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!
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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.