Another "Scoop" Against the Holy Father Refuted

Article from Damian Thompson: 'Journalists abandon standards to attack the Pope'. You can say that again. Damian Thompson quotes Phil Lawler, the American Catholic commentator and director of CatholicCulture.org, on the shameful professional sloppiness of the news reports attempting to implicate Benedict XVI in the case of the predator ex-priest Stephen Kiesle.

Journalists abandon standards to attack the Pope
By Phil Lawler | April 10, 2010 10:03 AM

We’re off and running once again, with another completely phony story that purports to implicate Pope Benedict XVI in the protection of abusive priests.

The “exclusive” story released by AP yesterday, which has been dutifully passed along now by scores of major media outlets, would never have seen the light of day if normal journalistic standards had been in place. Careful editors should have asked a series of probing questions, and in every case the answer to those questions would have shown that the story had no “legs.”

First to repeat the bare-bones version of the story: in November 1985, then-Cardinal Ratzinger signed a letter deferring a decision on the laicization of Father Stephen Kiesle, a California priest who had been accused of molesting boys.

Now the key questions:

• Was Cardinal Ratzinger responding to the complaints of priestly pedophilia? No. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which the future Pontiff headed, did not have jurisdiction for pedophile priests until 2001. The cardinal was weighing a request for laicization of Kiesle.

• Had Oakland’s Bishop John Cummins sought to laicize Kiesle as punishment for his misconduct? No. Kiesle himself asked to be released from the priesthood. The bishop supported the wayward priest’s application.

• Was the request for laicization denied? No. Eventually, in 1987, the Vatican approved Kiesle’s dismissal from the priesthood.

• Did Kiesle abuse children again before he was laicized? To the best of our knowledge, No. The next complaints against him arose in 2002: 15 years after he was dismissed from the priesthood.

• Did Cardinal Ratzinger’s reluctance to make a quick decision mean that Kiesle remained in active ministry? No. Bishop Cummins had the authority to suspend the predator-priest, and in fact he had placed him on an extended leave of absence long before the application for laicization was entered.

• Would quicker laicization have protected children in California? No. Cardinal Ratzinger did not have the power to put Kiesle behind bars. If Kiesle had been defrocked in 1985 instead of 1987, he would have remained at large, thanks to a light sentence from the California courts. As things stood, he remained at large. He was not engaged in parish ministry and had no special access to children.

• Did the Vatican cover up evidence of Kiesle’s predatory behavior? No. The civil courts of California destroyed that evidence after the priest completed a sentence of probation– before the case ever reached Rome.

So to review: This was not a case in which a bishop wanted to discipline his priest and the Vatican official demurred. This was not a case in which a priest remained active in ministry, and the Vatican did nothing to protect the children under his pastoral care. This was not a case in which the Vatican covered up evidence of a priest’s misconduct. This was a case in which a priest asked to be released from his vows, and the Vatican– which had been flooded by such requests throughout the 1970s — wanted to consider all such cases carefully. In short, if you’re looking for evidence of a sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, this case is irrelevant.

We Americans know what a sex-abuse crisis looks like. The scandal erupts when evidence emerges that bishops have protected abusive priests, kept them active in parish assignments, covered up evidence of the charges against them, and lied to their people. There is no such evidence in this or any other case involving Pope Benedict XVI.

Competent reporters, when dealing with a story that involves special expertise, seek information from experts in that field. Capable journalists following this story should have sought out canon lawyers to explain the 1985 document– not merely relied on the highly biased testimony of civil lawyers who have lodged multiple suits against the Church. If they had understood the case, objective reporters would have recognized that they had no story. But in this case, reporters for the major media outlets are far from objective.

The New York Times– which touched off this feeding frenzy with two error-riddled front-page reports– seized on the latest “scoop” by AP to say that the 1985 document exemplified:

“… the sort of delay that is fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal in the church that has focused on whether the future pope moved quickly enough to remove known pedophiles from the priesthood, despite pleas from American bishops.”

Here we have a complete rewriting of history. Earlier in this decade, American newspapers exposed the sad truth that many American bishops had kept pedophile priests in active ministry. Now the Times, which played an active role in exposing that scandal, would have us believe that the American bishops were striving to rid the priesthood of the predators, and the Vatican resisted!

No, what is “fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal” is a media frenzy. There is a scandal here, indeed, but it’s not the scandal you’re reading about in the mass media. The scandal is the complete collapse of journalistic standards in the handling of this story.

I quote all this because it is really important for us Anglicans to know and be in a position to insist that Pope Benedict XVI is the chief mover towards providing a solution to the filth in the Church – and not a part of the corruption. I have a feeling that this media onslaught will do the opposite to what those godless reporters want – it looks as if it will reinforce the Pope's credibility and give him even more confidence he needs to clean up the Church's episcopate, not only clearing out those who are indeed guilty of cover-ups and corruption, but also those who are throwing spanners into the works of every attempt to reform the reform and bring Christ and orthodox Catholicism back into the Church.

OK, you hacks, keep them coming! Sling all the mud you want, but you won't even dent the Church or scratch the paintwork!

* * *

Update: to add some reflections. Why does the Vatican not respond directly to the media accusations against the Pope? The simple response would seem to be that there would be no point in doing so. The journalists write what they want, knowing that the Church is an easy target, will not sue them for libel and does not issue fatwas to have their throats cut. Even if the press had to retract their accusations the very next day, the damage would have been done by the headlines, including one that could be interpreted as saying that the Pope had personally committed a paedophile act and had realised he had gone too far!

We live in a world of electronic communications, but I have the impression that communications are no better than in the middle ages or the eighteenth century. However, I do think the Vatican should improve its Internet site and provide information for those who are really interested. Perhaps some conscientious journalists would find it helpful.

Ordinary Catholics need support, since their only source of information is usually the mainstream secular media (newspapers and TV). I wonder how many parish priests are looking in the right places to find objective information to tell their faithful. I have to admit that when David Yallop wrote In God’s Name in the early 1980’s about the death of Pope John Paul II in 1978, the Vatican Bank scandals and the involvement of P2 Freemasonry and people like Roberto Calvi choking at the end of a rope under Blackfriars Bridge, and the Gorilla (Archbishop Marcinkos) and the Shark (Grand Master Michele Sindona) in Rome, I believed all that stuff because the conspiracy theory seemed cogent and I found no more convincing information elsewhere.

You get people like Davide Icke saying that the world is ruled by alien shape-shifting reptiles that travel to and from the South Pole in Nazi flying saucers – and people believe him. The madder the story, the more money they make. And, Icke is making hay out of this Catholic Church ‘crisis’ too.

Some say the Church should answer like a commercial enterprise. But, the Church is the Church and nothing else. Little or nothing is being said in the same way as Jesus standing silent before his judges. Our Lord was silent because nothing he would say would have done any good. When your judge’s mind is made up to kill you and merely find the right pretext to do so, there is nothing to say. Jesus once made the point about the Pharisees saying that someone was a glutton if he ate normally and possessed by a demon if he fasted. In a Catch-22 situation, you cannot win.

The Church does well to eschew any temptation to using propaganda. We live in a world where the media exercises control over people in a way that is developing along the lines of the Thought Police in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. We are already watched, told what to buy (telephone advertisers get very angry when I tell them that I buy products because I need them and not because someone needs to sell them to me). The media represents the tip of the iceberg of a very powerful force against which the Church cannot fight on its own terms. The only way this war can be won is God’s way, not by exchanges of propaganda.

The question is always the same: why do they want to do in the Pope? It is not because they are interested in making life safe for children or promoting human rights, but because they want to discredit what the Holy Father is teaching as objective truth.

* * *

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About Fr. Anthony Chadwick

Father Anthony Chadwick was born in the north of England into an Anglican family. He was educated in one of the Church of England’s most well-known schools, St. Peter’s in York, at which he was nurtured in the Anglican musical tradition. After several years studying and working in London he studied theology at university level in Switzerland, Italy and France. Still living in France, he has been a priest of the Traditional Anglican Communion (under Archbishop Hepworth) since 2005. Fr. Chadwick is charged with chaplaincy work among dispersed Anglicans in the north of France, is married and lives in Normandy. His interests outside the Church and directly religious matters include classical music, DIY and sailing. As a non-stipendiary priest, he earns his living as a technical translator.

7 thoughts on “Another "Scoop" Against the Holy Father Refuted

  1. Fr. Chadwick,

    A slight admonition. Your last sentence makes me cringe. It sounds much like President Bush (a man I actually like) saying "bring it on" some years ago. It's one thing to say that if they are going to attack you personally, and you're ready for it; quite another when somebody else is going to take the flak.

    1. Good point, but we are all taking the flak. A young seminarian wrote a comment saying that he got spat on just because he wanted to become a priest. The hacks are attacking the Pope because of what he represents and what we all represent. We're all in this together, even though it is the Pope who takes most of the flak.

      Obviously, my last sentence is rhetorical. I would prefer the journalists to stop writing their stuff right now, get down on their knees and make their Act of Contrition – but they won't. If you have anything to do with the Church, then you'll get stitched up and associated with a disgusting paedophile priest the other side of the world who committed his crimes 50 years ago and died 30 years ago.

      Perhaps those journalists could really stir up a hornets' nest and say that the German people, in 2010, are all Nazis, stand in front of the mirror every morning, stick two fingers of their left hand under their nose, click their heels, raise their right hands and shout Seig heil!. The brain-dead reporters already say the Holy Father is one, simply because he had to join the Hitler Youth on pain of being put in a concentration camp!

  2. Fr. Chadwick,

    I am reminded of Mark Twain's timely comment that those who do not read the newspapers are uninformed… those who do read them are misinformed.

    When in my mid-twenties, I was invited to have lunch with my parents and their friend, publisher Helen Copley, at Zorro's in Borrego Springs, California. The conversation centered on the state of the media at that time (mid-1960's). It was clear from Mrs. Copley's comments that her opinion of the average reader was rather low and she finished her appraisal with the comment, “It is the duty of the media to influence these people”.

    I had been an attentive and quiet listener but she 'flipped my switch', as the saying goes. My comment was, “You are incorrect! It is the duty of the media to report the news accurately. It is your privilege to be able to editorialize. Some of your colleagues have trouble discerning between the two modes.”

    My mother kicked me under the table and the rest of the meal was consumed in relative silence. The one good thing was a wink from my father when he said, “You're not as dumb as you look, Bub”.

  3. As it concerns the enemies of the Church, the tail wags the dog; in other words, the enemy we see is not who is really in control. It was not only during our Lord's time that people (it sometimes seems, in reading the Gospels, most people) were possessed of demons and evil spirits. Their hatred is irrational and vicious. We cannot fight them with the weapons they use to attack us. They use fetters to subdue us but when placed on them they easily "pluck them asunder." It is a simple fact that our enemies are demon possessed people.

    Satan desires to sift the Holy Father like wheat, but we must fear not, the Lord has prayed for him. What is needful is more weeping for our own sins, fasting, praying and acts of spiritual worship toward almighty God. The attacks will always be mean and hypocritical, but do we deserve any better? From today's Gospel: As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

  4. I add this as a comment to emphasise its nature as a footnote. These are extracts from Joseph Göbbels’ diary (Göbbels was Hitler’s propaganda man), which I found in French on http://www.pie12.com/index.php?post/2010/03/18/Les-nazis-et-les-proces-contre-les-pretres.

    My translation from French into English of these extracts from 1936 and 1937 would certainly vary to some extent from a translation from the original German. The coincidence with what is happening now is shocking.

    * * *

    29th May 1936, Wednesday evening: departure with the Führer for Kiel. Big morals trial against Catholic priests. All under article 175. The Führer thinks it is characteristic of the Catholic Church.

    11th October 1936, Koblenz. The atmosphere is good but there is much social misery, especially with the vineyard workers. Influence of the Church down mainly because of a trial with the Franciscans. I’m learning horrible details about this subject. A piggery, as it is said in the Book. That’s really the Catholic Church – a band of pederasts!

    2nd April 1937, Phone call from the Führer: he want to open hostilities against the Vatican. The Koblenz trial is going to begin. About this, in the guise of an opening gambit, a horrible sexual crime committed on a young boy in a Belgian convent. I just as soon sent a special envoy from Berlin, who left for Brussels and conducted his enquiry down there. The parish priests don’t understand our patience and kindness? They’re going to learn about our rigour, hardness and determination.

    30th April 1937. The press is attacking perversity in the Churches very violently. They use devastating arguments. My signal therefore started off the infernal concert. Things are beginning to go badly for the priests. The trials are exposing the most atrocious ignominies. It’s the pillory!

    12th May 1937, The trials against the priests are showing ever more crazy aspects. Now, the Vicars General and the Bishops are implicated, directly or indirectly. Bishop Preysing made a declaration from the pulpit against our press polemics. I’m making this my business, then I’ll give him a good knock-out beating.

    Long discussions with the Führer on the question of the Churches. He welcomes the radical turnabout taken by the trials against the priests. He refuses any denominationalism of the Party. He doesn’t want to be transformed into a god either. He is very hard on Himmler about this subject. We must bring the Churches into subjection and make them servants of our cause. Celibacy must also disappear. The Church’s goods will be seized. No man may study theology before the age of 24 years. We will also deprive them of their best recruits. We need to disband the religious orders and withdraw permission to teach from the Churches. This is the only way we can reduce them within a few decades. Then, they’ll come and eat out of our hands. It remains that the trials are the first stage. They will be conducted according to the planned schedule and will attract considerable attention. Just as we have planned.

    * * *

    Now perhaps we should believe Göbbels and Hitler were benevolent Boy Scout leaders. What was it that Bishop Williamson of the SSPX said in Germany in January 2009 about those lovely kind people who wouldn’t hurt a fly? Isn't it strange how the little Austrian corporal with the Charlie Chaplin moustache loved dogs and children – and killed millions on the battlefield, in the cities of Europe and in the gas chambers!

  5. Just to bring this up-to-date in terms of some of the most recent Catholic responses, from well seasoned Catholic Internet communicators, see the last few posts on Irenikon the Skete with references in the first article to Dr. Phil Blosser's Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, and Father Z's What Does the Prayer Really Say:

    http://irenikontheskete.blogspot.com/

    Mary Lanser

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