Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Are the media picking on the Catholic Church?

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Boy Scouts, Catholic Church, Father Thomas Berg, Media coverage, New York Times, Public schools, Sex abuse, U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference on Mar 25, 2010

Headlines about sex-abuse scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church seem to be everywhere these days.

And that means that media coverage will be widely critiqued — and often judged to be anti-Catholic.

In fact, none other than Archbishop Dolan, on his Facebook page, when writing about a NYT article about a scandal in Germany, alleges that his church is getting singled out:

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What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey. Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

The sexual abuse of our young people is an international, cultural, societal horror. It affects every religion, country, family, job, profession, vocation, and ethnic group.

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Dolan also argues that the church is getting little credit for all that it’s done to correct past problems.

Just this week, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference announced that its annual report card on sex abuse “shows the fewest number of victims, allegations and offenders in dioceses since 2004.”

In 2009, dioceses across the country received 398 allegations. 71% of the allegations involved incidents from 1960 to 1984. Only SIX allegations involved children under the age of 18 during the year 2009.

Dioceses spent more than $21 million for child protection programs including training, background checks and salaries for compliance staff, according to the report.

Referring to the church’s policies on sex-abuse, adopted in 2002, Cardinal Francis George, president of the Bishops Conference, writes: “The Charter is causing a cultural change in the U.S. Catholic Church, one I hope will permeate all areas of society.”

The church’s efforts to turn things around are why Dolan also writes:

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We Catholics have for a decade apologized, cried, reached out, shouted mea culpa, and engaged in a comprehensive reform that has met with widespread acclaim. We’ve got a long way to go, and the reform still has to continue.

But it is fair to say that, just as the Catholic Church may have been a bleak example of how not to respond to this tragedy in the past, the Church is now a model of what to do. As the National Review Online observes, “. . . the Church’s efforts to come to grips with this problem within the household of faith — more far reaching than in any other institution or sector of society — have led others to look to the Catholic Church for guidance on how to address what is, in fact, a global plague.”

As another doctor, Paul McHugh, an international scholar on this subject at Johns Hopkins University, remarked, “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”

That, of course, is another headline you’ll never see.

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Dolan couldn’t have been happy to see today’s NYT, which features a front-page article about a late Wisconsin priest who molested hundreds of boys — while the Vatican did not react to pleas from several bishops to do something.

It’s one of those stories that leaves you shaking your head. How could it happen?

So, is Dolan right that the Catholic Church is being picked on and not given credit for its reforms? It’s a tough case to make when the pope is apologizing to the people of Ireland for decades of abuse and Germans are up in arms about scandals there.

Sure, the church is trying to turn things around (although some advocates for victims would say that some bishops and dioceses are still dragging their feet). But Catholics and the society at large are still only coming to terms with decades of abuse and how it happened.

I, for one, find it hard to buy the argument that sex-abuse outside the Catholic Church gets ignored by the media. It’s a case I’ve heard for the last decade.

Dolan notes that there has been much more abuse in public schools than in churches. It’s true, BUT each school system is responsible for what its employees do. There is no national school board that sets policies on abuse or can shuttle abusive teachers around.

When an abusive teacher is arrested in, say, Tulsa, the media there cover it. But the rest of the country has no interest. So, while there is extensive coverage of abuse in schools and other walks of life, the coverage does not feel tied together like coverage of abuse in the hierarchical Catholic Church.

When Jeanine Pirro was the Westchester DA and regularly busted men for seeking under-age sex partners via the Web, the Journal News put just about every case on Page One. But these were “local” stories that the national media would not have picked up on.

This week, a sex-abuse trial in Portland, Ore., involving the Boy Scouts of America revealed that the Scouts have kept confidential NATIONAL files on suspected abusers among its troop leaders. The trial has received extensive media coverage all across the country — as have past trials involving sex abuse in the Boy Scouts.

Sex abuse does get covered in all areas.

I want to share an email blast I got today from Father Thomas Berg, a priest and head of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person. He deals often with the media and has this take on the recent coverage:

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You may have seen the front page (above the fold) story in today’s New York Times by Laurie Goldstein regarding Vatican inaction on a Milwaukee priest accused of sexual misconduct.  My take (and I know the author) is that while NYT is definitely taking aim at Pope Benedict and smells blood in the water, Goldstein’s real message was more about a culture of inaction and of hushing up abuse cases in order not to tarnish the image of the Church and to “avoid scandal”.   That internal culture and its attendant modes of operation certainly do need to change; they were, for all intents and purposes, still the m.o. in the late 90’s when these reports reached the Vatican. It may be the case that, at the time, then Cardinal Ratzinger was still working under those received ways of (in)action; but I believe the truth about Benedict is that his whole m.o. on how to handle these things underwent a real metamorphosis in the early part of the new decade of 2000.  Although lengthy, I encourage you to read the following article by John Allen which makes a compelling case for that sea change in mentality in Cardinal Ratzinger who became, in Allen’s words,  “a Catholic Eliot Ness” after becoming Pope in terms of handling high profile abuse cases. The question now is how the Pope will handle things from here and will he be true to his past.

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Read that John Allen story. I praised it just the other day.

 
 
 
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