Oct. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Investigation: Priests accused of abuse have access to children, dozens commit crimes

As the ranks of dioceses promising to release lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse began to mushroom at the beginning of this year, Philadelphia reporter Claudia Lauer and Washington-based data editor Meghan Hoyer started to strategize: How could they leverage the information on a scale never before accomplished? 

After months of systematic, dogged work, the result was “Where Are They Now,” a blockbuster investigation that found almost 1,700 priests and other clergy members living with little to no oversight, many with positions giving them access to children. Dozens have committed crimes, including sexual assault. 

The story received exceptional play online and in print, and AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano called it, “One of the most monumental pieces of AP journalism in my memory.” 

For a stunning investigation that breaks new ground in the already impressive body of work that is “The Reckoning” series, Lauer and Hoyer win this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

As allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000 apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged abuse secret.

“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in the Catholic Church, revealed deals struck with two black men for abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

Despite the challenges, the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, photographer Maye-E-Wong, video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan, digital storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was working with children even after the church had known about one of the men’s allegations.

For their sensitive work on a complex, emotional and previously untold story, the team of Rezendes, Morgan, Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win this week’s Best of the States.

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Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the Week

In the face of death, the party of a lifetime

In a world focused on life and survival, death is often unseen, endured in private and acknowledged in glowing obituaries or tragic news stories. It’s also mostly out of the control of the person who is dying.

Now, with nine U.S. states allowing terminally ill people to end their lives with fatal drugs, thousands of people have legally chosen how and when to end their lives.

Seattle Photographer Elaine Thompson has long wanted to show the real, personal side of what often comes across as an impersonal process. She spent months looking for the right subject, getting tantalizingly close to success before plans fell through. She stuck with it, and when she found Bob Fuller, she enlisted reporter Gene Johnson to tell his story.

This week’s Best of the Week goes to the team of Elaine Thompson and Gene Johnson who chronicled how one man, in the face of death, created the party of a lifetime.

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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Guam’s ex-archbishop protected culture of clergy sex abuse of children

Knowledge of clergy sex abuse is widespread on the mainland of the United States. But it has long been a secret in the small, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic U.S. territory of Guam.

Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, working with Atlanta-based enterprise photographer David Goldman and Seattle video journalist Manuel Valdes, helped to puncture that veil of silence when AP examined thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits brought by abuse victims and then conducted extensive interviews.

The AP team detailed a pattern of repeated collusion among predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the top of the territory’s church hierarchy, ruled over by then-Archbishop Tony Apuron, who himself had been accused of the rape of a 13-year-old choir boy when Apuron was a parish priest.

The care and sensitivity of the reporting and images were essential to the project’s power. “To see my story told in this way gives me a lot of peace, that I have a purpose,” said Walter Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant and survivor of abuse nearly 40 years ago.

For telling a sensitive and little-known story of systemic clerical abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013, Biesecker, Goldman and Valdes share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Aug. 09, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigative team reveals how Michigan-based group quietly helped abusive priests

It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a small nonprofit in Michigan that has been quietly providing money, shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

Investigative reporters Martha Mendoza, Garance Burke and Juliet Linderman launched an aggressive effort using shoe leather and Freedom of Information requests to unravel the story behind the organization. Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images, while videographer Mike Householder produced his own compelling piece.

The riveting story received prominent play and gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world.

For a story that revealed a startling but little-known group in the shadows of the church’s sexual abuse scandals, Mendoza, Linderman, Burke, Householder and Sancya win AP’s Best of the Week.

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June 14, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Top US cardinal accused of mishandling abuse allegations against deputy

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s five-month investigation revealed the stunning allegations: A high-ranking Catholic priest had a sexual relationship with a Houston woman for more than a year, counseled her husband on their marital problems, pressed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the couple and continued to hear her confession.

But the cardinal overseeing the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in the United States approved the priest’s transfer to a church two hours away.

The fallout from Winfield’s revelations was swift: The priest was suspended and church officials reopened their inquiry into the handling of parishioner Laura Pontikes’ accusations.

To tell the sensitive story, Winfield – and a team that included Raleigh-based national writer/video journalist Allen Breed, New York global enterprise photographer Wong Maye-E and Houston correspondent Nomaan Merchant – meticulously planned coverage in each format, including on-camera interviews with Pontikes and her husband, and photos and video of the cardinal and the accused priest.

For an investigation that cast doubt on a top church official’s handling of a case involving startling allegations of abuse, Winfield, Breed, Wong and Merchant wins AP’s Best of the Week award.

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May 03, 2019

Best of the Week

Impressive all-formats response to Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday bombings

It was a merciless attack in a part of the world not immediately associated with Islamic extremism. But what was behind the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka that killed more than 300 people, and why did the government fail to stop it despite early warnings?

Getting images and news out to the world was a monumental task, but one that AP reporters, photographers and videojournalists took on with tremendous skill and dedication.

The initial reporting came from the Colombo-based team of reporters Krishan Francis and Bharatha Mallawarachi and photographer Eranga Jayawardena. They were backed by correspondent Emily Schmall in Delhi, who would join them, breaking news with a live interview of the prime minister.

Local stringer Jay Palipane shot the first video, reinforced by Delhi-based videojournalists Shonal Ganguly and Rishabh Jain, who joined Palipane in providing hours of live coverage.

Bangkok-based Sri Lankan photographer Gemunu Amarasinghe flew in, covering intimate moments of grieving relatives, soon to be joined by Delhi-based Manish Swarup who produced a moving photo essay from one of the attack sites.

Other highlights included coverage of a raid on militants and an Only on AP story about the first post-attack church service by Gulf News Director Jon Gambrell. Seoul Chief of Bureau Foster Klug examined the little-known local terror cell behind the attack.

Play was tremendous in all formats as the world remained fixated on the continuously developing story.

For their outstanding work in the face of stiff challenges, the team of Francis, Mallawarachi, Jayawardena, Palipane, Schmall, Ganguly, Jain, Amarasinghe, Gambrell, Swarup and Klug wins this week’s Best of the AP.

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March 29, 2019

Best of the Week

Planning, execution and teamwork deliver outstanding coverage of Mueller report

For weeks, journalists in Washington had been chasing tips that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race for the White House was winding down. Knowing that appetite for the story was huge, our Washington team created a comprehensive coverage plan for the day the report would be delivered to Attorney General William Barr.

Eric Tucker, Justice Department reporter, and Chad Day, Trump investigations reporter, kicked off the coverage with “Mueller in Plain Sight,” a sweeping narrative of everything that had already been revealed by Mueller in his public indictments.

As speculation intensified, Tucker and law enforcement reporter Mike Balsamo alternated shifts at the Justice Department, while AP photographers and videojournalists staked out Mueller and Barr. Photographer Andrew Harnik scored with images of Mueller arriving at the Justice Department, the first image of Mueller by a news photographer in more than a year.

Word finally came on Friday, March 22 that Mueller’s work had ended. Within minutes of moving an alert, the AP sent a series of richly reported stories by the team that led AP’s coverage for months: Tucker, Day, Balsamo and Congress reporter Mary Clare Jalonick.

And on Sunday morning AP scored another visual scoop when freelance photographer Cliff Owen learned that Mueller was at church. Owen’s photos of Mueller exiting St. John’s church ricocheted around the internet.

Later Sunday, when a Justice Department official handed reporters copies of Barr’s summary, Tucker calmly read the highlights over an open phone line to the bureau while Balsamo sent full quotes. AP’s first alert, that Mueller had not exonerated Trump on obstruction of justice, moved a full 10 minutes before the Washington Post and five minutes before the New York Times.

The video team also provided unmatched live coverage from a wide range of locations in Washington, at Mar-a-Lago in Florida and in New York throughout the weekend.

For exceptional planning, teamwork and execution, Eric Tucker, Chad Day, Mike Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Harnik and Cliff Owen win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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March 15, 2019

Best of the Week

AP team demonstrates what a community loses when a small-town newspaper dies

What’s lost when a newspaper dies? And how do you tell the story of this slow disaster happening in front of everyone’s eyes and still make the world sit up and take notice?

For reporters Dave Bauder and David Lieb, the answer was by focusing on the residents of one small town as they explained the death of local journalism in an authentic, vivid and compelling way.

It’s a story that’s happened repeatedly across the country, with 1,400 cities or towns losing newspapers in the last 15 years. The aftermath of the loss of the Daily Guide in Waynesville, Missouri, was richly told by a multiformat team of text, video and photo journalists as the centerpiece story for “Fading Light,” the AP’s Sunshine Week package on the decline of local news.

New York-based media reporter Bauder and Lieb, a member of the state government team based in Missouri’s capitol, spent several days in Waynesville and its twin city, St. Robert, reporting the story. Denver video journalist Peter Banda and Kansas City photographer Orlin Wagner worked closely with them to shoot visuals, while Alina Hartounian, the multiformat coordinator for the U.S. beat teams, created social videos that drove readers to the story. Bauder also secured an interview with executives at the company that shuttered the Daily Guide.

The package received incredible attention and sparked discussion online. Bauder and Lieb’s text story has been viewed nearly 120,000 times with high engagement, it has landed on nearly 30 front pages, and has been cited in several influential media reports.

For masterful work shining a light on a problem that has left whole communities less informed, Bauder, Lieb, Banda, Wagner and Hartounian win AP’s Best of the Week award.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Documenting the US surge in identifying molester Catholic priests

In the months after a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report on sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, scattered dioceses across the country started putting out their own lists of molester priests. Some state and local authorities also announced they would investigate the church.

News outlets began reporting the varied efforts piecemeal. But no one was capturing the big picture – including the sudden urgency being shown by the church to open its books on past abuse.

Reporter Claudia Lauer in the Philadelphia bureau set out to fix that. Starting in November, she began systematically documenting every investigation taking place around the country and every instance of a diocese naming abusive priests in the wake of the Pennsylvania report.

With the number of US dioceses totaling 187, it was a time-consuming task. But that work paid off with her Jan. 3 exclusive. Lauer tallied more than 1,000 names publicized by 50 or so dioceses and established that over 50 more dioceses were committed to naming names. She also identified nearly 20 outside investigations taking place across the country, both criminal and civil.

The story won phenomenal play online and in print and generated huge interest on social media. Some Catholic publications used her story to provide an update on developments in the church.

For her painstaking and dogged work to document what has been happening in the church nationally in the wake of the Pennsylvania report, Lauer wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Jan. 11, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation exposes sex abuse suffered at hands of priests by India’s nuns

New Delhi-based investigative reporter Tim Sullivan spent months looking into whispers that Indian nuns had endured sexual pressure by Catholic priests. What he found, after months of reporting into the closed-off world of Catholic convents, was a pattern of abuse that went back decades, ranging from drunken priests barging into nuns’ rooms to outright rape. He also found a culture of silence that had long kept these attacks hidden. Slowly, though, Sullivan found sisters willing to open up about their attacks, and others who could give perspective on why they’d been kept secret for so long. Finally, he and New Delhi photographer Manish Swarup traveled to southern India’s Catholic heartland to meet with nuns who had become pariahs in their community for defending a sister who accused a bishop of rape.

Sullivan’s powerful narrative attracted widespread attention. Accompanied by Swarup’s evocative photos, it was one of the AP’s most-read stories for the week, with excellent reader engagement. AP clients specializing in Catholic affairs ran the story prominently.

The standout work by Sullivan and Swarup contributed to the week’s remarkable body of work across the AP in covering abuse by clergy. For exposing long-held scandals in India’s Catholic ministries, Sullivan and Swarup share AP’s Best of the Week.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the States

Years of planning pay off in ‘picture perfect’ coverage of Bush funeral events

For more than a decade, Washington photo editor Jon Elswick has negotiated with the Department of Defense over coverage plans for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, while Houston photojournalist David Phillip fostered a relationship with the Bush family and their spokesman to secure AP’s shooting positions for the eventual funeral events.

Those relationships were crucial to arranging and executing coverage, paving the way for more than two dozen staffers to parachute into Washington, Houston and College Station, Texas, where they produced outstanding photos in real time and for the history books.

Among the highlights: Photographer Morry Gash fired a remote-controlled camera that captured a stunning bird’s-eye view of the U.S. Capitol rotunda during visitation and services, and David Phillip negotiated to shoot inside the railroad car carrying the coffin as the funeral train passed through Texas. Phillip called it “the most incredible event I have ever covered.”

The photo coverage was part of an impressive dayslong cross-format effort by scores of AP staff across the country and globe that included hours of live video and spot and breaking text, video, audio and graphics coverage that explored Bush’s life and presidency from every angle.

For exceptional planning and execution on one of the largest news events of the year, this week’s Best of the States goes to the team of photo staff covering the Bush funeral.

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Nov. 09, 2018

Best of the States

APNewsBreak: Iowa diocese covered up priest’s abuse of 50 boys

A source called Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley with a tip: He had a shocking letter that he couldn’t share in which the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, acknowledged a priest admitted to abuse of 50 boys in Iowa over 20 years.

Foley eventually tracked down a copy of the letter, and it was stunning: The diocese admitted the Rev. Jerome Coyle reported his pedophilia in 1986 but was simply shuffled to New Mexico for treatment. The diocese also offered to pay Coyle to stay in New Mexico, warning that his desired return to Iowa would retraumatize his victims, now grown men.

Yet sources said he returned to Fort Dodge, Iowa, which is where Foley and photographer Charlie Neibergall found him. The priest wouldn’t talk, but the diocese confirmed Foley’s story and acknowledged two victims had come forward in recent weeks with allegations against Coyle that would now be turned over to police. The 32-year coverup was over.

Reaction to Foley’s story – the lead story in newspapers across the state – was quick, with Coyle removed from the home, the Iowa attorney general’s office launching an inquiry, and the diocese promising to identify all priests who have faced credible allegations.

The diocese said it was taking this action due to the continuing investigations of “the AP reporter.”

For breaking a story in vivid detail that had been kept hidden for decades, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Sept. 21, 2018

Best of the States

Abuse scandal hits Texas diocese as cardinal meets with pope

Houston-based reporter Nomaan Merchant broke important news about the role of an influential American cardinal in an abuse scandal in his home diocese, just as the cardinal was meeting with Pope Francis to discuss reforms to address clergy abuse.

Merchant exclusively tracked down two accusers who allege a priest in the Houston archdiocese had abused them – and that church leaders, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, subsequently did little to nothing to keep him out of the ministry and away from children.

The allegations were significant on their own given the current abuse crisis roiling the Catholic church. But they were made even more newsworthy in that they implicated DiNardo just as he met with the pope to discuss the church’s handling of sex abuse cases. The accusers said they personally complained to DiNardo about the priest and believed they were brushed off.

Merchant's reporting made an immediate splash in Houston-area media and religion news sources. It was also the talk of the Vatican gathering in Rome.

For his efforts, Merchant wins this week's Best of States.

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Sept. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Making the signature photo, discreetly, as family mourns McCain

Sometimes it takes a team. And a resourceful photographer.

Phoenix photographer Ross Franklin made a stunning image of Cindy McCain resting her head on the casket of her late husband Sen. John McCain during a family service in the Arizona state Capitol. Getting to this moment was a team effort, starting with great Washington contacts and relationships that gave the AP not one but two exclusive spots in the rotunda in Phoenix.

But given the solemnity of the event, there was no way to shoot the private ceremony using a motor drive to take bursts of frames – it would have been too loud and would have echoed throughout the rotunda. So Franklin agreed to shoot the entire event balanced on a ladder overlooking the scene from the balcony, with his camera in a noise muffling blimp – basically operating a camera that is wrapped in a big pillow.

When Cindy McCain approached the casket, Franklin had just one or two frames to capture the signature moment. He nailed it, and the photo was used everywhere, including a stunning display on the front of the Arizona Republic.

For his exceptional work, Ross Franklin wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 16, 2018

Best of the Week

Reporters overcome fears to expose faith crackdown in China

The assignment always promised to be a challenge: talk with Christians in China about a state crackdown on their faith when many are afraid to speak out for fear of government retribution.

When reporter Yanan Wang, photographer Han Guan Ng and video journalist Emily Wang visited cities in China’s Christian heartland, they discovered the government’s campaign to “Sinicize” Christianity was far more aggressive than previously known. Hundreds of informal churches in private homes were shuttered. Gatherings were raided. Bibles were seized. Authorities ordered posters of Jesus replaced with portraits of President Xi Jinping.

For careful, persistent reporting to expose what experts and activists described as the most severe systematic repression of Christianity since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982, the three win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the Week

AP reveals: Catholic nuns accuse clergy of sexual abuse

It was a #MeToo moment from the Vatican with a seemingly unlikely accuser – a nun.

Vatican correspondent Nicole Winfield’s interview with a nun, who broke a 20-year-silence about being physically assaulted by an Italian priest, and reporting by Uganda correspondent Rodney Muhumuza about the scope of abuse in Africa, resulted in the AP being the first news organization to chronicle the global impact on nuns of the #MeToo movement.

Their story, which included expert analysis and exclusive Vatican comment urging nuns to report and bishops to sanction abusive priests, earns the Beat of the Week.

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