Yesterday's story in the Daily News about a Valley church that contributed money for the L.A. Archdiocese's sexual abuse settlement contained a line that made my ears perk up and that also got the attention of Cardinal Mahony's staff. Director of media relations Tod Tamberg emailed DN writer Tony Castro that there is no limit on speech by church officials:
What's with this paragraph from today's story:
"Representatives of other parishes in the San Fernando Valley - among them St. Mel in Woodland Hills and Santa Rosa in the city of San Fernando - said Tuesday that they had been asked by the archdiocese not to talk with the news media about any parish assessments, donations, loans or issues related to the archdiocese's financial situation."
I ask because the pastor of Santa Rosa called me this morning complaining that you apparently had called his secretary while he wasn't there, but that you never called back to speak with him. The pastor of St. Mel's has been out of town for several days, and the secretary there told me that she told you to call me. She said that you told her that you'd already spoken with me.
First of all, there was and is no gag order from the Archdiocese telling parishes not to speak of the loan details or anything else. In fact, as you told me yourself, you had read the details in The Tidings and online by viewing our 2007 Financial Statement, which deals with the issue in even greater detail.
If parish secretaries are reluctant to speak to reporters, that probably means that they are good secretaries. That doesn't mean that the archdiocese has imposed a gag order. Even if you suspected such a thing, you should have called me and asked me whether that was the case. You didn't call me again, and you never asked me about such a prohibition.
Tim Rutten of the L.A. Times had all sorts of access to the information used in his column. He got some of his info wrong (see today's correction in the LAT), but he didn't complain about any kind of resistance to his inquiries. We even told him the names of the schools that were collatoralized.
By now, you've probably alread received emails from the pastors named in the story requesting an explanation for the paragraph above. I'd like any explanation as well. If the best you can do is say that you talked to the first person who picked up the phone at those two parishes, then I think you and your editor need to contemplate a correction.
Director of Media Relations
Archdiocese of Los Angeles