Courant admits AIDS story 'demanded more care'
KANSAS CITY - The reader's representative of The Hartford Courant has admitted that the Hartford newspaper's treatment of The Kansas City Star's "Aids in the Priesthood" series "demanded more care and perspective than this newspaper offered."
Portions of the series were distributed nationally over wire services and published in The Courant on Jan. 30, said Elissa Papirno in a Feb. 6 column that was also posted on the newspaper's website.
Papirno said that The Courant chose to publish on its front page "less than half" of only one story in the three-day series - the initial story, which she said was 100 column inches before it was cut.
"Later articles (in the series) reported, movingly, on priests who had died from AIDS, including a college president. A segment about the education of priests cited the groundbreaking work of the Rev. James Gill, a Jesuit priest and psychiatrist affiliated with Hartford's Institute of Living," Paprino wrote. "None of this was published in The Courant."
Rebecca Summers, media relations director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said she has received similar reports of other newspapers trimming the Star's series down to a single story.
"In our own research on the Web and hearing from other dioceses, we know that wire versions of this series of stories often left readers with impressions that we are not certain even The Star intended," Summers said.
"Apparently, this is the case in Hartford."
Papirno said that the "sad, shocking reality of AIDS within a church that condemns homosexual acts and demands celibacy of its clergy arguably merited front-page attention."
But Paprino also took issue with the Star's use of statistics, calling them "misleading" and "flawed," and with the way Courant editors took statistics from a separate article on the Star's national survey of priests and added them to the main story.
The Star mailed confidential surveys to 3,000 priests and received 801 responses.
Noting that the seven of the priests who responded said they have or might have AIDS, Papirno said, "The Star then extrapolated that 400 of the nation's 46,000 priests probably have AIDS - a non-scientific conclusion since the results were based on only those priests who chose to answer the confidential mail survey."
She also took issue with the contention in the lead paragraph of the story that priests are "four times more likely to die of AIDS than the general population."
"Deep in the original article - and cut from The Courant version - is a more apt comparison: Priests are twice as likely to die of AIDS as any other adult men (assuming priests' death from AIDS can even be measured)," wrote Papirno.
"Editors should have been more critical of the statistics and crafted an account for a Connecticut audience, including a response, perhaps, from Rev. Gill or area priests with expertise in AIDS," she said.