Another case of "there's more to this story"

Dateline: Fri 13 Jul 2007

The Star carried an AP story today about a sex-abuse lawsuit filed against a priest and two Indiana dioceses. Here's the link:

But the Star's account doesn't tell the entire story. Thanks to the tipster who pointed this out.

According to the Star's Associated Press account, Stephen Eckert alleges he was sexually assaulted, battered and molested repeatedly in 1965 when he was 10 years old at a Catholic Youth Organization camp.

The suit, filed in Allen County, names the Rev. Gerald Funcheon as the abuser. AP quotes a spokesman for the Lafayette diocese, who says that the priest "entered therapy (in 1992) after unspecified concerns had been raised about him." Last anyone reported on him -- in an award-winning series by the Star in 1997 -- Funcheon was living somewhere in the Northwest.

So what's missing from the story the Star ran? What my alert reader pointed out, which is this:

A Stephen P. Eckert was listed in the print edition of The Indiana Lawyer this week as being suspended from the practice of law in Indiana. My source did some digging and discovered that Eckert's problems as an attorney -- ignoring clients and other similar violations -- began in 2005. That's the same year Eckert claims he first consciously recalled the abuse, according to his lawsuit as reported by AP.

By calling a law firm Eckert formerly worked for, I was able to confirm that the two Stephen Eckerts are indeed the same person: the man alleging the abuse at the hands of a priest the church acknowledges needed therapy is in fact an Indianapolis attorney who has had problems maintaining his profession.

Coincidence? Significant? I don't know, but I'm sure more will come up as the case progresses. If in fact Eckert's business failures were related to his alleged abuse, the story is far more nuanced -- and tragic -- than first reported.

The bigger point is that a casual Star reader knew more about this story than the paid reporters and editors whose job it is to keep us well-informed. The Indiana Lawyer is a paper of record; too bad it wasn't read at the Star and the connection made between the lawsuit and the lawyer's personal problems.

But now that it's been pointed out, perhaps there will be a follow-up in the Star -- a story by a reporter who can do the digging? As I noted, the Star once won major journalistic prizes for its series on abusive priests. Where is the reporting today?


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