Lobdell was happy when he was able to begin writing the column on religion for the Orange County paper. And when his dream job finally came his way – work as a religion reporter at the Los Angeles Times – it seemed an answer to prayer. The L.A. Times job led to award-winning investigative work – but also to disillusionment.
Six months before the clergy sexual abuse crisis broke wide open in Boston in 2002, the Catholic dioceses in Orange County and Los Angeles agreed to pay a $5.2 million settlement to a single individual, Ryan DiMaria. The young man had charged a highly popular priest and high school principal with abuse. Msgr. Michael Harris, whose nickname was “Father Hollywood,” turned out to have other victims as well.
Lobdell dug into the first of several cases that would lead to years of investigation, hundreds of hours of conversation with abuse victims, and repeated discoveries of church hypocrisy and hard-ball tactics in the treatment of victims and their families.
At the time the DiMaria case was settled, Lobdell and his wife were attending Catholic conversion classes twice a week. As he tells it, “the Father Hollywood story was a spiritual body blow, but I didn’t sense it at the time.”
Instead, the eager reporter felt God had given him a special responsibility: to uncover corruption in religion in order to spur reform and healing. With equal fervor, he undertook in-depth reports on televangelists who were milking people of millions and using funds for themselves; one involved an exposé of the homosexual tryst and lavish living of the head of Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Yet the results were disheartening: Catholic parishioners repeatedly took the side of abusive priests and railed against the victims; and the televangelists raked in millions more the year after the stories appeared. “In fact, my stories were used as fund-raising tools – evidence that TBN was doing God’s work and the devil (that is, yours truly) was trying to stop it,” Lobdell writes.