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Writing a headline to create a story

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jul 02, 2018

An egregious example of a misleading headline, from AP: 

Pope replaces Australian prelate who opposes sex abuse norm

The focus of the story is on Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, who (AP tells us) “said he’d prefer jail to telling civil authorities about any sex abuse of children that might be revealed to him in the confessional.” That’s rather misleading, in itself, because the archbishop’s preferences are not the issue. He—and every other Catholic priest—cannot reveal anything heard in a sacramental confession.

But the more serious flaw in the AP story is revealed in the 3rd paragraph:

At 77, Hart is two years older than the age at which all bishops must offer the pope their resignation.

The headline suggests that the archbishop was removed because the Pope was displeased with his stand on sexual abuse. The reality is that he was already two years overdue for retirement. So his departure now has nothing to do with his stand on the confessional seal. As a matter of fact, at least two other Australian prelates have recently made strong public statements in defense of the seal, and they remain in active ministry.

So why did the Pope replace Archbishop Hart? Because he’s past retirement age. But I suppose the headline “Pope replaces archbishop who was overdue for retirement” doesn’t have the same impact.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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