It was a piece of investigative journalism that yielded stunning revelations about the role of 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 dug into the nonprofit after noticing an angry thread on Reddit that made reference to an organization providing protection to abusive priests.
The reporters launched an aggressive effort to unravel the story behind the organization, called Opus Bono Sacerdotii. They scoured Catholic archives, went to the halls of St. John’s Seminary in Detroit, conducted dozens of interviews with experts, lawyers, clergy members and former employees, and reviewed hundreds of pages of documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests. One of the people they interviewed was Mary Rose Maher, a former employee of the group and daughter of an Opus Bono co-founder, who wrote a letter to state authorities exposing the group’s alleged financial practices.
Photographer Paul Sancya told the story through a powerful set of images gathered over weeks, while his Detroit colleague, video journalist Mike Householder, chased down court records and made important introductions while putting together his own compelling piece.
Even before they published, the team had impact: One of the organization’s co-founders, Rev. Eduard Perrone, was removed from ministry over an allegation that he sexually abused a minor, a month after AP began inquiring. The story gathered growing interest as it was translated and published in predominantly Catholic countries around the world, prompting long Twitter conversations among pundits and priests. Competing Detroit dailies both ran the story on Page 1, and it appeared in dozens of newspapers around the U.S. In its first day the story got more than 270,000 pageviews on APNews.com.
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.