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Apr. 16 2010 - 5:29 pm | 53 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

The media and the sins of the bishops

“I have long felt that we Catholics will know that this crisis has finally been put behind us, at least in the United States, when the bishops, in one of their collective annual meetings, passes a resolution actually thanking those newspapers who revealed the slime and filth lurking inside the presbyterate of too many dioceses and the attempted cover-ups by too many chanceries. Please understand: I am not naïve about the secular media. But if the Hebrew prophets could see the hand of God at work in the attacks on ancient Israel from the Assyrian empire, then Catholics ought to be able to espy the workings of divine providence when the media bring to light crimes that should have been made public from the beginning.” ~ Edward T Oakes


The media has been far too quick to condemn and rush to judgment in this last flurry of anti-Benedict reporting, but they have also done important work in rooting out the evil actions of abusive priests and the cowardly bishops who covered for them. I shudder to think where we would be had we not had such a hard-working press uncovering these crimes and cover-ups in the past.

On another note, The Anchoress has an excellent post summarizing some top-notch reporting from Vatican reporter John Allen. Here are some good bullet points on Allen’s piece on the ‘teaching pope’:

  • The public image of this “teaching pope,” a man friends and foes alike acknowledge as a towering intellectual and theologian, is being defined by almost everything other than his teaching;
  • There’s a positive story to tell about Benedict XVI — perhaps principally his embrace of “Affirmative Orthodoxy,” meaning an emphasis on what the church is for rather than what it’s against — but the people who know that story best, Benedict’s most trusted aides, often seem remarkably incapable of telling it;
  • A pope elected in part to fix problems of internal governance under his predecessor has instead assembled a regime that seems to lurch from one crisis to the next, making the papacy of John Paul II look like a well-oiled machine in comparison;
  • A pope known by insiders as the great reformer on the sex abuse crisis has now become, at least in some influential circles, the global symbol of the problem.

He goes on to write:

Objectively speaking, Benedict shouldn’t be the church’s problem in terms of responding to the sex abuse crisis — he should be the answer. However much unfinished business the Catholic church may still face, the situation would be infinitely worse if then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had not kick-started the process of reform in 2001 by streamlining the system for removing predator priests from ministry; if, as pope, he had he not brought the hammer down on figures such as Fr. Marical Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ; and had he not broken the Vatican’s wall of silence on the crisis, including becoming the first pope to meet with victims of sexual abuse.

If the Vatican had an effective PR machine, they would have touted Ratzinger from the beginning as the Rudy Giuliani of the Catholic church, the guy who gave us “zero tolerance” policing and thereby cleaned up Times Square. That, alas, is a bit like saying “if pigs could fly,” and so instead the outside world knew little of the pope’s actual record before the current crisis erupted, creating a vacuum in which isolated cases could form a distorted impression.


Perhaps the bottom line on Benedict’s first five years, therefore, should take the form of a question rather than a conclusion: Is anything going to change? Can Benedict XVI confront the crisis of governance plaguing his papacy, or is his lofty teaching — what he sees as his real legacy — destined to remain buried under an avalanche of crisis and dysfunction?

That may be the final irony facing this “Pope of Ironies”: His effectiveness as a teacher, at least in the here and now, may depend upon his willingness to stop teaching for a little while and to get his house in order.

Lots more at the various links above.


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    Oakes’ praise is more properly due the 2002 media than the 2010 version. I don’t know if you’ve already made the point (though you linked to John Allen who did), but it would be a lot more helpful if the media turned their attention to the “accountability of [American] bishops” instead of seeking to effect some sort of change in the Church. Reminders about the current role of bishops who appeared in the earlier scandals are left to the Catholic media. It was alarming, to say the least, to see Archbishop Rembert Weakland cited in the New York Times with little reference to his own situation. I think Michael Liccione makes a good point at What’s Wrong With the World:

    “In 2002, when the scandal found its epicenter in the Archdiocese of Boston, Americans became fully aware of the extent to which a small minority of Catholic priests had been sexually abusing minors and, for far too long, getting away with it. The American bishops and, as we have learned, the bishops of Ireland and many other countries, usually shielded their clerical buddies from civil prosecution and even, in many cases, minimal ecclesiastical discipline. Such failure to protect innocents has led since then to massive payouts for civil damages. Naturally, the bishops and the Vatican itself have been doing much since then to address the problem–even though many American bishops, such as Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, have failed to take as much personal responsibility as they should, and most have failed to acknowledge the rather clear implications of the fact that most victims are, or were, pubescent boys. But now we face a new wave of reports about Joseph Ratzinger’s role in old cases. With whatever degree of objective justice, the scandal has now reached the Pope himself.”

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