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Abuse scandal hits Texas diocese as cardinal meets with pope

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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. DiNardo, the head of the U.S. conference of bishops, has been outspoken in his calls for reform, but the accusers said they personally complained to him about the priest and believed they were brushed off.

Merchant did not stop there with his reporting. He astutely went to weekend Mass at the priest’s church, learning that church leaders had told parishioners the priest was not at services because he was “at a retreat.” Two days later, he was arrested.

The AP story moved the day after the priest was arrested and on the eve of DiNardo’s visit with the pope at the Vatican. The AP reporting made an immediate splash,with Houston TV stations running the story and the Houston Chronicle giving Merchant’s exclusive a prominent mention in its breaking story on the priest’s arrest. The story was the talk of the Vatican gathering in Rome and was widely shared by Catholic news publications, influential religion writers and the Religion News Service. Merchant also went on Houston Public Media to talk about the scoop.

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

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