How Far Back Should Coverage Go in Clergy Sex Crimes and Scandals?

Two Penn newspapers differ…

Child porn charges against a Pennsylvania priest are yielding coverage with a different kind of ghost” – the specter of past crimes illustrated with a literal list in a newspaper. But is such a focus always warranted? Do journalists use this with the Catholic sins, alone?

After a Faithful Reader brought this up, I looked at the examples sent in. Here’s what I saw.

The focus is retired Monsignor John S. Mraz, charged with collecting and viewing child porn on two laptops. Two local newspapers do a fine job on the story – to a point.

Both of them do what newspapers do best: narrating the chilling details. Take the Reading Eagle account:

Trending: Is the Church Becoming Too Political?

A senior Allentown Catholic Diocese priest who began his career in Reading was caught with child pornography on his computer, Lehigh County District Attorney James B. Martin said Tuesday.

Officials said Monsignor John S. Mraz admitted that he sought out and viewed the images for his sexual gratification. They said the investigation began after a parishioner of Mraz’s Emmaus church reported uncovering a file with a name along the lines of “naked little boys” while performing maintenance the priest had requested.

Mraz, 66, is the former pastor of the Church of St. Ann, a neighborhood church with an on-campus elementary and middle school. He taught at the former Reading Central Catholic High School from 1975 to 1980 and was an assistant superintendent of the diocesan school system.

The 1,000-word story is a model of fact, narrative and multisourcing. It includes the story of how the volunteer found the images on Mraz’s machines, then reported that to the diocese. In turn, the diocese reported it to law enforcement authorities, who investigated and indicted Mraz…

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The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Jim Davis
Jim Davis writes for, scrutinizing religion coverage in mainstream media. He also runs the Faith and Values page on Facebook, and freelances as a writer and photographer with The Florida Catholic newspaper. He worked for more than three decades as the religion editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, covering national as well as local events and issues. His other projects have included copy editing and writing for a Christian web designer, editing educational white papers for the University of Florida, and publicizing Jewish studies at Florida International University.

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