Faith, Unfaith, Journalism


Here's a painfully honest first-person account of a man's journey into faith, then into the religion beat at the Los Angeles Times and then a series of gruesome encounters with the awful reality behind many religious institutions. Yes, he lost his faith as a religion reporter. The Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis was instrumental. Its impact on the faith of many cannot be understated. Money quote:

In the summer of 2005, I reported from a Multnomah County, Ore., courtroom on the story of an unemployed mother impregnated by a seminary student 13 years earlier who was trying to get increased child support for her sickly 12-year-old son.

The boy's father, Father Arturo Uribe, took the witness stand. The priest had never seen or talked with his son. He even had trouble properly pronouncing the kid's name. Uribe confidently offered the court a simple reason as to why he couldn't pay more than $323 a month in child support. "The only thing I own are my clothes," he told the judge. His defense orchestrated by a razor-sharp attorney paid for by his religious order boiled down to this: I'm a Roman Catholic priest, I've taken a vow of poverty, and child-support laws can't touch me.

The boy's mother, Stephanie Collopy, couldn't afford a lawyer. She stumbled badly acting as her own attorney. It went on for three hours. "It didn't look that great," Stephanie said afterward, wiping tears from her eyes. "It didn't sound that great … but at least I stood up for myself."

The judge ruled in the favor of Uribe, then pastor of a large parish in Whittier. After the hearing, when the priest's attorney discovered I had been there, she ran back into the courtroom and unsuccessfully tried to get the judge to seal the case. I could see why the priest's lawyer would try to cover it up. People would be shocked at how callously the church dealt with a priest's illegitimate son who needed money for food and medicine.

My problem was that none of that surprised me anymore. As I walked into the long twilight of a Portland summer evening, I felt used up and numb.

I know the feeling. My own faith and my own politics have been rocked this past decades by two overwhelming facts. The church I loved was an international conspiracy for the abuse of children and the protection of their abusers; the United States government I trusted was responsible for the torture and abuse of military detainees, and its subsequent cover-up. What remains of religious and political faith after that? I guess I'm still trying to figure that out.

(Photo: Johannes Simon/Getty.)