A fly-by hater sent the following comment regarding Fr. Fessio's explanation of what really happened in the mid-1980s regarding the situation with an abusive priest from the Archdiocese of Oakland and the supposed failure of then-Cardinal Ratzinger to respond swiftly and effectively enough:
Maybe you should stop trying to justify child-rape. Just an idea.
If I thought this was just the half-cracked spitting of an isolated hater, I'd not bother to mention it. But having spent too much time the past couple of weeks reading numerous comments on dozens of sites (news sites, blogs, etc.) attached to stories, reports, and commentary about the ongoing papal saga, I know it isn't isolated or rare. On the contrary, such comments are common, ordinary, expected. In some cases it is almost as though there is a high dollar contest for the most outrageous, vicious, and grammatically-rotten attack on Benedict XVI. The "logic" seems simple enough: The Pope has been accused, so he must be guilty. Some Catholics are defending him, so they must be guilty as well, willing to "justify child-rape" to protect their precious, backwards, vile pile of teetering papal power.
Equally bothersome have been comments from some normally reasonable pundits (some of them Catholic) who have said, in essence, "Well, Catholics really shouldn't be upset. They should resist the impulse to respond. After all, the media has done the dirty work of exposing the abuse and cover-ups." This is ridiculous. Let's say my neighbor alerts me to the fact that my teenage son has been committing acts of vandalism and provides proof thereof. Does it give him the right to then, a year later, accuse my wife of being a prostitute when he has no evidence and it's clear he dislikes her? Or, to get biblical: Babylon and Assyria were used by Yahweh to chastise and humble the wayward Israelites, but I don't recall reading any of the prophets exhorting the people of God to worship the Babylonian gods or swear oaths of complete submission to Assyrian kings. Pass the truth, however painful, but keep the lies.
It's clear to reasonable and sober observers that the attempts to pin dirt on Benedict are failing. Sadly, that doesn't matter to many of those who are scarfing down the now-established narrative of an uncaring, clueless, or even duplicitous Archbishop/Cardinal Ratzinger. The real dirt won't stick, but much of the manufactured dirt is sticking. It used to be that most reporters worked to break a story, to find the truth, and to shed light on the shadows. But now more and more reporters work to stage a story, to fudge the truth, and to create shadows by obscuring the light. People are rightly angry that certain priests preyed upon innocent children and that some bishops abused power and broke trust. And, yes, priests and bishops will be held to a higher standard. But it seems readily obvious, especially after the many stories of the past weeks, that some reporters and editors are preying upon prejudices, abusing power, and breaking trust with an impunity that would make those many of those same sick priests and callous bishops rather jealous.
I'm sure many will disagree with such a harsh assessment, but perhaps they need to contemplate more seriously the parallels between molestation and slander, parallels that are real enough regardless of differences in degree and kind. (Most of us, I think, would rather be slandered than sexually violated. I am not at all making light of rape, molestation, or abuse, which are despicable and vile sins.) Both sexual molestation and public slander are violations of a person's dignity and innocence. Both isolate the victim from good and healthy relationships. Both destroy or seriously harm a person's ability to function properly, to live a full life. "Far better not be born," wrote Chaucer, "than to be one that people slander and say cheap things about." But slander has become an incredibly powerful and efficient way to destroy men, undermine institutions, and increase one's political power and public leverage."In the old days men had the rack," quipped Oscar Wilde, "Now they have the press."
Which brings me to Phil Lawler's excellent piece for Catholic Culture, "Journalists abandon standards to attack the Pope," in which Lawler—a very fine and reputable journalist and editor—writes:
Competent reporters, when dealing with a story that involves special expertise, seek information from experts in that field. Capable journalists following this story should have sought out canon lawyers to explain the 1985 document-- not merely relied on the highly biased testimony of civil lawyers who have lodged multiple suits against the Church. If they had understood the case, objective reporters would have recognized that they had no story. But in this case, reporters for the major media outlets are far from objective.
The New York Times-- which touched off this feeding frenzy with two error-riddled front-page reports-- seized on the latest "scoop" by AP to say that the 1985 document exemplified:
…the sort of delay that is fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal in the church that has focused on whether the future pope moved quickly enough to remove known pedophiles from the priesthood, despite pleas from American bishops.
Here we have a complete rewriting of history. Earlier in this decade, American newspapers exposed the sad truth that many American bishops had kept pedophile priests in active ministry. Now the Times, which played an active role in exposing that scandal, would have us believe that the American bishops were striving to rid the priesthood of the predators, and the Vatican resisted!
No, what is "fueling a renewed sexual abuse scandal" is a media frenzy. There is a scandal here, indeed, but it's not the scandal you're reading about in the mass media. The scandal is the complete collapse of journalistic standards in the handling of this story.
The real scandal, in other words, is the slander. Just don't expect it see it on the front page of many newspapers.