A Headline in Search of a Story: Old Abuse Claims Are ‘New’ to the Chicago Tribune

Christy Gutowski : David Heinzmann : Stacy St. Clair

Journalistic malpractitioners: The Chicago Tribune's Christy Gutowski, David Heinzmann,
and Stacy St. Clair

Last Sunday's splashy headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune darkly warned readers, "Priest cases show abuse issues persist." From the headline and the ensuing 2,100-word article about the Diocese of Joliet (Illinois), one would get the impression that Catholic priests were today dangerously on the loose in search of their next victims.

But everything a reader needs to know about the article can be found in its very first sentence:

"When Will County sheriff's deputies found the Rev. William Virtue sneaking into a private quarry in 1986 –"

Let's stop right there.

"1986," as in over a quarter of a century ago.

In other words, even though the title of the article claims "abuse issues persist" (the present tense) in Joliet, the entire premise of the article is built around accusations of abuse by priests which most recently allegedly took place when Ronald Regan was president and before Al Gore invented the Internet.

Even the article itself acknowledges that the issues with accused priests have long ago been addressed. Of the three Joliet priests profiled in the article accused of abuse, one was almost ten years dead, another was criminally charged over a decade ago, and the third was removed from ministry in 2006.

A fourth priest profiled in the article was accused years ago of something called "inappropriate behavior" with a boy. No sexual abuse occurred, and even law enforcement determined that no laws were broken after reviewing the case. However, the recent public revelation of "inappropriate behavior" was enough for a local hospital to immediately fire the guy as its chaplain, even though he was under the supervision of another cleric, had no direct contact with children, and no one had ever claimed that he had done anything unlawful or even "inappropriate" at the hospital.

The Church's outrageous failure to solicit lawsuits?

The article also faults the Diocese of Joliet for somehow not "looking for other victims" of an accused priest.

But an obvious question arises: What organization has ever actually done this before? Chicago Public Schools? The Boy Scouts? YMCA? What organization has ever "looked for more victims" to sue it when one its members has been accused of abuse? Who else besides the Catholic Church has been criticized by the media for not doing so?

Just a couple months ago, a lawyer sued the Chicago Tribune for libel. In light of the Tribune's belief that the Church should "look for other victims," will the Tribune post public notices soliciting anyone who feels defamed by their reporting to file suit?

A single focus: old abuse claims in the Church

As we have relayed several times before, abuse and cover-ups are rampant in public schools today, yet you would hardly know this from the Tribune, which appears obsessed with harping over decades-old episodes in the Church.

The Tribune's front-page attack accomplishes nothing except to feed a bigoted and ugly stereotype about Catholic priests and the Church while supplying more fodder for Church bashers and Church-suing contingency lawyers.

And as we have also noted many times before, when it comes to child sex abuse, there is one journalistic standard for the Catholic Church and one for all other organizations. While it has been determined that only a minuscule amount of all abuse from decades ago was ever committed by Catholic priests, it seems the Catholic Church still receives over 90% of the media's coverage of the issue today.

Whether it is out of malice or simple journalistic laziness (Church abuse stories are often pitched to newspapers by contingency lawyers in search of greater profits), the Tribune has reached a new low by suggesting the Church should somehow be scolded for the high crime of not soliciting lawsuits against it.


  1. Walter says:

    Thank you.

    Just what I needed to finally prompt me to cancel my subscription to the Trib.

  2. Reporters often appreciate the luxury of knowing that when they are sued or act in an unethical fashion, like contextualizing decade-old cases as current, other news agencies will almost never cover the story. They act like it's not news, even when it is. It's like when NYC cops used to look the other way when other officers were committing a variety of crimes. Because of this atypical protection, reporters often enjoy their unquestioned cowardice to the nth degree.

  3. Christopher Browne says:

    This is the same tact used by the Quad City Times to discuss the abuse cases in the Diocese of Davenport: Just keep repeating the SAME stories, over and over again, but headline them as if they were new.  It is disgusting, and no one dare call them on it.

  4. Mark says:

    A tired, lazy, pointless non-story from the Chicago Tribune. Note that the first reader comment is from, guess who……..a SNAPite! Judy Block-the-IP-of-anyone-who-posts-critical-comments-on-SNAP's-website.

    I'm not sure who's the more desperate. CT's pitiful "journalists" or SNAP. It's laughable, really. Like a couple of old bald men sharing a worn-out hairbrush.


  5. GOR says:

    Well said, David. I, too, noticed the headline and thought "Not again!".

    Then I read the date – 1986 – and stopped reading…

  6. Michael says:

    Read the Tribune article yourself. In the case of Fr. Virtue, his file was not reviewed in 2002 by the archdiocese of Joliet and he continued to minister as a priest until 2006. An additional four years of possible pedophilia endangering God's children.

  7. felice says:

    i wonder what a private investigator would reveal in these reporters' past?

  8. Richard says:

    I would like to see lists of instances (not names) of priests who had been accused but exonerated. 



  9. holly hayes says:

    The Tribune has always promoted an anti-Catholic attitude.  Maybe with Pope Francis doing the mea culpa song and dance with our Jewish brothers the Trib will investigate torture during the Spanish Inquistiion.  When the first gay marriage is officially performed in Holy Name Cathedral or when Holy Name Cathedral closes for good the Tribune will write on the good the church does.

  10. TomK says:

    What everyone here should remember is if their attacks on these groups allows just one pedophile to continue his actions; tacit participation in that most mortal of sins against innocence will be laid on the responsible souls.


    • Horst says:


      The point is that the media is NOT going to where the sex absue is happening TODAY but is dredging up old stuff about dead priests.

  11. CTR says:

    "Church abuse stories are often pitched to newspapers by contingency lawyers in search of greater profits."

    I overwhelmingly agree with tha this is shoddy journalism but why through lawyers under the bus? (And, yes, I am a lawyer). Plus, why would a reputable newspaper just decide to print something false in order to further a lawsuit? It woudln't. Even if the bogus newspaper sory di get printed, it can't be used at trial and is therefore of no benefit to the case. Please don't lump "contignecy lawyers" into some monolithic group. Contigency exists so that those who can't afford to pay a laywer out of their own pocket have acccess to justice. Furthermore, there a quite a few faithful Catholic "contigency lawyers" out there and just like the priesthood they don't need to be judged by the action of a few rogue memebers. 

    • Dorothy Stein says:

      Let’s be fair and just, and also thorough. I just read Ryan MacDonald’s link to an article by Fr. Gordon MacRae entitled “Be Wary of Crusaders!”  Then almost immediately his point was demonstrated in a news article.  Edward C. Domaingue, who was editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader for 28 years, wrote editorials excoriating accused priests, the Diocese of Manchester, and Father MacRae himself. Last month, Edward Domaingue was arrested on child pornography charges after being turned into the police by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  Additional charges are expected. Thus this story was buried in a three-inch blurb in the Union Leader.  Father MacRae is right.  Be wary of crusaders!

  12. jim robertson says:

    Horst my little Aryan friend, Dead priests abused still living children when they were alive.

    Prove it you say?

    The Church's own records prove it.( All those transfers and ignored complaints.)

    Records forcably being "released' thanks to victims' settlements.