A lead is not a story: more on the Bede Parry case

A story has been making the rounds in the last few days that purports to demonstrate that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori knew that the Bede Parry, a former Roman Catholic monk, had sexually abused minors and was likely to do so again when she received him as a priest into the Episcopal Church while she was serving as the Bishop of Nevada.

This claim is overblown. Rather, the story is one person’s recounting of a conversation he had with a second person in which the second person allegedly recounted a conversation he had with Bishop Jefferts Schori in which he allegedly informed her of Parry’s past. In a courtroom, this sort of information is hearsay, and inadmissible. In a newsroom, it is a lead—a darn good one, but still only a lead. Those familiar with journalistic standards would know that the information is not publishable, at least by mainstream religion reporters, until confirmed by the man who allegedly had the conversation with Bishop Jefferts Schori.

I am certain that if any mainstream reporters are following the Parry case, they have already deduced that Abbot Gregory Polan, the second man whom I referred to above, is an obvious person to interview. He was a monk at Conception Abbey during Parry’s tenure, and abbot by the time Parry was received into the Episcopal Church. He may be better able to answer the question of what the presiding bishop knew and when she knew it than anyone other than the presiding bishop herself. Either he has not been contacted (which I highly doubt); he is not talking; or he is not telling reporters what Patrick Marker, who has bravely brought material about sexual abuse within the Benedictine order to light, tells us that Abbot Polan told him.

Marker’s story can’t be accepted as factual until it is confirmed. But the existence of such a story, and the fact that it has gained traction with readers who have no ideological axes to grind, suggest that the presiding bishop will not be able to avoid speaking about this matter forever. And thanks to Mr. Marker, Abbot Polan may soon find himself in a similarly untenable position.

In Crisis Communications 101 (a course that exists entirely in my head) one is taught rules for governing the release of bad news: tell it yourself, tell it all, and tell it quickly. These rules apply with special force to organizations whose moral credibility is their stock in trade. I don’t know that the presiding bishop has bad news to deliver, but either way, she would be well advised to put the facts of the Parry case before us.

It is no surprise that the Episcopal Church’s ideological adversaries have been all over this issue. We at the Café find ourselves in the unusual position of believing that however overheated their rhetoric and under-sourced their stories, they may be doing the church a greater service in this matter, than the church is doing for itself.

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