All together now: Archbishop Lori leads WHAT committee?

It’s that time, again. The U.S. Catholic bishops are back in Baltimore and the agenda includes the election of a new president to replace the remarkably charismatic (especially in his crucial mass-media duties) Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

Speaking of omnipresent, the primary voice of authority in the A1 Baltimore Sun piece on the conference is the one and only Rocco “friend of the blog” Palmo of the Whispers in the Loggia weblog, who basically narrates the whole report. I especially liked his quip on the challenge of replacing Dolan:

Whoever is chosen in Tuesday’s election will have his work cut out for him, according to Palmo, in part because Dolan made such an extraordinary mark.

“Like him or not, you couldn’t ignore him,” Palmo said. “He’s a once-in-a-generation leader. It’s like Elvis is leaving the building. Who’s going to take the stage now?”

There are at least two other “must cover” news angles in this bishops conference advance piece, with one angle of special importance to a newspaper in Baltimore. Alas, only one really made it into print, and it wasn’t the all-news-is-local one.

There is, of course, the Pope Francis angle, which shows up early. Note the careful attribution (not) of the opinions expressed in this passage:

This week’s meeting is the first during the tenure of Pope Francis, the first Latin American-born pontiff and a man widely seen as offering a friendlier face to the non-Catholic world than many of his predecessors.

It also comes in the wake of Dolan’s term, which many felt gave the bishops a more unified public presence than they had enjoyed in years.

Who are the Catholic voices of authority hiding in the phrase “widely seen” on this back-handed slap at the Blessed John Paul II and, of course, the bookish Pope Benedict XVI? Then, a few phrases later, we have a vague reference to “many” Catholics feeling such and such. Lots of people talking, but few willing to be quoted? Not a good sign.

The other key topic that must be addressed is the presence of Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori in the short list of candidates to fill Dolan’s chair as conference president. While he is not a lock-in, there is at least one reason to think that Lori could get the nod. This force in his favor, however, could be a reason he would not get the presidency in the new media-friendly age of Francis.

So, all together now, what is the primary leadership post held by the articulate and scholarly archbishop of Baltimore? Why has he been in and out of the headlines in recent years? What national church work has he performed (often in a partnership with Dolan)?

The story gives a hint, but never states the obvious.

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Wait, Baltimore’s archbishop is a national voice on WHAT?

As one would imagine, the editorial team that produces the newspaper that lands in my front yard in the liberal environs of greater Baltimore was celebrating a great victory yesterday.

I am, of course, talking abou those U.S. Supreme Court decisions that were consistent with the newspaper’s longstanding and clearly stated editorial stance on all matters linked to gay rights.

Thus, it would have been miraculous to have seen any degree of editorial balance in the large package of coverage published by The Baltimore Sun in the wake of this major victory for the moral, cultural and religious left. I mean, check out the strategic variation in the newspaper’s “Light For All” slogan in the header graphics used with key elements of the NEWS package (as opposed to an opinion weblog) for the day.

Still I think it is fair to pay attention to the material included in the main story that represented the views of traditional Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and countless others who believe that the word “marriage” should not be redefined to include same-gender unions.

In particular, I was interested in how the Sun team would deal with the two primary realities in Maryland debates about sex, marriage and family.

The first is the majority of the state’s African-American Christians who do not back same-sex marriage and, also, continue not to equate race and sexual orientation.

The second is that the city’s archbishop serves as the chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ ad hoc committee on religious liberty, a First Amendment issue that — for leaders on one side of these public debates — is directly linked to the future of U.S. laws and policies on marriage and family. In fact, would the story deal with the impact on religious believers and institutions at all?

So, what do we see in the main story (or in the whole package, for that matter)?

Trust me, this will not take a lot of your time.

Here is all of the material in this A1 story that is dedicated to the Maryland defenders of marriage as traditionally defined.

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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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