Author Addresses Press Club of Mobile

By Heather Henderson
Mobile Register [Mobile AL]
June 22, 2004

Catholic Church officials often blame the fallout from the pedophile priest scandals on the news media instead of addressing internal problems, a noted investigative reporter said Tuesday.

Jason Berry, a veteran journalist whose 1992 book documenting sexual misconduct among Catholic priests was among the first to expose the scandal to the general public, spoke at the Press Club of Mobile's 25th annual Awards Presentation luncheon, which honored area writers, photographers and commentators.

"The reality is, where there has been pressure put on the media, it more often comes from the pulpit, Berry said.

In too many instances, he said, the media has succumbed to that pressure. The idea that the church is going to sue the media has been an unspoken fear in the minds of some editors, he said.

The scandal, which Berry called the worst crisis for the Catholic Church since the Reformation, most concerned him because of what he views as the church's systemic cover-up. Instead of removing priests who molested children and teens, many bishops adhered to an unspoken vow to protect priests at all costs, said Berry, a lifelong practicing Catholic.

Though the media has been criticized for its own scandals, news outlets practice internal review, such as when the New York Times published two pages documenting the discov ery that its reporter, Jayson Blair, had fabricated a number of the stories he had written for the newspaper. The Times promptly fired Blair.

"That does not happen in the (Catholic) church, he said.

Berry said the Rev. Tom Doyle, who wrote a more than 100-page report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church and later lost his high-ranking position in the church's diplomatic corps, is working to uncover the scandals.

"If he'd kept his mouth shut he'd be a cardinal or a bishop today, Berry said. Instead, he began testifying in court against those he (once served).

Berry said the church refused to approve a streamlined process for removing child-molesting priests in the United States because the U.S. bishops, who would oversee such a process, had already been violating canon law on marriage annulments in the eyes of some high-ranking Vatican officials.

Berry also spoke about the Vatican's refusal to discipline Legion of Christ founder Marcial Maciel despite numerous affidavits from priests that Maciel had molested them repeatedly when they were in the seminary. The Legion of Christ is an obscure Catholic religious order that operates prep schools in more than 20 countries, including the United States, Berry said.

"Pope John Paul II has yet to acknowledge that the accusations (of sex abuse by Maciel) exist, Berry said. Children of these schools see photos all the time of Maciel and are taught he's a living saint.

Berry said members of the Legion take a vow to never speak ill of their superiors, like Maciel.

"Vows of Silence -- The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, a book Berry co-authored, compares the way Doyle and Maciel have been treated by the church hierarchy.

Berry said the Pope, whom he characterized as one of the church's greatest modern leaders, had been key in the fall of the Iron Curtain and responsible for numerous human rights advances.

"As brilliant as he is, he is utterly intransigent on questions of internal church reform, Berry said. That's a big part of the problem.

"The Vatican has no plan to deal (with the issue).

Berry said the church's prohibition against priests marrying has allowed pedophiles to hide in the priesthood.


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