Journalists need to draw distinctions in reporting sex abuse cases

National Catholic Reporter

June 29, 2018

By Michael Sean Winters

The news broke last week that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, had been ordered to abstain from any public ministry because of a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a minor. We also learned that two settlements had been made in New Jersey involving adults who alleged sexual impropriety against the cardinal when he served as a bishop and archbishop in that state. Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who is now the archbishop of Newark, also announced that he was lifting the confidentiality requirement those settlements contained, and he said the victims could come forward if they wished to do so. I stand by what I wrote at the time the news broke.

Then, some in the media decided that this information warranted opening a floodgate of rumors and speculations, not only about McCarrick but also about reporters covering the Catholic Church. Phil Lawler, at, wrote “How did Cardinal McCarrick’s secret last so long?” He concludes that short essay by suggesting the press was either lazy or biased. “Why were so many journalists willing to let the rumors go unexplored? Or, if they did explore the rumors, why were they willing to drop the story, at a time when so many other allegations were splashed across the headlines?” Lawler asked. “Could it be because, for anyone seeking to influence a cardinal, the threat of disclosure is more effective than disclosure itself?”

Rod Dreher was one of the journalists who tried to nail down the stories about McCarrick’s sexual deviancy in the beginning part of the century and he used the new revelation to print now rumors about McCarrick’s behavior that he did not print previously. He dismissed McCarrick’s claim of innocence, writing at The American Conservative, “Innocence? I believe McCarrick is lying, and that he knows he is lying. I have been waiting for this story to break since 2002.” The power of denial in sexual matters is much stronger than Dreher thinks, and McCarrick could well think he is telling the truth if he has repressed this incident.

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