear or read that the police or a complainant says this or that, I take it to mean little more than a claim is being made.

All this to say that we received some reader complaints about a story reporting on a lawsuit. It’s out of St. Louis and the story appears in the Post-Dispatch. Here’s the top of the story:

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson knew that a priest was a danger to children before that priest was charged last year with molesting a teenage girl, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Lincoln County.

The lawsuit was filed by the parents of the girl, who told police last June that the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, an associate pastor at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End, had molested her. Jiang, 30, eventually was charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child. The girl had described him as a family friend.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, the girl’s parents said Carlson “knew that Father Jiang was dangerous to children” and “that allowing Father Jiang access to minors as part of his duties as a priest would result in Father Jiang harming minors.”

The suit does not provide details of how Carlson would have known Jiang was a threat to children.

According to the suit, the girl’s parents asked Carlson last year if Jiang, who was ordained in 2010, would be removed from the priesthood. Carlson responded “that he would remove Jiang if he ‘had sex’ with the child, but not for activities other than that,” according to the suit.

Among the various readers to submit the story for critiquing here, one said, “The unvalidated quote attributed to the Archbishop is particularly outrageous.” But what’s outrageous about it — journalistically speaking?

I emphasized with boldface how clearly the reporter attributes each claim. What more is expected here? Right after the section I excerpted is a paragraph from the Archdiocese spokesman denying the claims in the lawsuit.

My question about how the reporter should have handled this is not rhetorical. What, specifically, are critics saying should be done? Not to report on the lawsuit? Not to include what the lawsuit claims? Simply to lay out more clearly that one side of a story is just one side of a story?

What do you think?








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