Via the Deacon’s Bench comes this example of how not to write a story about a scandal involving a Roman Catholic priest. Deacon Greg Kandra’s piece is headlined “Great moments in journalism: priest fathers a child, newspaper smirks.” He thinks it’s so cheesy that the journalists should get remedial training.
The story in the New York Daily News begins:
A Catholic priest in California is about to be another kind of father — after he unleashed his unholy spirit and begot a child.
Father Daniel McFalls quit his job at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Stockton after he was led into temptation and broke his vow of celibacy.
The popular preacher stunned his congregation by revealing in a letter that he will be swapping cassocks and communion cups for sleepless nights and dirty diapers.
“A child will soon be born, and I am the baby’s father,” he wrote.
Good grief! Even for a tabloid, that’s pretty bad.
The story itself is newsworthy and interesting. I mean, it’s not newsworthy that clergy are people, but it’s a good hook for a discussion on clergy celibacy and what happens when priests stray from their vows. It’s interesting to look at how local news covered this. This ABC station kept referring to how the priest stepped down because he “decided to have a child.” For instance, the anchor says here that “He’s leaving his downtown church because he’s decided to have a child.” It also included the priest saying some personal things about the mother of the child he helped conceive as well as viewer reactions ranging from dislike of celibacy vows to dislike of Protestants.
The Stockton Record had a pretty good story. It began with this correction from an earlier version:
Dean McFalls, former pastor of St. Mary’s Church, did not take a vow of poverty when he was ordained a Catholic priest. Incorrect information appeared in the print and initial online version of this article. The error has been corrected.
I love it when papers correct errors prominently. In an case, the story did a much better job with the specifics than the TV reports did:
McFalls, ordained for 18 years and the popular pastor of St. Mary’s for five years, is taking a “personal leave of absence from active ministry,” according to a written statement from Bishop Stephen Blaire.
He has not been defrocked – a forced removal from ordained ministry – but can no longer function as a priest. “He is now basically a layperson in how he operates,” said Sister Terry Davis, director of communications for the diocese.
McFalls cannot administer the sacraments or wear clerical garb.
It ends with some more details:
McFalls said he didn’t want to hide the coming birth and wanted to avoid a scandal.
“What I did not want was to make the child or mother suffer for my sins,” McFalls said. “I don’t want this child growing up in the shadows. The last thing you want is for an innocent child to suffer or go in exile or be terminated because of my mistakes. I am a pro-life priest in a pro-life church.”
On his final day, McFalls performed a baptism, presided over a quinceañera, taught children in a classroom and wiped down chairs wet from the rain for the outdoor wedding of City Councilwoman Dyane Burgos.
“It was such an honor to wipe down those chairs,” he said. “Such an honor. It is what I am here for.”
This FOX report was a good first-day story about the resignation.
But I can never help wondering about the parishioners and how they feel about such a departure. I wish reporters would include more of their perspective in articles about clergy resigning their call.