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Who's Responsible?

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Dear Ms. Levine:

The anonymous article on the May 21, 1999, cover of the Chicago Reader entitled "History of Abuse" and written by "William K." has perhaps forged a new standard (or substandard) in journalism to which the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights takes exception. In addition to the offensive, blasphemous illustration on the newspaper's cover--that of a blindfolded priest held out as the sacred Eucharist--even the most detached observer would question a newspaper's judgment in choosing to print (highlight, actually) an anonymously written article on a sensitive, potentially damaging subject, pedophilia, that is premised entirely upon repressed memory. Worse yet, it appears that the Reader made no attempt to corroborate or verify any of the events or sources contained in the article.

In the past five years there have been scores of reported incidents involving seemingly reputable journalists who have fabricated or embellished stories or events for the sake of publication. In fact, there was once a reporter for the Washington Post who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work on social issues that was later determined to be a complete fabrication. As a result, the reputation for integrity of the newspaper, rather than that of the journalist, is questioned. To avoid any recurrence, the newspaper will implement stringent verification guidelines before it publishes any article deemed sensitive or controversial. Furthermore, any anonymously written article is held to a much higher, more stringent standard, considering the potential for fabrication and lack of accountability.

This is where the Reader has failed. Proceeding under the guise of anonymity, the Reader has chosen to exempt itself from any standards of accountability or verification when publishing an article on the very subject, pedophilia, which demands such.

Patrick C. Cremin Jr.

President

Chicago Chapter

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

William K. replies:

In questioning the Reader's journalistic integrity for printing "History of Abuse" under a pseudonym, you were laboring under the incorrect assumption that my story was anonymously written and submitted. It was not.

The manuscript was received as a signed first-person narrative, and my identity, my very public profession, and my history were all ascertained and confirmed by the Reader's editors through rigorous questioning during dozens of verification and editorial contacts. Weeks of prepublication correspondence ensued, which included fact checking and corroborative forays into the identities and current whereabouts of the central figures in the story's events and of the family members and associates of mine who weren't mentioned.

In fact, it wasn't until shortly before the actual publication date--following a discussion among my siblings and me about the possible repercussions for my family, a discussion commenced at the recommendation of my Reader editor--that the decision to change the names was mutually agreed upon, solely to protect any living parties.

You also state that the story was "premised entirely upon repressed memory." But the basic events related in the article and the people involved in those events were acknowledged as factual by friends and siblings following my recollection.

Reading that your organization's cause was "religious and civil rights," I assumed that your letter would concern the plight of child victims and might offer some compassion and hope in the fight against abuse by clergy. But of the many responses I've received since publication, yours has been the only one that hasn't mentioned either.

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