Church Militant

Vatican shocks U.S. bishops, while some journalists keep tight focus on child abuse -- alone

Vatican shocks U.S. bishops, while some journalists keep tight focus on child abuse -- alone

It seems like an easy question: What are the sex scandals in the Catholic church all about?

If you look at the coverage, week after week, it’s clear that many journalists covering the latest wave of news about the scandals are still wrestling with this issue.

Obviously, the scandals center on acts of sexual abuse and harassment by Catholic clergy. The question, apparently, is this: Who are the victims? Reporters have to answer that question in order to get to the next big question: What sacred and secular laws are being broken?

After decades of following this story, and talking to activists on the Catholic left and right, the basic facts are pretty clear.

The vast majority of the victims are young males between the ages of 11 and 18. Then there are significant numbers of prepubescent victims, male and female, being abused by criminals who can accurately be called “pedophiles.” Also, there are many adult men (many are seminarians) and women involved in sexual relationships with priests and bishops, some consenting and some not. The size of this last group is assumed to be large, but there are few facts available.

With this in mind, pay close attention to the lede of the latest New York Times update on the Vatican’s shocking move to stop U.S. Catholic bishops from taking actions to discipline bishops accused of various sins and crimes.

BALTIMORE — Facing a reignited crisis of credibility over child sexual abuse, the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States came to a meeting in Baltimore on Monday prepared to show that they could hold themselves accountable.

But in a last-minute surprise, the Vatican instructed the bishops to delay voting on a package of corrective measures until next year, when Pope Francis plans to hold a summit in Rome on the sexual abuse crisis for bishops from around the world.

Many of the more than 350 American bishops gathered in Baltimore appeared stunned when they learned of the change of plans in the first few minutes of the meeting. They had come to Baltimore wanting to prove that they had heard their parishioners’ cries of despair and calls for change. Suddenly, the Vatican appeared to be standing in the way, dealing the bishops another public relations nightmare.

What is the crisis all about? The answer, throughout this article, is “child abuse,” and that’s that.

It’s interesting to note that the article does not include references to two crucial words in this latest wave of scandal ink — “McCarrick,” as in ex-cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick — and “seminaries” or “seminarians.”

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It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

The scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church the past few months are only intensifying.

The allegations to come out of Pennsylvania (as well as Ireland and Australia) and accusations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick not only revealed how much the church is hurting, but also the stark ideological split within it. These events have also seen a rise in the power of online media.

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here. Depleted newsrooms and not wanting to do negative stories about the pontiff have spurred conservative Catholic media to fill the journalism void.

Indeed, it’s a small group of influential blogs and news websites that has helped to inform millions as well as drive the debate.

The sex-abuse scandals that dominated news coverage over the summer are not going away. In the latest allegations to hit the U.S church, John Jenik, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, is under investigation after being accused of sexual abuse. First to the punch with the story soon after Cardinal Timothy Dolan made the announcement was CruxNow, a Catholic news site, and not any of the three competitive New York City dailies.

The revelations regarding Jenik could be just the start of a new flood of allegations going into 2019. The Justice Department recently sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the country ordering them not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse cases. The request to preserve those files, first reported by the blog Whispers in the Loggia, is yet another sign that the prove is expanding after the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

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Seeking complex reactions to latest Pope Francis ink? Head over to Crux, not New York Times

Seeking complex reactions to latest Pope Francis ink? Head over to Crux, not New York Times

So Pope Francis has spoken, once again. This time we are talking about an apostolic exhortation -- Gaudete et Exsultate ("Rejoice and Be Glad") -- that includes pastoral comments aimed at Catholics in general, but also specific shots at his critics on the doctrinal right.

So let's say that you are looking for news coverage that includes voices on both sides of the Pope Francis debate. You want to hear from people who have just been attacked by the pope. You also want to hear from doctrinal conservatives, as well as liberals, who embrace what the pope had to say, or who see his message as consistent with that of other recent popes.

So, where do you look for coverage that does more than -- let's be honest -- serve as a public-relations office for Pope Francis?

Do you choose a website that specifically focuses on Catholic news or do you turn to America's most powerful newsroom, a newspaper that in the past has been highly critical of Catholic leaders?

That's a trick question, right? In this case, you want to check out Crux to get complex reactions to this apostolic exhortation, while The New York Times gives readers all Francis, all of the time (with zero input or information from critics of this pope).

Which newsroom showed the most independence from the papal powers that be? That would be (drum roll please) the website for a Catholic audience. It's also interesting to note which report framed this document primarily in political terms. Here's the overture at the Times ("Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing").

VATICAN CITY -- Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Monday morning.
Pushing back against conservative critics within the church who argue that the 81-year-old pope’s focus on social issues has led him to lose sight of the true doctrine, Pope Francis again cast himself, and the mission of the Roman Catholic Church, in a more progressive light.

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From 'Building Bridges' to 'Building a Bridge' -- About the roots of wars over Father James Martin

From 'Building Bridges' to 'Building a Bridge' -- About the roots of wars over Father James Martin

It would be hard to name a media figure in American Catholicism who is more popular than Father James Martin, in part because he is witty, candid and concise. He understands how journalists work, pays attention to deadlines and is relentlessly cooperative.

Martin has his points to make and he makes them, both with his words and with strategic silence. If conservative Catholics want to have a constructive debate with Martin, they need to take all of this into consideration. Attack this particular priest and lots of mainstream journalists will feel like you are attacking them.

This brings us to the mini-media storm surrounding the decision by leaders of Theological College -- the National Seminary at the Catholic University of America -- to rescind a speaking invitation to Martin. While he was planning to speak about themes in his book "Jesus: A Pilgrimage," this controversy centers on Martin's most recent book, "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity."

When you are reading news coverage of this debate there are several key points to consider.

(1) This action was taken by seminary leaders, not by the Catholic University of America. Still, CUA is the only pontifical university in the United States and has a special relationship with the U.S. Catholic bishops. As its mission statement notes, CUA was "founded and sponsored by the bishops of the country with the approval of the Holy See."

(2) Mainstream Catholic leaders have criticized Martin's book (most notably Cardinal Robert Sarah, leader of the Vatican’s liturgy office), as well as conservative groups such as the Church Militant. Were Martin's mainstream critics quoted?

(3) Martin has warmly embraced New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ advocacy group that for decades has attacked Catholic teachings on sexuality. This is crucial because the Vatican condemned New Ways in 1999 -- specifically the work of Sister Jeannine Gramick and the late Father Robert Nugent -- with its investigation focusing on their book "Building Bridges." In 2010, the president of the U.S. bishops stressed that "New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church. ..."

This controversy -- for seminary leaders -- was almost certainly linked to New Ways and the book "Building Bridges," as well as to Martin and his book "Building a Bridge." Last year, New Ways honored Martin with its annual "Bridge Building Award." Did that link make it into news coverage?

So what ended up in the Associated Press report on this controversy, the story seen in most American newspapers and in others around the world?

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Do you believe the Bible recommends spanking? Don't move to Norway, says BBC

Do you believe the Bible recommends spanking? Don't move to Norway, says BBC

To spank or not to spank, that is the question. Corporal punishment is legal in all 50 U.S. states, but America is a bit of an outlier on spanking as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Globally, 44 nations forbid you to spank your kids.

But here's the question journalists need to think about, after a major report on this topic by the BBC: What if your religious beliefs back corporal punishment and you move to a country where that’s not allowed? Wouldn't journalists need to explore the specifics of that belief in their reporting on this topic?

Meanwhile, this story centers on the fact that one country will take your kids away if they find out you are spanking your children -- at all. Here's what BBC found out about a famous case in Norway involving a family with five kids:

Ruth and Marius's life was torn apart without warning one Monday afternoon last November when two black cars approached the farm where they live in a remote Norwegian valley.
Their two little boys, aged five and two, and their three-month-old baby son, were in their big, bright, modern living room overlooking the steel-grey fjord.
Ruth was waiting as usual for the school bus that would bring back their two daughters, aged eight and 10.
But that Monday, it never came. Instead, Ruth saw the two unknown cars. One continued along the main road; the other turned up the farm track -- and a woman from the local child protection service knocked at the door. She told Ruth to come to the police station for interrogation.

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