In the Jan. 1, 1922, Catholic Sentinel issue:

CORRECTION

To the Editor: In last week's issue you printed that I was married. The report is "very much exaggerated."

Please print a correction in this week's issue.

— A.B. CAIN

Sigh.

While it is humanly impossible to print a perfect, error-free newspaper, readers should know that we at the Catholic Sentinel strive to do just that — and that our mistakes haunt us for decades. They’re in print, after all.

Journalists know that mistakes pop up in printed pages like arcade game whack-a-moles.

Typos, grammatical errors and common misspellings are just the beginning. There are errors of tone. Words may be used correctly but offend nevertheless. Errors of fact might come from reporting incorrect information or from misunderstanding what an informed source has said. All are magnified by the looming potential for careless errors caused by scrambling to meet daily and weekly deadlines and wrong-headed assumptions — in other words, the human condition.

The truth is, we know we can be wrong even when we can justifiably argue that we were right.

In January 1965, reader Arnold Sharp wrote an entertaining and pointed correction to the editorial page editor, Father Edmond Bliven, regarding the use of “Xmas”:

“Dear X Bliven:

Our committee wishes to congratulate and thank you for the use of Xmas on the front page of your paper on Dec. 18 [1964].

We are gradually winning our fight to make Xmas the completely secular holiday and this issue of the X Sentinel will be most helpful, as up till now we have experienced some resistance from your people.”

Father Bliven answered Sharp on the same page with an editorial titled, “A Common Abbreviation – Since 1551.” He argued that the Greek letter “X” had represented Christ for centuries.

Father Bliven ran two other letters also objecting to the use of “Xmas” — letters that both rebutted his own argument.

Earl Zak of Milwaukie wrote, “Of course you will defend your actions with the ‘tired old story’ that X is the Greek letter for Christ. May I respectfully point out that your paper is not written in Greek and that the modern use of the X in Christmas was not designed or developed by the Greeks.”

The third letter writer made a similar point.

The Catholic Sentinel’s editors and writers, chastened, mostly resisted the use of “Xmas” for decades to come but come the new millennium the lesson had evidently been forgotten.

In the Dec. 19, 2003, newspaper, there were three editorials: “Good news of great joy” (Luke 2:1-14, which always ran in the paper during that era in the issue before Christmas), “Don’t let Santa crowd Christ,” and “‘We got him’ a fine Xmas gift,” about American troops’ capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

An angry reader called to tell then editor Bob Pfohman that the use of “X” in Xmas was a Satanic ploy to cross out Christ from Christmas. Pfohman replied that he’d had no idea. He would, he said in a hard voice, discover who on staff was responsible. “Heads will roll, Madam,” he assured.

The caller said she didn’t want anyone to lose their jobs over the mistake.

“Too late!” Pfohman told her. “Heads will roll!”

Another reader had a different point about that editorial, writing there was a “distinct possibility that the war was a violation of our Christian morality and spiritual values. … What is the Sentinel doing reveling in a military victory? Where were words from our faith vocabulary… like ‘peace,’ ‘hope,’ ‘reconciliation,’ ‘justice’?”

Which illustrates just how many ways journalists can get it wrong.

Unknown unknowns

Once in print, the errors are never funny — at least until a decade or two has gone by, and with the salve of a glass of wine.

Editor Ed Langlois still winces about the time in 2000 that he wrote about the archbishop’s vocation camp, Quo Vadis.

“Quo Vadis is Latin for ‘something in return,’” he helpfully explained to readers.

Not exactly.

Reader Jim Shand wrote, “Certainly Ed Langlois knows what Quo vadis really means. …”

Alas. “I was thinking of ‘quid pro quo,’” Langlois explains now. “The men who have vocations give something in return…”

He clearly missed the famous book and the movies. It means “Where are you going?” It comes from the legend of a fleeing St. Peter meeting the risen Christ, and asking him, “Quo vadis?”

Another mistake that still rankles Langlois came the following year. His 2001 article about the Baker Diocese’s new bishop had this lede: “Although he has served as a prince of the church for almost a year, Bishop Robert Vasa still has the hands and temperament of a farmboy.”

After publication, Langlois quickly learned from many directions that “princes of the church” were cardinals, not bishops.

The learning curve

Even photos can be landmines.

Throughout the 1990s, Pfohman had the newest staff writer compile “parish notes,” calling every parish in the state and producing a page of briefs. This allowed the new staffer to become familiar with the entire archdiocese, plus the Diocese of Baker. It also meant that the page was put together by a newbie — which was how in November 1993 we ran a piece about Father Scott Vandehey, then pastor of St. Mary Parish in Eugene, leading a delegation to visit Mexico City. We ran the brief with a photo of Father Kelly Vandehey, then a seminarian.

Proofreading, of course, should have caught that — and readers might be surprised or perhaps horrified by how many mistakes proofreading does catch.

However, if it’s true that the devil is in the details then the devil must cleverly lead us to find the small typos (parish spelled parrish, for instance, or altar alter) and miss the egregious errors — like calling a parish by two different names in the same paragraph, for instance.

That was one of my worst gaffes, caused by pure carelessness. (My other worst error is too recent and awful to mention. Really.)

I’d worked for the Catholic Sentinel for a couple years in 1990. The paper had began running nearly weekly stories of parish life at each parish in the state — large and small, urban and rural — and I was responsible for the series. Sometimes I would visit the parishes, but for the farthest flung outposts budget and time constraints meant I reported by phone.

On April 6, 1990, we ran “Blessed Sacrament Parish: A place to call home,” about the vibrant Ontario faith community, nearly on the Idaho border. The story began well enough, but in the fifth paragraph I got into trouble. “Sacred Heart has about 350 active families,” I wrote.

Sacred Heart?

In the ninth paragraph, I managed to write that about 40% of Blessed Sacrament’s parishioners spoke Spanish and that Sacred Heart’s Hispanic community had been there since the 1920s.

I felt lucky to not be fired for that error, and for a good year expected to be sacked every time Pfohman called me into his office.

An even worse mistake came a year later, when we somehow reported that North Portland’s Blessed Sacrament Church would become a daycare center.

Wrong.

It was the old, closed school that would become the daycare center.

There’s no way that will ever become a funny story, not even over a stiff whiskey. It’s a cautionary tale.

Errors like these are the stuff nightmares are made of. The shame they inspire shred journalistic overconfidence and weave hearts of deep humility.

To conclude: We sincerely regret our errors, and we are grateful for our readers’ prayers, support — and corrections. We promise to keep trying our best to keep the paper as error free as is humanly possible.