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Local clergy, KDKA have meeting of the minds -- sort of 

Church leaders seeking answers in light of a pastor's suicide got neither an apology nor an admission of guilt from a TV news station, but still say they are satisfied.

Local clergy represented by umbrella group, Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania, called for a meeting with KDKA-TV news after Brent Dugan, a Presbyterian pastor in Ben Avon, killed himself Nov. 3. Dugan poisoned himself after being confronted by KDKA reporter Marty Griffin, who was planning to air an expose of Dugan's allegedly "illicit and possibly illegal" sexual behavior (see CP's main feature, "Crisis of Faith," Feb. 14). In light of the suicide, Griffin's report never aired, but promos had run that, while not giving his name, clearly showed Dugan's face.

At the meeting, held Feb. 20, the two groups discussed the story, the reporting methods used and how KDKA will conduct reporting in the future. The church group wanted assurances that clergy would not be unfairly targeted or held to a higher standard of conduct.

"I want to know nobody in this city is targeting pastors, and that's the reassurance I received," says the Rev. James Mead, pastor to the Pittsburgh Presbytery. "I think it was a meeting where everybody worked hard to be present and truthful. There was some sense of healing. [KDKA general manager] Chris Pike is a man worthy of respect. So is [news director] John Verilli."

"We felt like we were heard by the management of the station, and for that we are most appreciative," says the Rev. Donald Green, executive director of Christian Associates.

KDKA declined to comment for this story, but said in a release that at the meeting it "explained that it stood by its story, detailed the investigation into Rev. Dugan's illegal activity and explained the role of the press in this matter. ... The station assured the group that it has not nor will it ever single out any segment of the community for special scrutiny, including members of the clergy, but stated that it will continue to vigorously investigate and report illegal and unethical conduct by individuals holding positions of authority in all types of organizations."

Neither Green nor Mead would comment on what the report contained, though Green characterizes the discussion as "candid." Mead says that they discussed what the report contained, and while he wasn't willing to reveal its contents, he did say that "[Dugan's] behavior was outside what the Christian church expects of him. There's no question that from [KDKA's] perspective the material was quite curious and it was from our perspective. We were not happy with the way the story was pursued but the behavior was a matter of serious concern."

Both Mead and Green say the more important issue was their perception that the media was unfairly targeting clergy. Green says that, if a member of the clergy transgresses church law, the issue ought to first be raised with church authorities. In the case of secular laws being broken by the clergy, he says, "civil authorities can be engaged and ought to be engaged, but not bypassing ecclesiastical authorities."

"I think it's important for media leaders and church leaders to have honest and straightforward and respectful relationships," says Mead. "It's important that we get along and respect each other. It doesn't mean we all agree."

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