Catholic sex abuse crisis

Catholic beat memo: Ongoing questions linger on who knew what and when regarding McCarrick

Catholic beat memo: Ongoing questions linger on who knew what and when regarding McCarrick

In a world where technology has forced the news cycle to speed up, the constantly-changing developments that have engulfed the Catholic church since last summer have required readers (and those on the religion beat) to wade through large amounts of information filtering through social media feeds.

Lost in all the news barrage sometimes are pieces that make you sit up and ponder the ramifications of all these sordid revelations regarding the clerical sex abuse crisis. More importantly, what are the ramifications are for the church’s hierarchy.

The big story remains who knew what and when. Who’s implicated in potentially covering up the misdeeds of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick over the years? The implication here is that the cover-up — if that’s the word you want to use — goes beyond Pope Francis, but back in time years to when Saint Pope John Paul II was the head of the Roman Catholic church.

Last August, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released an 11-page letter describing a series of events in which the Vatican — and specifically Francis — had been made aware of McCarrick’s immoral behavior years ago. Vigano claimed Pope Benedict XVI had placed restrictions on McCarrick, including not allowing him to say Mass in public. Vigano alleged that Francis reversed those sanctions. In the letter, Vigano, a former papal ambassador to the United States, said Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013 that McCarrick was a serial predator who attacked young men. He knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end.”

Over the past seven months, the allegations have yielded few answers. McCarrick was recently defrocked — the church’s version of the death penalty — but little else has been made public about the timeline. A news analysis piece by veteran Vatican journalist John Allen, writing in Crux, makes some wonderful points. His piece, under the headline “Vigano may have made it harder to get to the truth on McCarrick,” has a series of wonderful strands worth the time to read. It also gives a roadmap for reporters on the beat and editors to look at and track down.

Here’s a breakdown of the piece, chopping off the various strands worthy of a deeper investigation. Right from the start, Allen gives us this thesis:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

As a goodly number of sentient beings are by now surely aware, the Roman Catholic Church is mired in yet another near-global, clerical sex-abuse and institutional cover-up meltdown. How it unfolds will undoubtedly alter the church’s future trajectory. Whether that will be for better or worse remains to be seen.

But this post is not primarily about the Catholic hierarchy’s serious and pervasive failings. Rather, it's my attempt to remind readers that such failings are far more about the human condition than any particular faith group.

I know this because, though I am not Catholic, I was also a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

In my case, it happened when I was about 11 in the basement of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the New York City borough of Queens, where I grew up.

This was the synagogue that my parents trusted to provide me with a grounding in religious Judaism. Instead, the trauma of my experience distanced me from the faith — actually, all faiths — for decades to come.

I never told my parents about any of this, out of shame and fear, so they went to their graves ignorant of what happened. All they knew was that I refused to ever return to that synagogue, not even for my needed Bar Mitzvah lessons. (Both the lessons and the actual Bar Mitzvah took place elsewhere.)

Synagogue clerical sex was most likely one of my earliest experiences of adult hypocrisy — not counting what I experienced in my own family, of course. Who knows? Perhaps it was the trauma that led me to become a journalist.

Because if adult hypocrisy angers you, where better to uncover it than in the arenas of human endeavor — politics, the so-called justice system, the business world, and as I now know, institutional religion and even journalism — that one continually encounters as a reporter?

I'd say working as a journalist is a damn good way to learn about the world as it truly is, warts and all.

Before preceding further, let me state that sharing my experience here is in no way meant to provide comfort to those many Catholics desperate for such institutional comfort. That’s for you to find, or to cease searching for, on your own.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: Aretha's funeral, Trump's evangelicals, Catholic sex abuse, what to call Mormons and more

Friday Five: Aretha's funeral, Trump's evangelicals, Catholic sex abuse, what to call Mormons and more

As we've noted, religion is a vital part of the life story of Aretha Franklin.

Today, prayers and stars filled a Detroit church at the Queen of Soul's funeral, reports The Associated Press.

In advance of the memorial service, the Detroit Free Press published a piece pointing out that Franklin's "spiritual grounding in the black church" would be on display at the funeral. It's a good story but in places paints with broad strokes on "Baptist theology" when it seems to mean black-church theology. Baptists (like a lot of denominations) are all over the place when it comes to worship traditions.

Anyway, R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Franklin is just one of the stories making religion news this week.

For more, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Nearly two years after Donald Trump's election as president, hardly a day passes when a news story or column doesn't ask, "Why do evangelical Christians support Trump?"

Some of the pieces are much better than others.

One published in recent days — by longtime Birmingham News religion writer Greg Garrison — is particularly well done and full of insight (including biblical insight) from supporters and opponents of Trump.

Check it out.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: Mr. Rogers block party, 'Uncle Ted' saga, Muslim Republican, sinful church sign and more

Friday Five: Mr. Rogers block party, 'Uncle Ted' saga, Muslim Republican, sinful church sign and more

I spent much of the week in the Smoky Mountains area of East Tennessee — the land of Dollywood and Terry Mattingly — covering a national church event for The Christian Chronicle.

As a result, I was away from my keyboard and the pitter-patter of religion headlines much more than usual the past few days.

What did I miss? By all means, ping me and let me know.

But first, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: I don't know about you, but amid the constant barrage of news involving divisive politics and church sex scandals, I need to read a happy story every now and then.

Enter Tennessean religion writer Holly Meyer with a delightful piece on a Nashville church embracing Fred Rogers' message of love and kindness and planning a neighborhood block party.

Read every word.

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Until further notice, let's just plan on our No. 1 most-clicked post of the week being another insightful analysis by my colleague Julia Duin on media coverage — or lack thereof — of the scandal involving disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Friday Five: Trump Baptists, Roe v. Wade detractors, Catholic sex abuse, top Bible app and more

Friday Five: Trump Baptists, Roe v. Wade detractors, Catholic sex abuse, top Bible app and more

One of the most talked-about religion stories this week was the Washington Post's front-page Sunday narrative on a Baptist church in Alabama.

"Hit piece or masterpiece?" I asked about the in-depth news feature exploring why the rural congregation supports President Donald Trump. 

I invited readers to offer feedback, and I am pleased that several, including our own Terry Mattingly, did.

Here is what tmatt had to say:

Here is the question that kept bugging me: What is so crucial about this one congregation?

In terms of reporting methodology, how do we know that this congregation perfectly illustrates the state of mind in the complex world of American evangelicalism, even among SBC people?

Also, as always in this age, there is no serious attempt at all to engage the very, very conservative critics of Trump -- including some who said that they voted for him, but didn't want to do so. They wanted other options.

The story says that this congregation matters. Period. This is the perfect choir. Why?

By all means, check out all the comments. If you're so inclined, join the conversation.

In the meantime, let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: I earlier highlighted New York Times religion writer Elizabeth Dias' front-page story going "Inside the Ground Game to Reverse Roe v. Wade."

As I mentioned, Dias does an exceptional job of painting what feels, to me, like an authentic picture of these anti-abortion activists.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Not every Catholic story today is bad news. Here are two positive ones not to be overlooked

Not every Catholic story today is bad news. Here are two positive ones not to be overlooked

The Roman Catholic Church has taken it on the chin lately in nations across the globe. Some of its been richly deserved, as in Australia, Chile, Honduras and the United States, where high-level priestly sex-scandals, and cover-ups, have generated a flood of sadly similar stories.

Yesterday’s post by my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin is a great place to catch up with the latest surrounding ex-Washington archbishop, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the latest high-level American Catholic leader (or former leader) to be outed as a sexual predator. Julia also listed some steps that journalists can take to uncover more of this sordid tale.

Editors, and media consumers, love a juicy sex scandal regardless of who the culprit may be, so I’m sure some reporters -- my bets are on New York Times and Washington Post religion-desk staffers -- are doing just that.

Even the late Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, has prompted some bad press in India. It's not because of a sex scandal but the story is equally bad -- a sister and a staffer secretly selling babies born to women housed at one of the order’s shelters.

It all seems so horrific and terribly bad for the church, from the parish level up to the Vatican, that one wonders whether the church has truly poisoned its well. Where will this end? 

But do not despair, Catholic believers. You may think this an ironic turn on my part, but I’m actually here to praise the church, not bury it, so to speak — and if you’ll allow me to invert the Bard of Avon.

That’s because some of the stories critical of the church are government issue, and they’re of an entirely different sort. The church may be getting slammed in these stories, too. But it's not because of self-generated scandal bubbling up from within; it's for trying to do right.

I’m thinking of the Philippines and Nicaragua in particular. In both nations, the church is locked in fierce opposition to despotic rulers that are not shy about jailing or even physically eliminating their opponents. So it's dangerous for church leaders to be doing what they are.

I’ll say more on the situations in both those nations in a bit.

But first, what’s the journalistic lesson here?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

In newspapers across Pennsylvania, many Sunday editorial pages were filled with angry protests against the Catholic Church and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The reason?

Everyone had been waiting for a huge grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses (Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton) across the state.

In this case, it's crucial to note that even the leaders of the various Catholic dioceses -- not to mention the victims -- wanted this 800-page report released. But then last Wednesday, the state supreme court ordered it sealed.

I’ll start with an excerpt from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, for which I freelanced briefly for in the early 1990s. They weren’t into religion reporting back then, but sexual abuse stories aren’t just about religion. They’re about the courts, about the police, about sex, money and power.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their attorneys were stunned last week at news that the report would not be made public. The grand jury investigation examined decades of allegations of abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses across the state, including Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

“They're hurt, and a lot of them will say to me, ‘Mark, this is what they have done to me from day one. When I finally was able to talk about it, they hired an investigator to silence me,' ” (State Rep. Mark) Rozzi said of other victims.

Rozzi was raped at the age of 13 by a priest.

(Altoona lawyer Richard) Serbin, who identified 106 suspected predator priests for the Attorney General's investigators, set the stage for many of the state's early laws involving child sexual abuse when he filed suit against the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese 31 years ago. The suit established Serbin as a victims' advocate. He said he went on to represent nearly 300 victims of clergy sexual abuse over the next 30 years.

If anyone doesn’t believe people are angry about this, try looking at all the comments (34 at present, which is a lot for this blog) underneath my Cardinal Theodore McCarrick post from last Thursday. The anger out there is as strong as it ever was.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Covering Cardinal Law's death: Is it possible for reporters to be even-handed?

Covering Cardinal Law's death: Is it possible for reporters to be even-handed?

When it comes to obituaries of famous conservative religious figures, the question often is how far one should stick the knife in. This blog saw examples of sheer spite on the part of several media when Phyllis Schlafly died. Ditto for Tim LaHay.

Early coverage of the death of Cardinal Law on Tuesday shows a lot of knife activity on the part of the Boston Globe and New York Times and gentler judgment in some other quarters.

We’ll start with how the Globe covered it:

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, whose 19-year tenure as head of the Archdiocese of Boston ended in his resignation after it was revealed he had failed to remove sexually abusive priests from the ministry, setting off a scandal that reached around the world, died Tuesday, according to an official with the Catholic Church. He was 86.
Boston’s eighth bishop and fourth archbishop, Cardinal Law was the highest-ranking official in the history of the US church to leave office in public disgrace. Although he had not broken any laws in the Commonwealth — clergy were not required to report child sex abuse until 2002 — his actions led to a sense of betrayal among many Boston Catholics that the church is still dealing with today…
In 2004, after Cardinal Law’s resignation, Pope John Paul II appointed him archpriest of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major, and he moved to Rome. The controversial appointment was a reminder of the regard in which the Vatican held Cardinal Law.

It’s a well-rounded obit, but it seems to be a pastiche of previous articles on the cardinal, who got massive coverage from the Globe.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The Boston Globe writes on Catholic priests, sex and the kids who resulted from it

The Boston Globe writes on Catholic priests, sex and the kids who resulted from it

The Boston Globe, which made headlines, won a Pulitzer and starred in a movie about its investigations into a vast scandal of sexually abusive priests, has come up with a postscript. Of the priests who didn’t go after underage children but who slept with consenting adult women, what happens to the resulting child?

The Globe has come out with a two-parter this month that answers that question. And it’s a depressing answer. Fifteen years have passed since its reporters first broke the sexual abuse stories and this time, there's videos to accompany the stories; videos of teary priests' children who can't get through a taping without breaking down.

The answer as to what happens to these kids is dismal. Most are heartbroken for life. Their only consolation is that, in knowing who their dad really is, all sorts of pieces in their lives that never made sense before suddenly do.

The first part begins with Jim Graham, a 48-year-old man who is realizing some things about his past do not add up. Then -

By any reasonable measure, there are thousands of others who have strong evidence that they are the sons and daughters of Catholic priests, though most are unaware that they have so much company in their pain. In Ireland, Mexico, Poland, Paraguay, and other countries, in American cities big and small — indeed, virtually anywhere the church has a presence — the children of priests form an invisible legion of secrecy and neglect, a Spotlight Team review has found.
Their exact number can’t be known, but with more than 400,000 priests worldwide, many of them inconstant in their promise of celibacy, the potential for unplanned children is vast. And this also comes through loud and plain: The sons and daughters of priests often grow up without the love and support of their fathers, and are often pressured or shamed into keeping the existence of the relationship a secret. They are the unfortunate victims of a church that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex, but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.

Please respect our Commenting Policy