The pope and The Post have something in common -- it was not a good week for either.
This newspaper's report on the pontiff's appeal to Indians to forget the church's past mistakes carried a paragraph that may or may not have root in historical fact. The paragraph, which was without any attribution or qualification, stated flatly that what the pope was referring to was the zealotry of many Roman Catholic priests who accompanied the Spanish Conquistadores to proselytize the Indians, "often killing those who would not convert."
The reader has a right to know whether priests killing Indians is an uncontested historical fact and if so, the authority. Editors are always demanding attribution. This paragraph was begging for it. Nobody paid attention.
Earlier in the week there was an article about some 50 resident Catholics who gathered in Washington to denounce His Holiness.
Although a local story, it was carried in the front section with a two-column headline and a photograph. It went on for a solid column, well written and with a sparkling lead, which one doesn't see enough of in The Post, nor any newspaper, for that matter. Here it is:
"Nearly 50 Roman Catholics from dozens of parishes around Washington met yesterday to confess to the same frustration: Pope John Paul II, they said, just doesn't know what it's like to be a Catholic."
The only trouble with the article is that there was no attempt to put the gathering into some perspective, like pointing out that this articulate little group represents numerically eight thousandths of 1 percent of the 600,000 Roman Catholics in the two archdioceses that make up The Post's circulation area. (There's something wrong with describing The Post circulation area in terms of archdioceses, but I'll leave it as a good-will gesture to His Holiness.)
The unfairness of the article, by the way, had only one reader protesting -- a Southern Baptist minister.
The death of the Bethesda Chevy Chase High School grad on his 25th birthday while leading an Israeli Army patrol in south Lebanon was reported in The Post on Friday. The Washington Times had it on Thursday. In a way, The Post had it the same day as The Washington Times in the form of a paid death notice in agate type with all the circumstances of the young man's death as a captain in the Israeli Army. The Post article referred to the boy's mother by name, and then reported that his father was a public policy analyst with a nonprofit firm. Nothing about mamma, who happens to be the managing editor of two slick monthly magazines with religious orientation, which probably would have told the reader more about why the lad was fighting in Israel than any of the Montgomery County neighbors quoted in the story.
This is the second time in a month that a story in The Post with a child as the principal subject gave emphasis to the father's occupation, not the mother's. The other was the story about the 4-year-old sole survivor of the airliner crash in Detroit.
There was one other article in The Post this past week that got my dander up, the story of the appeals court reversing the conviction of a 47-year-old Alexandria high school counselor on charges of "fondling" a 16-year-old female student. Two of her friends testified on appeal that the accuser confided to them that she'd fabricated the incident.
The Post has a commendable policy of not naming the accuser in sex cases. Here, though, the name of the accused, now declared innocent, has been soiled forever, having been mentioned three different times in The Post, and the accuser, who bore false testimony, gets off scot free totally anonymous. So what is certainly a noble policy has in this case -- and it happened once before this year -- punished the innocent and protected the guilty. There ought to be a review of Post policy in sex cases with the thought that the accused deserves as much protection as the accuser until the conviction (and the appeal) have been resolved.
How can I wind up this column on an upbeat note? Well, I predict the pope will keep the members of his restless flock intact, even if they don't practice what he preaches, and The Post will hold on to its subscribers, crushed storm doors or no