Priests' stories carry crucial messages
By MARK ZIEMAN, Editor and Vice President
The credibility and worth of any newspaper series should rest squarely on the stories themselves, not on columns such as this one. Our series beginning today on AIDS in the Catholic priesthood is no exception.
That's why I urge you to read our coverage for yourself. And that's why I hope that your final impression will be one of balance, accuracy, thoroughness -- and compassion.
But I realize questions might remain. Why did The Kansas City Star examine this issue? What about the priests' right to privacy? Are we unfairly "outing" priests or attacking the Roman Catholic Church?
The reason for the series is addressed at length in today's installment: Catholic priests are dying of AIDS at rates many times higher than the general population, and hundreds of priests believe the church can help address and stem this epidemic.
It's a story that has compelled more than 800 priests to share their private thoughts with this newspaper in a nationwide poll. Scores of others have spoken openly about their own struggle with AIDS or about the deaths of friends and loved ones from AIDS-related illnesses. Church leaders have offered their own personal tales of stricken colleagues and private pain.
We at The Star have responded to this unprecedented cooperation with sensitivity of our own. No gay priest or AIDS sufferer in this series has been named by this newspaper without his cooperation, or, in the case of deceased priests, without the cooperation of, or previous public recognition by, family members or church colleagues. This includes even those priests memorialized in the quilt panels illustrating this series.
The nationwide survey sent by The Star to 3,000 priests across America was completely voluntary and strictly confidential. Church leaders, from local dioceses to the Vatican in Rome, were encouraged to respond to the newspaper's findings and to provide context; when responses are unclear or not forthcoming, The Star cites Catholic doctrine and church policy.
As reporter Judy Thomas so forcefully writes in today's story, AIDS in the priesthood strikes straight at the heart of church doctrine. Homosexuality and AIDS are controversial topics, difficult for the church to address. That includes Catholics in Kansas City and Catholics in our newsroom, including me.
But the fear of controversy should never excuse silence. Dying of AIDS is a preventable tragedy. Ignorance and fear and death can give way, through compassion, to knowledge and understanding and life. That is the message of the hundreds of priests whose stories we begin to tell today.
That is the message of the series itself.
-- To reach Editor Mark Zieman, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.