Tough to Be the Messenger

Toledo Blade
November 5, 2003

When shame and disgrace upset an organization as the sexual abuse scandal has the Catholic Church, the principal figures usually look for a scapegoat. Evidently, the Vatican is no different. Pope John Paul II's top aide says the media magnified the shame.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano's take on the issue simply reflects the stance that tried to keep the abuse scandal secret. And yet the cardinal blames news organizations for shaking the U.S. Roman Catholic Church to its core for reporting about priests accused of sexually molesting youths entrusted to their care.

"The scandals in the United States received disproportionate attention from the media," he said. But the coverage about the priests and their accusers was wide-ranging and warranted, given the extent of the abuse on the countless victims, the affect on their lives, the prolonged years of abuse, and the failure of the church to do the right thing.

The Catholic Diocese of Covington, Ky., recently settled a case in which 27 adults blamed several priests for sexually abusing them as children during the 1960s and 1970s. The victims will net $5.2 million.

The scandal was perhaps most devastating in Boston. In September a former Boston priest, John Geoghan, serving a prison sentence for assaulting a 10-year-old boy, was murdered while incarcerated. He had been accused of molesting 150 boys over three decades. Also in Boston, about 250 clergy, other church officials, and workers were exposed for ignoring the sexual abuse of nearly 800 children over decades, and Boston Cardinal Bernard Law lost his job.

These are only a few distressing examples. Yet Cardinal Sodano said, "There are thieves in every country, but it's hard to say that every one is a thief." No credible news agency would label every priest a pervert. But considering the extent of the abuse, how can he possibly believe that the media exaggerated the scandal?

Media coverage has helped lead to the conviction and incarceration of some accused priests; victims have sought help to cope, and the coverage has made the Catholic Church and other religious organizations more vigilant against abusers.

That's what a free press is supposed to do. Regrettably, when it comes to bad news, some still blame the messenger.


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