Thursday, December 5, 2002

Some thoughts on Cardinal Ratzinger’s “loopy” (to quote Peter Nixon) conspiracy theory and the issues it raises:

Anyone who is an expert in any field regularly tears his or her hair out over press coverage of that same field. It’s not that the press is stupid, lazy or consistently biased one way or another. It’s that - for the most part – the press is rushed, limited in the space it has to report, and, like most of the rest of the world, superficial in its understanding of what it’s reporting on. So, if you are an educator, you know that the issues that afflict education go much deeper than the “bad teacher unions” vs. “unbelievably short-sighted parents” vs. “kids cannily playing all sides” scenario we usually get. Sure, all of those parties may play their role in making the problems what they are, but there’s more to it, which even purported “thought pieces” in the NYTimes can’t get right.

As I said, some of the omissions are purposeful and rooted in bias – coverage of the abortion issue is the textbook case in this regard, coverage in which the unborn child is consistently and purposefully dehumanized.

And we’ve seen some of this in the press’s coverage of the Situation.

But I have to say….I can’t agree with critics like Steinfels who say that the press coverage has led to a misapprehension of the real facts here. Stories about old accusations always report them as old accusations. Former priests and retired priests and rogue priests are described as such. I don’t see deliberate deception in the reporting.

Now, of course, where you will find a slant is in the analysis – McBrien trotted out twenty times more often than Weigel, and so on. But is that unexpected? We may not like it, and we should choose not to support press outlets that are consistently closed to presenting diverse points of view in analyzing the reasons and solutions here, but again…does that surprise anyone?

But the question remains – is the space given to reporting these incidents – in itself- indicative of a bias. Is the press using this – overblowing the incidents, giving them undue press – in order to advance an agenda destructive to the Catholic Church?

Perhaps in the case of the NYTimes, but I can’t see it anywhere else. This is a legitimate story, worthy of great attention. The Catholic Church is the largest single Christian denomination in the world – and in the United States. The story of abuse is worth reporting, but I’d daresay, those reports would get as much attention as the stories I linked below about the Protestant cases if the hierarchy had been forthcoming in dealing with them. As noted many times, the bigger story is the cover-up and the fears that raises in the ordinary Catholic heart about the trustworthiness of our leaders , both in terms of what they say to us and how they steward the resources we hand over to them, and how they act towards victims - in our name.

If the press were harping on this in dioceses where it is (apparently) not a problem – say – mine – Fort Wayne/South Bend – or dioceses where the bishops have handled it properly – if the press in those areas were making up stories or doing the dance of guilt by association, the complaints would be reasonable. But the press is digging up the stories - where there are stories. That is not a witch hunt. For, as you recall, there were no witches in Salem. There were abusers in Boston.

And there are plenty of stories about the good work of Catholics. I try to post as many here as I find – and remember – those are mostly stories from the secular press. Right now, the papers are filled with Catholic Charities and parishes feeding the hungry and helping the poor in This Holiday Season – there are simply too many to link. If you want to find them, go to and type in “Catholic Charities” in the search box. You’ll see them.

No, the press is not perfect. And neither are plaintiffs’ lawyers. But again, and again, we have to think of the alternative. If not for the secular press and the opportunity to sue for damages offered by our civil court system….what would we know? What priests would have been removed? What priests, from Gilbert Gauthe to James Porter on, would still be serving? What actions have been taken by church officials that haven’t been the result of public and legal pressure? Huh?

So yes…encourage others to read the press accounts carefully, to ignore most of their analysis and question facts when they seem overdrawn or on shaky ground. Send your local paper and tv news station announcements of all the Good Stuff Catholics are Doing in your area.

But don’t fault the press, no matter how limited and slanted its efforts might be at times, for doing the work that the Church should have been doing itself, all along.

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