Yes, before Baltimore, Lori was bishop of Newtown

If the mainstream press has a creed, one of its central tenets is certainly this old truth: All news is local.

Somehow, some way, the job of the local editor is to find a way to connect major news events to the lives of local readers — no matter how indirect the connection. Was a local man on the plane that crashed in London? Does the national championship team up in Ohio contain an athlete who used to live in, oh, Baltimore?

If there is a valid local tie, editors are supposed to spot it and use it. Pronto.

Thus, I was surprised that it took so long — as the Newtown, Conn., disaster story rolled on and on and on in all its hellish glory — for the editors of The Baltimore Sun to spot this rather obvious story.

It helps to remember that Baltimore is the oldest, most historic Catholic diocese in the United States. This automatically makes its archbishop — who often is raised to cardinal status during his service here — easily one of the most important news figures in the city.

Also, it helps to know that Baltimore has a relatively new archbishop, one who has become a major voice in national affairs. And before he came to Charm City, where did Archbishop William Lori serve? Was that in Connecticut?

The Sun either missed, or for some reason saved, this amazing link to Newtown for its Christmas story. This is just “rather personal”?

Like preachers across the country preparing for Christmas services today, William Lori has grappled with the question of how to celebrate the joy of the day so soon after the devastation of Newtown.

But for Baltimore’s new archbishop, the challenge also is “rather personal.”

Before his arrival here in May, Lori served for 11 years as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. The diocese includes the quiet, leafy suburb of Newtown, where on Dec. 14 a gunman forced his way into an elementary school and shot 20 first graders and six educators to death.

“For me, it’s a very real tragedy,” said Lori, 61, whose work took him regularly to St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown, and who has been communicating with the parish and diocese since the shooting. “I should think it would be the same for any parents who have young kids, or grandparents. It really strikes very, very close to home.”

Now, the “tough Christmas sermon” angle is valid and even interesting.

But as a news neader, I wanted to know more about the archbishop’s actual ties to the parish and its people — especially since so many of the children who died were from this parish.

Facts! We need some facts quick. The Christmas message is important, obviously. But what about the archbishop and his ties to one of the largest, most powerful, parishes in his old diocese? Did he know the families? Baptize any of these children?

Lori was in Rome for meetings when the news came.

“It was a surreal moment,” he said. “You’d think any place in the world but Newtown, Connecticut. And I was just — I truly could not believe what I was hearing.”

Lori placed a call to Monsignor Robert Weiss, the pastor of St. Rose of Lima.

“And the next thing I know I was on my knees, just praying for these folks,” he said.

And that’s that.

Please understand that I am not — heaven forbid — knocking the spiritual themes in this news feature. Read them and meditate on them, if you wish.

But, gentle readers, this is a strong, strong Baltimore tie to one of the biggest stories in American and the world in late 2012. Where are the basic facts here about Lori and his connections to that ravaged parish? Where is the basic journalism — way too many days after the story broke?

PHOTO: Bishop William E. Lori during a 2011 visit to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Parish in Newtown, after ordaining one of its clergy as a deacon.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Thinking on the religious -personal issue for news coverage–I was not surprised to see many, many stories about the pastor of the Catholic Church half the victims attended . I also was not surprised about the coverage on how he dealt with or felt about what had happened . Many times it was mentioned about baptisms, weddings, funerals involving victim families and the pastor.
    But the parish has 2 deacons who are most likely married with a number of children–children who may have had very personal relations with the victims in Newtown–both among the children and the adults slaughtered.. And deacons in the Catholic Church officiate at baptisms, weddings and funerals. I’m surprised no enterprising reporters writing on the religion angle apparently looked into Catholic deacon or Protestant ministerial family ties with the Newtown victims of which there probably would have been many in such a small town.
    On the Catholic side both reporters and parishoners are unused to there being a family side to clergy stories because most Latin Catholic priests–the only Catholic clergy many are aware of– are celibate.
    A number of times I have had to minister to families in which close school buddies of my children had died. One killed by a hit and run driver.

  • Julia

    Deacon: thanks for that reminder.


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