|"Chronicles" Editor Recounts Propaganda Campaign against Catholic Church
By Stephanie Block
June 11, 2010
“Never waste a crisis.” Chronicles editor Scott Richert describes a propaganda campaign against the Catholic Church in the US that has spread globally.
A few weeks ago, a New Mexico county paper published a political cartoon depicting a small boy standing before a towering prelate, presumably Pope Benedict XVI. The boy says, “I was molested by a priest!” The prelate gleefully responds, “I forgive you.”
There are many “points” implied by this wicked bit of commentary, one of which seems to be that our society’s pedophile problem is a “Catholic” problem. This cartoon is no anomaly. To read secular news coverage, even in a predominantly Catholic part of the country, is to be bombarded with the message – sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant – that clerical celibacy and Church hierarchy intrinsically breed corruption.
Media messages have “an effect. A late April/early May New York Times/CBS News poll found that 73 percent of all respondents, and 53 percent of all Catholics, believe that ‘child sexual abuse by Catholic priests is a problem that is still going on today,’ despite the very solid evidence to the contrary,” Scott Richert, executive editor of Chronicles, told a June conference held at the Rockford Institute in Illinois. [Quotes are taken from Richert’s June 3, 2010 Rockford Institute lecture, “Clerical Sexual Abuse: Separating Fact, Fiction, and Anti-Catholic Bias.” Video clip of talk: http://www.rockfordinstitute.org/?p=389 ]
Richert calls these media messages “propaganda,” and looks at specific polling questions about media coverage of the pedophile scandals “designed to gauge whether a piece of propaganda has been effective, rather than merely to sample public opinion.” Despite evidence “that Catholic clerical sexual abuse has, throughout this entire period, been less common than sexual abuse by those in other professions (especially other profession focused on children),” there is still a popular perception, fueled by unrelenting and distorted media reporting, that the evil Catholic Church is alone in this problem – with the painful; corollary that child sexual abuse will be under-investigated in those fields where it’s most prevalent.
In an interview, Richert answered some questions about this issue.
Block: You describe in some detail the questions pollsters have asked Catholics about priest scandals of the past several decades as reflective of a propaganda campaign against the Church. Could you give any concrete examples of this?
Richert: The final questions of the New York Times/CBS News poll that I mentioned in my talk read like push polling—that is, using question to try to change attitudes rather than to measure them. But the most egregious example of bias is found in question 25, right in the middle of the poll: “Do you think the problem of sexual abuse of children and teenagers is a more common problem in the Catholic Church than it is in other walks of life, or is it just as common a problem in other walks of life?”
Notice what's missing? Those who were polled were given the opportunity to say that sexual abuse is “more common” in the Catholic Church than outside of Her, or “just as common” outside of the Catholic Church as in Her. “Less common” in the Catholic Church (or “more common in other walks of life”) was not an option.
Block: It certainly colors the answer, doesn’t it? Do you have any particularly egregious examples of biased reporting in the media’s coverage of the Church pedophile cases?
Richert: The New York Times’ coverage of the case of Wisconsin priest Fr. Lawrence Murphy is a very good example. I’ve discussed it at length on the About.com GuideSite to Catholicism: http://catholicism.about.com/b/2010/03/29/the-pope-and-fr-murphy-fact-fiction-and-anti-catholic-bias.htm; http://catholicism.about.com/b/2010/04/26/the-new-york-times-public-editor-on-clerical-sexual-abuse.htm; http://catholicism.about.com/b/2010/04/30/the-new-york-times-attack-on-pope-benedict-the-rest-of-the-story.htm. Those three pieces show how the coverage unfolded, and how the Times’ narrative—that Pope Benedict XVI protected a pedophile priest—was both untrue and delivered at the instigation of a lawyer who has made $60 million of such cases and repeatedly sued the Vatican.
Block: In your lecture, you said that the incidence of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church actually began to decline in 1980, “before public attention was drawn to it, and before the Church instituted various measures.” What happened?
Richert: One particular cohort of priests—born between 1925 and 1950 and ordained between 1950 and 1975—were responsible for the bulk of the crisis. And most of the bishops who transferred priests accused of sexual abuse and who covered up allegations in the 1980's and 1990's belong to this same demographic cohort. By 1980, they had begun to retire or die, and by 2002, most of them were no longer active priests.
Block: So, the next question would obviously be, why were such a disproportionately high number of problematic priests ordained between 1950 and 1975?
Richert: As early as the 1940’s (long before Vatican II, which has often been blamed for this crisis), far too many in the Church—bishops, priests, and laymen—began to regard the priesthood as a profession or occupation, rather than as a vocation. Clerical celibacy is a discipline, but it also reflects a metaphysical reality: The celibate priest is married. His spouse is the Church. He must devote his life to Her the way that a husband devotes his life to his wife. His children are the members of his congregation.
In other words, the celibate priesthood is not an alternative to marriage but a different form of marriage. When, for various reasons, some bishops lost sight of that, they began, as Fr. Thomas Loya, the pastor of Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in the Chicago suburbs, has said, “to ordain men to the priesthood who weren't fit to be husbands and fathers.”
Block: Does that analysis apply to bishops, too? Without a doubt, some of the Church’s problems – and I mean real problems, not media biased problems – can be laid at the feet of bishops who permitted deeply disturbed priests to continue functioning in positions where they could abuse children…
Richert: Perhaps the best analysis of the problem in the episcopacy was written by Rockford Bishop Thomas Doran and published in the February 22, 2002, issue of the diocesan newspaper, the Observer. “Sometimes,” Bishop Doran wrote, “people’s intentions are good. They look the other way, or they misjudge the nature of the problem. That was, it must be said, once the case with respect to pedophiles. Not so many decades ago the best science said their obsession could be cured, or at least treated and brought under control, in the same way that people can be freed from the snares of alcoholism and drug addiction. . . . Now we know better. . . . [W]e all must join together in beseeching God to make us duly conscious of the monstrosity of this evil.”
Treating the priesthood like a vocation and treating grave sin as a medical or physical problem rather than a metaphysical one went hand in hand.
Block: It’s been particularly disheartening to watch media attacks against Benedict XVI – it’s so undeserved. Your lecture went into great detail about all the steps he’s taken to address clerical sexual abuse, stemming from years ago, before he was pope. Could you summarize some of them?
Richert: Concerned by the slowness with which cases of clerical sexual abuse were being handled by the Roman Rota (which previously had authority over them), Cardinal Ratzinger wanted to streamline the process—and, also, to control it himself. He successfully lobbied Pope John Paul II to have responsibility for such cases transferred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Since April 30, 2001, over 3,000 cases worldwide have been investigated by the CDF. In those cases in which the CDF has found sufficient evidence to authorize a canonical trial, over 85 percent have resulted in convictions.
Cardinal Ratzinger had a hand, too, in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted in 2002 by the U.S. bishops, and adapted by bishops’ conferences in other countries to their own circumstances.
Over the objections of other high-ranking Vatican officials, Cardinal Ratzinger ordered the investigation of Father Maciel, the founder of the Legion of Christ, which resulted in his removal from ministry and his exile to a monastery.
And finally, after his election, Pope Benedict put into place strict new rules to prevent the admission of not only practicing homosexuals but those with homosexual tendencies to the ministry. Over two thirds of all cases of abuse in the United States between 1950 and 2002 involved adolescent (i.e., postpubescent) males, and thus are more accurately described as homosexual acts rather than pedophiliac ones.
Block: Why are groups such as Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP!) and Voice of the Faithful so critical of Benedict XVI? One would think, with their ostensible concern to clean up abuse in the Church, they would applaud his work…
Richert: Exactly. Which calls into question their true motives. Both oppose the ban on homosexuals in the priesthood; both call for the end of clerical celibacy; and SNAP, in particular, has agitated for women priests. SNAP has also received significant funding from lawyers who have sued the Catholic Church.
Block: You said there were only six allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the entire United States in 2009. I realize clerical sexual abuse is just beginning to be uncovered in several European countries, so the subject is in the news, but it seems there’s a disproportionate emphasis about it in the US. What’s going on?
Richert: This latest round of media coverage has been served up by lawyers with a vested interest in keeping a dying problem alive. Jeffrey Anderson, the attorney who has made $60 million off of suits against the Church, directed the New York Times to the Father Murphy story. Less than a month later, he used that case as the basis for his latest lawsuit against the Vatican and Pope Benedict.
Block: So, if we accept the thesis that there’s a “propaganda campaign” – or a media bias – against the Catholic Church, the next question is “why.” What’s behind it?
Richert: Beyond the greediness of lawyers who are running out of clients, I think it’s the hatred of Pope Benedict XVI for believing—really, truly believing—what the Catholic Church teaches. And “modern” men and women—and journalists today are nothing if not “modern”—cannot believe that anyone could really believe what the Church teaches.
Block: Thanks so much for your time and all the work you’ve put into researching this.
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