Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) recently trumpeted the lurid story that a computer owned in 2004 by a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis contained e-mail messages that "may have included inappropriate correspondence" with a "possible minor," thus suggesting that the priest might be a child molester.
Indeed, any story about a Catholic priest committing a crime with a minor is not only troubling but big news, and the duo's eye-opening story received wide media attention.
However, as it turns out, the priest, Rev. Jonathan Shelley, a popular cleric in his region, was simply corresponding with a longtime friend who was not a minor at all.
So in other words, for the simple sake of generating publicity and attracting an audience for themselves, MPR's Baran and Scheck used salacious innuendo and utter speculation to plaster an innocent priest. (Note the hedging language of "may have" and "possible minor" to protect MPR from a defamation action.)
Not the first time MPR attacks Fr. ShelleyWhat led the pair to darkly suggest that Rev. Shelley's e-mail messages may have been illegal? We have no idea, because apparently the messages were so unremarkable, that when the duo contacted the Minnesota resident who actually saw Shelley's e-mails, he could not even recall their contents.
Listen to MPR's bogus attack:
And it turns out that this was not the first time that MPR's Baran attacked this very same priest.
Earlier, Baran published another salacious story about Rev. Shelley suggesting that he possessed child pornography. Baran reported that a disgruntled former employee of the archdiocese gave police "images of pornography" that used to belong to Shelley, some of which, in her view, "appear[ed] to show children."
Yet multiple forensic examinations by police of these very same images determined that they were not child pornography, and police closed the case. [Police have since reopened the case citing "new evidence," but it appears the only "new evidence" is the public pressure generated by the mob of media outlets swarming to piggyback on MPR's sleazy reporting.]
So even though Rev. Shelley was already completely exonerated by law enforcement, that did not stop Baran from publishing a story insinuating that he possessed illegal pornography and that the Church somehow illegally "hid" the priest's pornography from police.
The Church, like any other organization, is under no obligation whatsoever to report adult pornography to law enforcement, or even to the Vatican for that matter. Yet in an effort to malign an innocent man and tarnish the archdiocese, Baran clearly suggests that the Church should have done so.
MPR's not-so-hidden agenda
There is a lot more to say about MPR's reckless reporting about alleged sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
It is no secret that the proudly "progressive" MPR loudly championed the successful cause for gay marriage in Minnesota, a measure which the Catholic Church vociferously opposed. Thus there is little doubt that MPR's newfound concern over 10-year-old computer images is merely cover for its efforts to damage its opponent.
The public should be fully aware that MPR has now twice publicly smeared an innocent priest who has never committed any crime whatsoever. And because of the intense media circus rashly instigated by MPR, a return to public ministry for Rev. Shelley is highly unlikely.
The unapologetically false attacks on an innocent priest by MPR's Madeleine Baran should be universally denounced, and Baran should issue a public apology to Rev. Shelley.
[Note: As of the publication of this post, Madeleine Baran has not returned multiple phone calls from TheMediaReport.com seeking comment about her reporting.]