TEXAS – Nearly every copy of The Hilltop Views, the student newspaper of St. Edward’s University in Austin, was stolen last month after the paper ran a front-page story about a former professor accused by the Catholic Church of sexual abuse in the 1980s.
The paper lost about 2,000 copies, and believe the front-page story motivated the theft.
Newspaper staff are still looking for answers over three weeks later. The paper hit stands on Feb. 13, and at some point in the next couple days, nearly every copy had been either picked up or stolen, according to News Editor Matthew San Martin.
“To my knowledge this has never happened to The Hilltop Views, ever,” San Martin said.
As the news editors we don’t really get a chance to be angry about things. We have to look at everything through an unbiased window. But this kind of hurt.
The front-page story was about Gerald Muller, a clergy member and music history professor who was accused by the Austin Diocese of child sex abuse in late January. Muller is accused of abusing a 17-year-old student in 1986.
In response to repeated requests for comment, Mischelle Diaz, director of communications for St. Edward’s, said the thefts were a one-time incident.
“This was an isolated incident and has not re-occurred. The Office of Campus Safety and the Dean of Students Office is aware of the details of the incident and the case is being handled by the Dean of Students Office. This is not a criminal case,” Diaz wrote in an email.
Any further details are a private disciplinary matter being handled by the Dean of Students Office,” she wrote.
In 2017, an internal university investigation reached the same conclusion the Diocese did in January, and banned Muller from campus. Nobody was made aware of the ban except for investigators, the university president and police services, according to the Hilltop Views story.
The student reporters conducted half a dozen formal interviews and dozens of informal interviews with students and nobody knew Muller was banned from campus.
Muller was “revered” on campus, according to a local news report. Diaz told the Hilltop Views that Muller was not employed when the 2017 report was made. Muller retired in 2014 and used to live in an assisted-living facility on the outskirts of campus, according to the report. Diaz said Muller no longer lives near campus.
“The incident at issue occurred in 1986 and the university had no reason to believe he posed an immediate threat that warranted a university-wide timely warning,” Diaz said, according to the student’s article.
The Austin Diocese released their list of 22 clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse Jan. 31. The list was part of a wide attempt by the Roman Catholic Church to name abusers after a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that, for seven decades, thousands of children were abused by priests in the state.
The same day, university President George E. Martin sent a mass email about the Austin diocese report and about Muller’s university ban.
The newspaper has received a lot of community support after the theft, San Martin said. People wrote positive comments on Twitter and left notes on newsstands around campus:
“Reporting is the only job listed in the Bill of Rights as protected. It is a sacred public trust, a vital civic function. Truly, the Fourth Estate, the watchdog over the powerful. Without good, strong journalism, you don’t have a healthy democracy.” – Jennifer Robison, Nobody Speak: Trials of a Free Press
“As the news editors we don’t really get a chance to be angry about things. We have to look at everything through an unbiased window. But this kind of hurt,” San Martin said.
St. Edward’s university is a private Roman Catholic university with about 5,000 students.
The Student Press Law Center tracks student newspapers thefts across the country and provides resources for student media outlets. In 2018, the center learned of eight incidents of stolen student newspapers, marking a four-year high point.
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