In some ways, Holy Week is hardly the time I would choose to make the following comments. Still, the matter is so pressing that I feel compelled to address it.
Last week I asked for some fairness in the seemingly unappeasable criticism of the Church over the catastrophe of clergy sexual abuse.
Not to my surprise, if anything, it has only gotten worse, especially in the interminable headlines about the Pope himself.
Last fall I wrote in this blog about anti-Catholicism in the New York Times and other media, providing a list of contemporary examples. A few tried to slap me back into place, suggesting that I stupidly believed the Church to be immune from scrutiny.
Baloney! The Church needs criticism; we want it; we welcome it; we do a good bit of it ourselves; we do not expect any special treatment…so bring it on.
All we ask is that it be fair and accurate.
The reporting on Pope Benedict XVI has not been so.
The first reports were about a shameful priest in Germany three decades ago. I weighed in on that coverage last week.
The second story, sprayed all over the New York Times this week, and predictably copied by the world’s press, is groundless. (I am grateful for Father Raymond de Souza’s excellent piece posted at National Review Online which goes through the story point by point.)
The report accuses Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of preventing a priest whose sins and crimes can only be described as diabolical, one Lawrence Murphy, from facing proper penalties in the Church for the serial abuse of deaf minors.
While the report on the nauseating abuse is bitterly true, the insinuation against Cardinal Ratzinger is not, and gives every indication of being part of a well-oiled campaign against Pope Benedict.
Here’s a summary of the key points:
- The New York Times relied on tort lawyers who currently have civil suits pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Holy See, who are aggressively supporting the radical measure right now before the Wisconsin legislature to abrogate the statute of limitations on civil cases of abuse, and who have high financial interest in the matter being reported. Hardly an impartial source…
- The documentation that allegedly supports these sensational charges is published on the website of the New York Times; rather than confirming their theory, the documents instead show that there is no evidence at all that Cardinal Ratzinger ever blocked any decision about Murphy. Even a New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, calls this charge “unfair” in his column of March 29.
- We also find on the website a detailed timeline of all the sickening information about Murphy, data not “uncovered” by any reporter but freely released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee a number of years back, and thoroughly covered at that time by the local media in Milwaukee. One wonders why this story, quite exhaustively reported in the past, rose again this very week. It is hardly “news.” One might therefore ask: Why is this news now? The only reason it is news at all is because of the implication that Cardinal Ratzinger was involved. Yet the documentation does not support that charge, and thus they should have no place in a putatively respectable newspaper.
Nothing in this non-news merits the tsunami of headlines, stories, and diatribes against the Church and this Pope that we have endured this past week.
There was legitimate news last week that should have received much more attention than it did. It was the annual independent audit report on American dioceses on compliance with our own tough Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. For those who profess to be so interested in the welfare of the young, the news should have been trumpeted as stunning progress. Catholics deeply disturbed by lurid tales of wicked behavior twenty or thirty years ago might have been surprised to discover:
- The Church has had in place strict protocols and preventative measures to stop this from happening again. Last week’s audit reported that six million children in our schools and religious education programs underwent safe environment training – that’s 96% of the children in our care. Background evaluations were completed on two million priests, deacons, seminarians, educators, employees and volunteers.
- Last week’s audit reported that there were six (6) credible allegations of sexual abuse of current minors for the entire year, in a Church of more than 60 million members. Though one would be too many, the percent is dramatically lower than experts tell us is the sad national average, and is only known because the Church is transparent in reporting.
- In the spirit of no good deed goes unpunished, the false allegations of last week have obscured the good work that the Cardinal Ratzinger did at the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and as Pope. Beginning in 2001, as ably described by respected journalist John Allen, and also mentioned recently by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Cardinal Ratzinger brought about a profound change in how sexual abuse cases were handled. The details are many, but the effect was clear. It became easier to remove priests who have committed these crimes from ministry very quickly, and often, dismissed from the priesthood altogether. Since his election, Pope Benedict has repeatedly demonstrated that even high-ranking priests are to be held accountable, and has not minced words about the failures of his brother bishops – both here in the United States and just last week, in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland.
This failure to report in similar detail today’s successes and yesterday’s failures suggests the bias I wrote about last fall. This is also about simply telling the truth, or more to the point, about peddling falsehoods to destroy the Holy Father’s good name. It needs to be called what it is – scandalous.
Let me be upfront: I confess a bias in favor of the Church and her Pope.
I only wish some others would admit a bias on the other side.
A blessed Holy Week.