The Press has Been the Roman Catholic Church’s Best Friend in the Abuse Scandal
What to make of the horrible mess that continues to play out across the mass media? As I listen to reactions and read responses there is one response that I find particular and deeply troubling: attacking the liberal media, secularists, modernists, rationalists and any and all who are expressing outrage at the growing reports of the abuse of children across Roman Catholic institutions. I have read posts that are damning all such reactions as no more than an ongoing plot by anti-Christian forces to tear down the Church by going after the largest visible target available: the Pope in Rome and the Church He leads.
Now, is this happening? Of course it is! Are those opposed to Christianity using this as an occasion to attack the Christian Faith itself? Of course they are. Are they being unfair? Yes, of course. All the more reason not to give these people the very ammunition they are using to shoot the Church with!
The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church bears a large part of the blame for the media attacks. Through their systematic failure to deal adequately with the abuse of children and others in Roman Catholic institutions and parishes, and by offering “golden parachutes” to those who most directly covered up and denied justice for criminal activities, (I’m talking here about Bernard Law, for example), the Roman Catholic Church made itself a very easy target and is now paying the price for the mishandling of these cases. And let me be very quick to say that The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has learned through hard and bitter experiences of our own not to pass men along who engage in these kinds of behavior.
Here’s the point: It is precisely the wrong response to go on the attack against the media. The only response that should be made is to express total and complete outrage and complete and very public remorse for the sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests. Period. And keep saying it. Over and over, ad naseum. Back the words up with actions and provide the proof of action. An absolute zero tolerance policy on these behaviors must be adopted everywhere and applied every time. The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church does not “get it” and continues to shoot itself in the foot with its reactions. For example, I’ve read Roman bishops comparing Benedict to Christ, unjustly being tormented, sharing in the sufferings of Christ, etc. The only message everyone, from the Pope on down to every parish priest should be sending is this: There has been across the Roman Catholic Church a widespread failure to deal with these situations, quickly and justly. The Church has preferred to harbor and protect child abusers rather than throw them out of office and turn them over to the local police for their crimes. Behind this is a good deal of false doctrine concerning the office of the priest, including the supposed “indelible mark” of ordination, and imposed celibacy on the clergy.
Here are some perceptive remarks I read elsewhere expressing concern about an impassioned Lutheran coming to Pope Benedict’s defense. These remarks were, and are, spot-on.
Who would have possibly imagined that the current crisis of systemic child rape and the responsive horror expressed by so many could be spun into yet another victim-status tome regarding the insular, malevolent and hyperbolic Modernist and Liberal forces. Meanwhile for 50 yrs we had the systemic rape of children in our hallowed institutions, a crime against humanity that should never been allowed to be perpetrated to even a fraction of the extent that it did. Does the NYT’s have anti-religion flavor? Sure. Is it hyperbolic? Yes, sometimes. But is also true that this insidious modernist religion-hating main-stream press (as well as plaintiff’s lawyers), led to less children being raped. Meanwhile the Church was dragged along and is still being dragged along. I hear the author’s frustration. But maybe it’s time to put down the sword, and take a step back for some serious self-reflection that just maybe this time there is more going on here. Or would such an honest accounting be considered too weak and too relativist……?
And, please take special note of this excellent summary of Peggy Noonan’s comments on this incident. Here’s a portion of Get Religion‘s coverage of Noonan’s remarks:
Noonan is the author of “John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father,” a tribute to the late pope that was as much a journal of her emotional responses to his papacy as a volume about his remarkable life. At one point, Noonan states simply, “”John Paul walked into my life and served, unknowingly, as my spiritual father. He had led me like a light in the dark. …”
With that in mind, it is best to look at the end of her column first — before we get to the material that I think is so relevant to journalists and other GetReligion readers who are trying to figure out a way to aim criticisms (positive and negative) at the Vatican and the New York Times at the same time. What are we to make of the papacy during these decades — repeat decades — of scandal in which so many bishops actively hid priests who abused young children and many, many teen-agers (the vast majority of the latter males)?
Some blame the scandals on Pope Benedict XVI. But Joseph Ratzinger is the man who, weeks before his accession to the papacy five years ago, spoke blisteringly on Good Friday of the “filth” in the church. … The most reliable commentary on Pope Benedict’s role in the scandals came from John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, who argues that once Benedict came to fully understand the scope of the crisis, in 2003, he made the church’s first real progress toward coming to grips with it.
As for his predecessor, John Paul the Great, about whom I wrote an admiring book which recounts some of the scandals — I spent a grim 2003 going through the depositions of Massachusetts clergy — one fact seems to me pre-eminent. For Pope John Paul II, the scandals would have been unimaginable — literally not imaginable. He had come of age in an era and place (Poland in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s) of heroic priests. They were great men; they suffered. He had seen how the Nazis and later the communists had attempted to undermine the church and tear people away from it, sometimes through slander. They did this because the great force arrayed against them was the Catholic Church. John Paul, his mind, psyche and soul having been forged in that world, might well have seen the church’s recent accusers as spreaders of slander. Because priests don’t act like that, it’s not imaginable. And he’d seen it before, only now it wasn’t Nazism or communism attempting to kill the church with lies, but modernity and its soulless media.
Only they weren’t lies.
Before readers get to that part of the column, Noonan has already written a statement that could only have been made by someone who genuinely loves journalism and its valid, protected role in public life — public life wherever free speech, freedom of the press and religious liberty truly coexist in painful, but necessary, tension.
Catholic leaders, she argues, are in attack mode at the moment because they believe that journalists are in attack mode. Many Catholics are simply blaming the current crisis on media bias.
Now, read very closely. This next passage contains a statement that I believe simply must be made. To make sure that readers get it, Noonan says it twice.
… (T)his is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press — the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe — has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn’t be saying j’accuse but thank you.
I hope that the blog’s many Catholic readers are still reading.
Noonan isn’t done yet. She argues that many mainstream journalists were actually reluctant to cover this story. Why spend years digging in this filth (the pope’s word), only to have thousands of Catholics accuse your paper of bias — no matter how accurate the coverage — and respond with protests or boycotts or both?
But, but ….
Without this pressure — without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts — the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer. …
An irony: Non-Catholic members of the media were, in my observation, the least likely to want to go after the story, because they didn’t want to look like they were Catholic-bashing. An irony within the irony: some journalists didn’t think to go after the story because they really didn’t much like the Catholic Church. Because of this bias, they didn’t see the story as a story. They thought this was how the church always operated. It didn’t register with them that it was a scandal. They didn’t know it was news.
It was the Boston Globe that broke the dam, winning a justly deserved Pulitzer for public service.
Yes, that needed to be said.
It’s one thing to criticize some of the current coverage — which I think deserves criticism. It’s something else altogether to ignore the heroic efforts that many journalists have made, for whatever motives, to uncover the filth (there’s that word again) in the offices of far too many shepherds.