Printer friendly version

June 19, 2004

Abuse, Anger, Pain, and Pulitzers

Well, Rod Dreher has succeeded in whipping up pre-release buzz in the Catholic blog neighborhood for the bitter fruits of the Dallas Morning News's year-long investigation of the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal around the globe. One reporter has already been on NPR, and the paper is apparently looking for prominent nationwide coverage.

Whether or not DMN timed the story for this effect, and I believe Rod that it didn't, it surely won't be lost on the major media that the news comes at a time when the devotion of the Democrats' presidential candidate, John Kerry, to the teachings of his Church is being questioned and at a time when the Church stands as one of the central supports of such moral issues as abortion, genetic research, and same-sex marriage. As Lane Core suggests, interested parties might want to register with DMN's Web site before the lines form.

Fr. Wilson — who is, if I'm not mistaken, good friends with Rod — wasted no time, after Friday's Morning Edition, in defending the newspaper from recriminations that hadn't yet been made:

How rude of the Dallas Morning News to look under the bed at the chaotic mess that had been swept out of sight. It is still common to hear a certain type of Catholic sneer at the reporting on the Scandal with dismissive references to the 'anti-Catholicism' of the Boston Globe or the Dallas Morning News; "You know, Father, they're no friends of ours. They hate the Faith," I've heard time and again.

Surprising that the DMN reporters, given their extensive exposure to the life of the Church and the antics of our fathers in God, aren't edified into the full communion of Holy Mother Church, isn't it?

Yes, I'm sure the news department was overflowing with weekly Mass-goers and on-the-cusp converts in the mid-'90s. Equally, I'm sure the 200 priests will be placed within the proper proportions, with some admirable, if not heroic, profiles of other priests to leaven the impression. I'm sure the data will be carefully and clearly delineated along lines of degree — not inflating the worst incidents through inadequately qualified inclusion among broader statistics — and drawn along an accurate timeline. And I'm sure some effort will be made to give an full sense of the victims — how many were seven and how many were seventeen, for example. In short, we can only wait and see whether the DMN reporters — and all of the other reporters around the world — will give some indication of awareness that the bad tidings that they bring will be painful to the core of millions of people.

To be sure, we Catholic believers must accept this trial. If it is meant for us to live through painful times, then let us grit our teeth and get on with it. If we must express our faith through an acrid fog, let us plunge in. Hopes are high that this is all just part of expelling the stain of dark days from the Church. Mark Shea calls it "the Great Enema." Domenico Bettinelli adds a sound effect: "The giant flush you hear is the Big Enema going global."

Personally, as much respect as I truly do have for all of the above, and admitting that they are much better informed on matters pertaining to the Catholic Church, I'm not, well, I'm not optimistic. Taking them as a group, it hasn't seemed to me that the bishops, with a "zero-tolerance" policy and an investigatory commission, have behaved, thus far, in such a way as to suggest that the information that is apparently forthcoming will push them over some edge of responsibility.

I come to this conclusion for two reasons. First, the actions already taken have not suggested full cognizance of personal culpability in acts supremely offensive to God. There has been a bit too thick an aversion to consequences. Second, from a worldly perspective, strong stands on principle generally require either absolute confidence of blamelessness or proximate exposure of something that will really reorder one's life for the worse.

As appalling as it may be, I don't think any number of indications of administrative malfeasance — even directly attributed and undeniably proven — will spur institutional response. We live in a Western culture in which people believe that it absolves Pontius Pilate of blame to portray him as only having crucified our Lord out of cold political interests. Credibility will be lost, yes, but position and prominence can be preserved through a knee-high wall of extenuating circumstances.

If there is to be a purge, the deeper cause of the corruption will have to come bubbling to the visible surface. And as Rod Dreher notes in a comment to a different post on (Jun 17, 04, 12:01 pm), the media is complicit, this time, in keeping the matter submerged:

... your comment did bring to mind something a Fox News staffer told me at the Dallas bishops' meeting two years ago. I told this person that Fox should find and interview Michael S. Rose, whose "Goodbye Good Men" had just come out, and who could illuminate a key aspect of the scandal that most media wouldn't touch. The staffer told me that they had orders from the very top of the network not to touch homosexuality in their reporting from Dallas.

For Catholic laypeople, the pervasive infiltration of sin into the Church would bring the outrage. For the public at large, for whom the acts, if consenting, would be largely ignored or excused, the hierarchy would have been proven guilty of the greatest crime known: hypocrisy.

Without a public revelation about the why, more of the what of the long-running abuse scandal will be about as effective as airing unwashed linens. The neighbors will gawk, but the only people shamed will be those who must walk among them.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 19, 2004 9:04 AM
The Church