Ten (or 11) years later: The Globe, The Phoenix, and the story that brought down Cardinal Law

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer-winning series of stories that explored the extent of the Catholic Church's complicity in a horrifying, decades-long cover-up of child rape by the clergy. The Phoenix broke that story nearly a year earlier, in a series that you can read online here. (Above is video of a talk, referenced below, that was given by Clay Shirky at Harvard's Shorenstein Center in 2009; in it, Shorenstein director Alex Jones says -- skip to 29:14 -- "a lot of what was on that [Boston Globe] front page, had already been reported, in that same, relatively same period of time, by the Boston Phoenix.") Has the Globe done enough to credit the Phoenix's reporting? You will perhaps not be surprised to hear that some of us think not. Former Boston Phoenix news editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar sent the following email to Jim Romenesko this morning; she told us she was surprised that Romenesko published it on his blog -- she's now an occasional contributor to the Globe -- but since the cat is out of the bag, she's given us the thumbs-up to reprint it. Romenesko notes that he has invited Globe editor Marty Baron to respond, and we'll update if he does. For more, former Phoenix media columnist Dan Kennedy contributes his two cents over at MediaNation.)

From SUSAN RYAN-VOLLMAR: I used to be the news editor of the Boston Phoenix back when the paper broke the news that Cardinal Law had been shuffling pedophile priests from parish to parish. This story was published nine months before the Boston Globe published its first “Spotlight” story on the clergy sex abuse scandal. That first story by the Globe did not credit the Phoenix and no story published since in the Globe has ever credited the Phoenix’s work, which can be accessed here.

Today, the Globe ran an interview with Cardinal Sean O’Malley on the occasion of the 10-year anniversary of the Globe’s first story on this topic. In today’s story, Globe reporter Mark Arsenault writes: “The series of events that led to that moment began on Jan. 6, 2002, when the Globe published an article disclosing through court records how Cardinal Bernard F. Law had repeatedly transferred the Rev. John J. Geoghan from parish to parish as reports of sexual abuse arose. The article, followed by others, revealed the full extent of the sexual abuse problem within the archdiocese, triggered a series of other revelations across the country, and ultimately led to Law’s resignation as head of the archdiocese.”

The Globe’s work on this story was phenomenal, and they deserve perhaps 90 percent of the credit for blowing the sex abuse story wide open. But they continue to insist on taking 100 percent credit. Not only does the Globe today fail to credit former Phoenix reporter Kristen Lombardi’s work, but it seems to take credit for the swarm of other stories on clergy sex abuse that popped up around the country.

In fact, there had been a TON of reporting on clergy sex abuse throughout the country well before the Globe (and the Phoenix) ever wrote about this. In our very first story, we credited the amazing work of Jason Berry, whose book “Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children” was published in *1992.* In the Phoenix’s first story, we referenced Berry’s work as well as the fact that lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests dated back to the early 1980s. Here’s a link to a blog post by Dan Kennedy in which he covered a talk by Clay Shirky that gets into why the Globe story caught traction and gives credit to the Phoenix.

This weekend, a coalition of groups who advocate on behalf of clergy sex abuse survivors are holding a conference: 10th Anniversary Celebration & Conference: Confronting the Crimes & Cover-up of Sexual Abuse by the Boston Clergy. I’ll be participating in the media panel for the conference, which will look back on how the story broke and what contributed to its taking hold, when so many other stories of abuse by clergy (including Jason Berry’s account of a similar pattern of widescale abuse in Louisiana) failed to take hold. Here’s a link to the conference.

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