Star failed to apologize for its fake news fable, “The Altar Boy’s Secret.”

The online version of the Kansas City Star invites readers to meet its new editorial team. Newcomers include editorial page editor, Colleen Nelson, who first came to national attention when busted by Wikileaks for her cozy ties with John Podesta, and Melinda Henneberger, an opinion writer “most recently” employed by USA Today.

What stands out in Henneberger’s online resume is her affiliation with the Catholic Church. Henneberger graduated from Notre Dame, earned a graduate degree at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, served as a visiting fellow at Catholic University in Washington, spent time as Rome bureau chief for the New York Times, and has written for Catholic publications including Commonweal and the National Catholic Reporter.

The optimist might think that this is a a self-correction, a form of contrition even for the anti-Catholic hit jobs the Star has run in the past. Most notorious of those was the ultra-Gothic, front-page, three-part series, “The Altar Boys’ Secret,” served up by the Star just in time for Christmas 2011.

Set 30 years prior, the story begins with a named monsignor forcing four altar boys “to perform sexual acts on each other and on him.” The monsignor reportedly tells the boys, “If you ever tell, you’ll be kicked out of the Catholic Church, your parents will disown you, and you’ll die and go to hell,” and the boys comply.

Of the five participants, only two were alive in 2011. These were the accuser Jon Couzens, who was suing the Catholic Church, and one of the other boys, Jeff Barlow by name. In October 2014, Barlow testified in the civil suit Couzens brought against the Church. The Star had the author of the altar boy story, Judy Thomas, cover the trial. Under oath Barlow made hash out of Thomas’s story.

“With God as my witness and without a doubt,” Barlow told the court, “I was never abused.” He then added, “This idea that in this short period of time you’re going to molest four boys, swear them to secrecy and then walk into Mass is ridiculous.” This much was obvious to any former altar boy. Barlow was outraged by the Star story, telling the court:

“I was infuriated because it was clear that The Kansas City Star was not interested in the truth. It was like I was discounted.”

Thomas, in turn, spent most of her report on the trial discounting Barlow’s testimony. According to Thomas, she recorded two interviews with Barlow three years ago, and what he said then did not quite match up with his court testimony.

What Thomas failed to say was that Barlow never verified Couzens’s tale. That fable, as elaborated by Thomas, cost the Catholic Church millions and helped create the environment that led to the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn. If Thomas or the Star ever apologized to Barlow or Finn, such an apology escapes easy detection.

As to the question posed in the headline of this editorial–is the Star feeling contrite?–the Sentinel will have that answer tomorrow. Spoiler alert: don’t get your hopes up.

 

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