After 30 Years, Readers Still Deserve the Truth

Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY)
June 9, 2002

" Front-page story driven by sources who are willing to talk.

The letter arrived a few weeks ago, anticipating the story that appears on today's front page.

The letter was marked "NOT FOR PUBLICATION," and we'll honor the writer's request for anonymity. It's obvious that the writer knows John Gormley. And it's obvious he's in pain. Identifying him didn't seem necessarily as important as the questions he's raised:

Why run the story? What purpose does it serve?

It's a story that brings no joy.

Not to John Hayes.

Not to John Gormley.

Not to family and friends who have lived with this sadness for years.

Not to acquaintances who might be learning about it for the first time today.

Not to us.

It's a story that has become too familiar, perhaps too surreal, seemingly with no sense of closure. The story - of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse, in many cases with minors - gained a level of national prominence in the 1980s, resurfaced a decade later, then exploded onto news pages and TV broadcasts last year.

The story has continued to haunt Americans. The Star-Gazette now has reported four cases of area priests accused of sexual abuse.

Our letter writers have responded with a mix of opinions, ranging from frustration to a loss of faith to concerns about the reputations of honorable priests.

What's perplexing is that many of the incidents happened decades ago. Why then, when allegations happened so many years ago, should it still matter today?

One of our newsroom Principles of Ethical Conduct states that we are committed to seeking and reporting the truth in a truthful way. It means we should report the news accurately, thoroughly and in context.

No doubt, we've seen persistent interest in this story. And no doubt, we have an obligation to report the truth and put it in context.

That's what makes the story in today's Star-Gazette so powerful. The truth takes courage.

John Hayes, by all accounts, is well-liked and has a good sense of humor. As the assistant district attorney in Schuyler County, his job is to put away bad guys. Yet he's not above using skits to teach high school students about legal issues.

Hayes, 45, wanted to be an altar boy many years ago. His life was forever changed when he met John Gormley.

What happened has haunted him for more than three decades, to the point where he needed to tell his story.

Hayes contacted Star-Gazette reporter Jennifer Kingsley - someone he knew - and told his truth, one with chilling details and ramifications.

Kingsley then contacted Gormley. And after a few phone exchanges, a few meetings, Gormley offered to tell his story.

Gormley, 69, was a former priest who went into counseling and then worked as an adjunct professor at Elmira College before stepping down. We know he's liked by friends and neighbors. And we know he lives with pain.

Gormley spoke candidly with the Star-Gazette. Many details were too sensitive for publication. Although we are guided by the truth, we also have an obligation to understand our readers' standards of decency.

Why run the story? The truth remains important, even more than 30 years later. The story affects all of us.

What purpose does it serve? Gormley offered the best answer when he talked to the Star-Gazette.

He said: "I hope that I can contribute to the healing process and to find lasting solutions to this serious problem with honesty, openness and compassion for all involved."


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