A Crime of Slander?

A few weeks back I received an email regarding a story in the Boston Globe. It was titled Catholics reject evangelization of Jews. The Globe article stated that the Catholic Church has “come to the conclusion that it is theologically unacceptable to target Jews for evangelization.” According to the article, “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared unequivocally that the biblical covenant between Jews and God is valid and therefore Jews do not need to be saved through faith in Jesus.”

The man writing the email said, “This is a blatant contradiction of the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Then he proceeded to quote verses from the Bible interspersing them with statements such as:

They have now rejected the entire New Testament.

Rome has now declared that GOD was WRONG!!

ROME has turned away from the truth!

In conclusion he asked, “Just who are these men that can dare change God's Word and claim authority over millions of faithful Roman catholics as they command full submission of intellect and will?”

He certainly gave me plenty comment on. Nevertheless, I limited myself to noting that one must be very naive to expect the Boston Globe to accurately represent the teaching of any Christian body.

He wrote back speaking about a “crime of slander.”* To prove his charge, he sent me the URL for the document the article referred to.

Well, I read the document. It turns out not to be a declaration from Rome or even of the American Bishops, but a reflection paper of a committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference which has been meeting with certain Jewish leaders for several years. Further, the document never stated "Jews do not need to be saved through faith in Jesus," as the Globe reported. On the contrary, it states, "the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all."

I figured this would turn out like one of those old Gilda Radner skits where, after a humorous tirade, she recognizes she had the gotten original premise wrong. She then says, “Oh, that is very different. Never mind.”

However, my correspondent did not acknowledge any mistake. Anything the Globe said against the Catholic Church was undoubtably deserved. According to him: “The Boston Globe has exposed the largest and most vile scandal in the history of any institution known to man.” (Quite a statement, considering man has known such institutions as the Gestapo, the KGB, the Inquisition, Planned Parenthood and the Ku Klux Klan.) The correspondent then proceed to add his own series of accusations against the Catholic Church.

You are welcome to read the entire correspondence. It made me do some thinking. The question I have is: If the Boston Globe does such an inaccurate, misleading job on a rather simple story, how much trust can we place in its coverage of a complex story such as the clergy sex scandals? What bothers me is not so much what they reported, but the many things they left out.

I tried to express some of my concerns in our parish bulletin:

During the past eight months we have gotten a full dose of media bias against the Catholic Church. For sure, they had plenty to report regarding clergy abuse of children – but they failed to place the scandal in a broader context. They often made it appear that sexual abuse of children is endemic to Catholic priests and that its cause is the celibacy requirement.

However, Christianity Today (a Protestant Evangelical magazine) noted that there were “70 child abuse allegations reported against American Protestant churches each week during the last ten years,” a quarter of which were against pastors. (“Go Figure” May 21, 2002) So much for the theory that more lay control would automatically eliminate child abuse. Or that doing away with celibacy would solve everything.

When the federal government shut down the “Candyman” pedophile web site last March, it was reported that the site’s more than 7,000 visitors included members of the military, police and fire departments, teachers, Little League coaches, and eight members of the clergy, including two Catholic priests – two out of 7,000. For sure, two is too many – but at the same time, if we are going to deal with the plague of pedophilia, we must focus on more than just priests.

The media has not reported on dioceses which have effectively dealt with this issue. In the Archdiocese of Seattle, for over a decade we have used graduated sanctions, which allow the Archbishop to weigh the individual circumstances of each case and apply sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the particular case. These graduated sanctions may include recommendations for a penalty of dismissal from the clerical state, following the norms of canon law, or a return to restricted ministry with monitoring, counseling, and an appropriate level of disclosure.

In every case, the Special Cases Committee of the Archdiocese, comprised of therapists, civil and canon lawyers and a pastor, review the facts of the case, the therapeutic and monitoring report and provides a recommendation for the Archbishop’s consideration. Almost all the allegations of sexual abuse of children and minors go back over two decades.** It seems to me the approach of the Archdiocese is sounder than a blanket “zero-tolerance” policy – especially in the case of a priest, repentant of his misdeeds, who has shown by two decades of monitored ministry that he poses no threat to children.

Perhaps the bishops in Dallas had no alternative than adopt a rigid policy which “even for a single act of sexual abuse of a minor – past, present or future – the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry.” (Charter, article 5) We live in an unforgiving society. However, we are also part of a universal church so the Charter must receive a “recognitio” from the Holy See before becoming effective. Let’s pray for God’s guidance for the Holy Father and his advisors.

There is a lot more one could say about this issue and the way the media have covered it. However, before we can make any progress, we have to recognize what we are up against. The clergy sex scandal has not only given the media a sure fire story. The prurient interest alone will guarantee many readers. It also attracts people like my correspondent – a Protestant with tremendous hostility toward the Catholic Church. Since launching this website I have discovered there are lots of them out there.

However, there is an even larger group: those who identify themselves as Catholic, but have an antipathy toward the Church, especially toward its hierarchy. They includes intellectuals who dissent from Catholic teaching, many of whom are actually employed by Catholic institutions. In fact, a certain number of priests and sisters fall into that category.

Beyond them are many who have drifted away from the practice of the faith. By and large they still call themselves Catholic, but have little use for Church teaching. This group contains quite a few media folk, like Maureen Dowd and Bill Maher. They will say the most vicious, irresponsible things about the Church and, if challenged, will defend their bigotry by stating they are “Catholic.” Dowd and Maher, of course, are extremes, but others will also hide behind the Catholic label to attack the Church - and in the process justify their own unwillingness to decide whether they are in or out. Dissenting and fallen away Catholics provide a ready audience for media attacks on the Church. And they will give the media plenty of cover, if anyone within the Church questions their stories. (I am hardly saying that a loyal Catholic cannot critize the Church. The article by Deal Hudson shows an honest way of doing it.)

Perhaps the ones who most delight over the scandal are secularists. Between us and them there is a great chasm because we have a radically different vision of the universe and man. It causes us to question the conventional wisdom concerning abortion, contraception, homosexual activity, reproductive technology, the meaning of gender, etc. They not only want us to keep quiet, but to change our teachings. They have used the scandal to lecture the Church on how she needs to change. As one of my correspondents observed:

I have yet to read one editorial on why Islam must change since 9/11;nor heard skepticism of Tibetan monks in all male monasteries; nor Hassidic Judaism criticized for their shared views with Catholics on abortion and birth control. That would, rightly, be deemed intolerable. Yet, I have noted a lack of such restraint when it comes to the Catholic faith. See: Politically Incorrect Letter to Editor

In some ways it is a compliment. Since the Enlightenment, secularists (naturalists) have defined themselves in contra-position to the Church. In spite of their attack, the Church continues and, three hundred years later, has become more vital. However, we must also recognize that today secularists more thoroughly dominate certain institutions in our society (particularly the media and the universities) and they have developed subtler weapons.


*It's unclear who committed the crime: me? my correspondent? the Globe? You can read the correspondence and judge for yourself.

**The Archdiocese of Seattle has not had a new case of sexual abuse of minor by a priest since 1987. That is, of the charges which have surfaced, every one concerns an incident which took place over 15 years ago. We must be doing something right. In light of that record, one must ask how fair it was for the Dallas Morning News to include Archbishop Brunett on its list of bishops who mishandled clergy sex abuse cases ("knowingly harbored a child abuser" as a subsequent account stated). He only became Archbishop of Seattle in 1997 and since that time, merely continued the successful policies of his predecessors.

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