Catholics Owe Boston Globe Gratitude for Scandal Coverage

By Paul Janensch
April 10, 2003

Q: Professor News: How should Catholics feel about the awarding of a Pulitzer Prize to the Boston Globe for its exposure of sexual abuse by priests?

A: They should get down on their knees and give thanks that the Globe had the guts to go after the story.

If priests molest teenage males (or anyone else) and a bishop turns his back on such behavior, the Catholic laity should know about it. Sexual abuse is not only immoral, it's also illegal.

Before you accuse me of Catholic-bashing, I should tell you that I was educated by the Dominican sisters and the Jesuit fathers and attend Mass every Sunday.

The Pulitzer board called the Globe's reporting "courageous." That's for sure. Boston is a city in which Catholics make up more than half of the population.

In 1992, Cardinal Bernard Law accused the Boston news media of overplaying stories about James Porter, a pedophile priest who had molested more than 100 children in southeastern Massachusetts. "We call down God's power on the media, particularly the Globe," Law declared.

So you can understand if the Globe was a bit nervous in 2001 when it started to investigate settlements of lawsuits involving John Geoghan, a defrocked priest who has since been convicted of sexual assault. At the insistence of the archdiocese, the court records were sealed. But under Martin Baron, the Globe's new editor, the newspaper won a court fight to have the records made public.

Through 2002, the Globe ran hundreds of accounts about Geoghan and dozens of other abusive priests who were shuttled from parish to parish without the parishioners being told why. Many Boston Catholics became angry - not at the Globe, but at Cardinal Law, who ultimately resigned.

The Globe's reporting lit a fire under the country's news media. Hundreds of other cases of abusive priests were brought to light. Other bishops resigned.

In March 2002, The Courant published a special report based on sealed court documents. It said that while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Edward Egan, now archbishop of New York, played down or hushed up cases of sexual misconduct by priests.

The revelations in the news media last year prompted Pope John Paul II to summon the American bishops to Rome for a special conference.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established stricter guidelines for dealing with an allegation that a priest was guilty of sexual abuse. The problem has not gone away, but at least the church is not ignoring it anymore.

Was the Boston Globe unfair to Catholics? No. It did us a favor. Thursday, April 10, 2003

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