The curious incident of the Catholic school in the L.A. Times

The curious incident of the Catholic school in the L.A. Times August 7, 2013

In one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Silver Blaze, the clue that led to identifying the criminal was a dog that didn’t bark.

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” ask the Chief of Police.

“Yes—to the curious incident of the dog in the night time.”

“But the dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes, “Ah—that was the curious incident.”

In the media’s coverage of religion, we often stumble upon these “curious incidents” when something that should have happened doesn’t happen—and shapes an entire story.

Consider, for example, a recent story in the Los Angeles Times on the “Gay teacher at Glendora Catholic school fired after marrying partner.” The teacher, Ken Bencomo, was fired by the school “after he married his partner of 10 years” and the photos of the ceremony were published in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Bencomo doesn’t comment in the story, but allows his attorney, Patrick McGarrigle, to speak on his behalf.

Take a look at this section and see if you notice anything unusual:

On multiple occasions over the year, McGarrigle said, Bencomo has introduced Persky as his partner to administrators at school events.
In a statement released through an attorney, the school said it is “a community of faith for those who wish to express, practice and adhere to values in education based on the Roman Catholic tradition.”

“While the school does not discriminate against teachers or other school employees based on their private lifestyle choices, public displays of behavior that are directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values,” the statement reads. “These values are incorporated into the contractual obligations of each of our instructors and other employees.”

Bencomo hopes to resolve the situation without legal action, but he has not ruled out filing a lawsuit, McGarrigle said.

“The school went to the draconian measure of firing him without warning and without legal reason,” he said. “They haven’t expressed any interest in finding a way for Ken to return.”

Is there any point, dear reader, to which I would wish to draw your attention? Indeed, to the curious incident of the omission of the reporter in reporting the “contractual obligations.”

I suspect even the L.A. Times recognizes (though doesn’t approve of) the fact that the Catholic Church considers a same-sex marriage ceremony to be “directly contrary to church teachings are inconsistent with these values.” The question that should have been asked, therefore, was whether whether the ceremony (and subsequent publicity) would violate the terms of the employment contract.

If so, it would certainly explain why no lawsuit was filed since it would be, contra Mr. McGarrigle, a “legal reason” for the firing. But it would also undermine the reason for publishing the story. “Teacher fired for violating employment contract,” would not be as catchy a headline.

However, if the marriage ceremony was not in violation of a contractual agreement, then it raises questions about the motives of the Catholic school administrators. Either way, by not asking for clarification about the “contractual obligations” the L.A. Times has left its readers uninformed about an essential element of the story.

What the omission does show, however, is that sometimes it’s the “dogs that don’t bark” that say the most about media bias.

UPDATE: Just realized that Tmatt beat me to this story.

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