Bishop Lennon Granted Me Unprecedented Access — WHY?




If you haven't read our profile on Cleveland's Bishop Richard Lennon, published in this week's issue of Scene, it's blowing up all around the country and you should read the whole thing immediately!

Just kidding guys. It's an in-depth piece which covers a great deal of the Bishop's views and rehashes the parish closing crisis here in Cleveland while following Lennon through a typical day at the office. I've already received a few emails asking how I was able to "access" the Bishop in the way I did. Folks wondered why he was willing to talk with me when he's generally so tight-lipped (or worse) to media outlets.

It went like this.

I approached the Diocese's communications director Bob Tayek with my pitch. I told him I was interested in doing a story on the Bishop. And right off the bat, I indicated that it wouldn't be a Lennon-bashing piece, that I was much more interested in the man than the controversies surrounding him.

As such, I said I'd prefer to spend some concerted time with him. I said I'd be happy to do a single hour-long interview, but expressed my opinion that I'd be able to write a much better story if I actually followed him around for a day.

The Diocese was initially hesitant. Tayek asked me to be more specific. I sent him a link to this piece in Vanity Fair which chronicled a day in the life of President Obama while also discussing perceptions of the presidency vs. the reality of the job.

My aim was similar, I said. I wanted to humanize the Bishop and shine some light on what a Bishop does all day. I mean, I had no idea.

I should say also that I very overtly identified myself as a practicing Catholic — which I am — to sort of align myself on the Diocese's team. I wasn't some renegade Athiest out to destroy the Church. I was a journalist who'd endured the same frustrations as other Catholics in the region and I wanted to learn more about the guy in charge.

They seemed somewhat taken, if a bit surprised, by my earnestness and candor and invited me in to have a sort of "pre-meeting" with the Bishop himself to discuss what they were calling my "parameters."

I met with Tayek and Lennon and once again outlined my aims. Lennon was incredibly cordial and open. He showed up drinking a can of Diet Coke, and asked immediately what parish I was from. (The assumption, I guess, was that I was Catholic. I honestly think I wouldn't have gotten very far if I gave him a blank stare.)

But after chatting for a bit, Lennon seemed much more amenable to the story idea than Tayek, who — fairly, perhaps — was skeptical about the quality of Scene as a publication. He didn't know if the Diocese ought to be associated with a magazine which prints the sort of racy classified ads we print.

The Bishop waved that concern away.

"He has no control over the ads," he said.

The story almost didn't happen though, on account of schedules. We both found ourselves extremely busy, and some days were non-negotiable for both of us. We managed to find two Fridays which we thought would work and the second one — the Friday I ultimately spent with him — included a bit more diversity in terms of meetings and responsibilities. We both thought that one would be better, though I had to forego a trip to Columbus that weekend. (I had intended to go see Justin Morrow and the Earthquakes take on the Crew in Columbus for another Scene story.)

Both Tayek and Lennon were extremely helpful throughout the day. I was granted almost complete access, with the exception of one very confidential financial conversation and the tail end of the sexual abuse meeting, during which I was asked to step outside as a courtesy, as they were discussing an individual case.

I think entities (governmental, religious, corporate etc.) tend to assume that journalists are out to get them, and it's been my experience that candor and specificity on the front end can produce really positive results. That's not always possible, I'm aware, but in this case, I was able to establish a much more meaningful, honest rapport with a guy who'd I never really taken the time to do anything but sneer at.

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