Leon Podles

Some blunt Leon Podles comments on Benedict XVI's statement on sex-abuse crisis

Some blunt Leon Podles comments on Benedict XVI's statement on sex-abuse crisis

It isn’t everyday that you get to point readers toward a think piece written by a pope, even if we are talking about a retired pope, in this case.

It also helps that retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the hottest of hot-button topics in Catholic life — the ongoing scandal of Catholic priests sexually abusing children, with the vast majority of the victims being teen-aged males. That has created all kinds of hot topics to debate or to attempt to avoid debating.

Reactions to the letter have been predictable, to say the least, renewing discussions of the church of Pope Francis and the church of Pope Benedict XVI. The same has been true in the press, with this New York Times story being so predictable that, at times, it verges on self-parody. This Washington Post story hows evidence that reporters tried to gather cheers and boos that were linked to the crucial passages in the retired pope’s text. Here’s the Post overture:

ROME — Breaking years of silence on major church affairs, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written a lengthy letter devoted to clerical sex abuse in which he attributes the crisis to a breakdown of church and societal moral teaching and says he felt compelled to assist “in this difficult hour.”

The 6,000-word letter, written for a small German Catholic publication and published in translation by other outlets Thursday, laments the secularization of the West, decries the 1960s sexual revolution and describes seminaries that became filled during that period with “homosexual cliques.”

It helps, of course, to read the actual text of “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse.” Click here for an English translation, care of Catholic News Agency.

The key is that Benedict — returning to a theme voiced throughout his long public life — warns believers that they are living in an age in which the basics of Christian faith are under attack (even in seminaries). Thus, Christians in a smaller, embattled, church must be prepared to get back to the basics of doctrine and sacraments. Just going to Mass will not be enough. Note this passage:

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Is Cardinal Pell a perpetrator or victim? Aussie media keep wavering between the two

Is Cardinal Pell a perpetrator or victim? Aussie media keep wavering between the two

Ever since Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was convicted of child abuse, the journalism folks Down Under have been split on if he’s actually guilty or whether he’s the target of a vicious anti-Catholic campaign.

Reaction to his conviction and jailing (the sentencing isn’t until March 13), has rippled across the Pacific, prompting Ethics and Public Policy scholar George Weigel (writing at First Things) to call the Pell affair “our Dreyfus case.”

(Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was a French Jew and a military man who was wrongly pilloried and imprisoned in 1894 on charges of selling secrets to the Germans. He was declared innocent in 1906, but the matter was considered as barbaric anti-Semitism on the part of the French. The conflict tore at the heart of French society.)

I’ll get back to Weigel in a moment but first I want to quote from a piece BBC recently ran on all this.

Cardinal George Pell is awaiting sentencing for sexually abusing two boys in 1996. The verdict, which he is appealing against, has stunned and divided Australia in the past week.

It has sparked strong reactions from the cardinal's most prominent supporters, some of whom have cast doubt on his conviction in a wider attack on Australia's legal system.

The largely conservative backlash features some of Australia's most prominent media figures, a university vice-chancellor and a leading Jesuit academic, among others.

Former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott also continue to maintain their public support for the ex-Vatican treasurer.

The reporter then reports on her visit to St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Sydney where the parishioners predictably claimed that Pell is innocent. The reporter then interviews another journalist who has an obvious vested interest in Pell (notice the book title) being guilty.

Such stances have caused profound hurt to survivors, says ABC journalist Louise Milligan, author of the book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.

"I've been contacted by many, many Australian Catholics who are devastated by the way the Church is handling this issue," Milligan told the BBC.

"They are also greatly upset that political leaders continue to side with a convicted paedophile — and that is what Pell is, a convicted paedophile — over his vulnerable victim and the grieving family of his other victim." (One victim died of a drug overdose in 2014.)

The article then swings back to Pell’s defense.

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New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

New York Times flashback: Is hiding sex scandals among bishops just the 'Roman way'?

When you read the lede on the following USA Today report, it’s pretty clear which issue the editors think is at the heart of the 30-plus year long scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, I am sorry to bring this up again, but this information is important for reporters and editors who are trying to understand the current divisions inside the world’s largest Christian flock.

This has nothing to do with Donald Trump and Catholics who hang out with Steve Bannon. It a lot to do with statistics, doctrine and the contents of a good dictionary.

Words matter. By the end of this post, we’ll see — in a 2009 case study — that this has always been the case. Using the right words, and avoiding others, helps people keep secrets.

Let’s begin. Read the following carefully:

VATICAN CITY — The latest — and most serious — wave of pedophilia and cover-up allegations to hit the Vatican is shining a new light on the gap dividing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. And almost none of it is about the charges of widespread clerical abuse scandals.

Dozens of commentators and Vatican watchers have pointed to the wide gap between the views of conservative, traditional Catholics in the mold of Pope Benedict XVI and those of reform-minded Catholics like Pope Francis. Many media have referred to what is happening as a kind of “civil war.”

Yes, that passage does include another example of journalists using “reform” as a dog whistle to make sure that readers know which Catholics are good and which Catholics are evil. However, we need to move on, in this case (click here for more information on that bias issue).

The lede clearly states that “pedophilia” is the crucial issue in this crisis. Now, what does that word mean, when you look it up in a dictionary? Here is the online Merriam-Webster:

pedophilia noun

: sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object

specifically: a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child

Note the specifics attached to the general information and then ask this question: Statistically speaking, are most of the victims in this abuse crisis “prepubescent” children?

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No 'Crossroads' podcast: So tune in a tmatt alternative, talking Catholic wars with Metaxas

No 'Crossroads' podcast: So tune in a tmatt alternative, talking Catholic wars with Metaxas

The long and the short of it: There is no "Crossroads" podcast this week, because one of our key partners at Lutheran Public Radio has this week off.

It happens. Even clergy/radio pros need a break every now and then.

However, the news coverage of the current uptick in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis rolls on. Recently, I ended up offering a high-altitude overview of that topic in an on-air conversation with author and radio host Eric Metaxas. This took place while I was in New York City for my latest set of journalism classes at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

The key to this discussion is the question that I hear all the time in conversations with readers, friends and even people I bump into everywhere from my church in the Oak Ridge, Tenn., to hole-in-the-wall food joints in New York.

That question: What is this story really all about? The problem is that different crowds of people are shouting different answers to that question.

(1) There are some conservative Catholics who keep shouting, "It's gay priests! It's gay bishops! It's gay cardinals!" That isn't the main issue, when you look at the big picture.

(2) There are Catholics on the other side who are saying: "This is about pedophilia -- period -- and things aren't perfect, but we're getting this horrible problem under control." In other words, it's time for more grief, but no fundamental changes. And don't talk about seminaries!

(3) Lots and lots of people in the press (click here for a rather over-the-top example) who seem convinced that this whole mess is the result of homophobic right-wing Catholics who oppose this pope's efforts to modernize the church and some of its moral theology (see answer No. 1). Hey, I hear that Steve Bannon may even be in the mix.

(4) Many observers say that the real news story right now centers on ex-cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick and the network of associates and disciples who have promoted and protected him for several decades.

Ok, Ok. Yes, that's my take of the current crisis, narrowly defined. And that's what I explained in my conversation with Metaxas. Click here to tune that in.

So why listen, if you have kept up with the hurricane of posts on this topic here at GetReligion?

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The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis

The must-cover 'Big Ideas' at heart of the complex Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis

First we had the tsunami of clergy sexual-abuse news linked to the life and times of former cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick.

Now we have a second wave of digital ink following the devastating -- especially for those who had not followed this scandal for nearly four decades -- Pennsylvania grand-jury report (full .pdf here). 

After the report, there was an obvious story that had to be covered.

Priests from coast to coast had to face their people in Sunday Mass. What would they say? How would people react? This was one Sunday when it was clear that editors had to tell a reporter to go to church and take careful notes.

Ah, but which church? And, once again, journalists faced horrifying questions about which details to publish, drawn from this vision of clerical hell. After all, some of the crucial details were clearly X-rated. Others were sure to bring down the wrath of activists -- those inside and outside these newsrooms -- with axes to grind linked to this explosive topic (sex with children, teens and seminarians).

Thus, the world's most powerful newsroom, the one that editors nationwide look to for editorial guidance, did its own version of the "angry Catholics at Mass" story. We are talking about The New York Times, of course. Here is the overture. Please read carefully:

Some Catholic priests offered fiery homilies, telling parishioners their anger at the sex abuse detailed in last week’s grand jury report was justified, even necessary. Others asked the faithful to pray for the abusers. And some said nothing about the scandal on the first Sunday since the release of the report that detailed 70 years of child sex abuse by hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania.

Regular worshipers at Sacred Heart Church in Lyndhurst, N.J., and visitors from around the globe at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue packed the pews and listened intently to what church leaders had to say about the sex abuse revelations that continue to pain Catholics and haunt the church.

Church leaders found themselves in a difficult but sadly familiar position, as they faced their congregations. Except this time they grappled with the unique breadth and horrific details outlined in a grand jury report that ran for nearly 900 pages. The report accused 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 victims and cataloged ghastly assaults, like that of a priest who raped a young girl in a hospital after she had her tonsils removed.

Now, flash back a few days to an earlier post: "A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes." This post focused on the very first Times article reacting to the grand-jury text.

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USA Today offers old news on Catholic priests and sexual abuse, missing some newer angles

USA Today offers old news on Catholic priests and sexual abuse, missing some newer angles

When you hear the term "breaking news," what do you think of?

I think news consumers, at this point, are pretty skeptical about this term. They know, of course, that there really is such a thing as breaking news. Major decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court are breaking news. The attack on the GOP softball team was breaking news. Another van mowing down citizens on London Bridge would be breaking news.

Also, there are @POTUS tweets that justify the "breaking news" label. There are, in my opinion, many more that do not. And have we reached the point where "Game of Thrones" developments are truly "breaking news"? If not, I'm sure that's just around the corner.

Anyway, like a few religion-news consumers, I received the USA Today email push product that pinned the "breaking news" label on a long, long news feature with this headline: "Across the nation, priest sexual abuse cases haunt Catholic parishes."

Now, I have followed clergy-abuse cases since 1982 or thereabouts -- press coverage exploded in 1985 with the Gilbert Gauthe case in Louisiana. Here at GetReligion, we have poured out oceans of digital ink discussing the many waves of this story. It's a horrifying scandal and, along with the ghastly cover-ups by some bishops, totally deserves the word that Catholic conservative Leon J. Podles used as the title of his brutal, horrifying book -- "Sacrilege."

But when I saw this "breaking news" label, I immediately wondered: "Really? What has happened now?" Let me stress that I think there are angles of the scandal worthy of new and in-depth coverage (along with the massive and largely uncovered scandals in other major institutions, such as public schools).

So what is the breaking news in the USA Today "investigation," which involved quite a few reporters? Here is the long overture:

In May 2003, Thomas O’Brien, then bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, admitted to sheltering at least 50 priests accused of sexual abuse, often shuffling them around to parishes across the state.

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Why don't men like church? Sometimes a story is hard to see because it's just too common

Why don't men like church? Sometimes a story is hard to see because it's just too common

This week's "Crossroads" podcast is rather different from the norm. Please allow me to explain why.

You see, this podcast is not about a story that is in the news. It's a discussion of a larger trend that I am convinced is helping shape some major trends -- in culture, in the church and, yes, often in the news.

Like what? Well, it is relevant to the rise of the "nones," especially the departure of young men from pews. It's also, I have long been convinced, linked to several hot-button debates about the Catholic priesthood. You could make a case that this trend -- centuries old, actually -- is helping fuel the decline of liberal Protestantism in the West, while also causing problems (to a lesser degree, statistically) in evangelical and Pentecostal sanctuaries.

Oh, and then there is that whole "Jesus is my boyfriend" issue in modern church music, in megachurch Protestantism and even in some liturgical circles.

We are talking about the fact that lots and lots of men just don't want to go to church. Go to most churches -- especially struggling churches -- and look around. What is the ratio of women to men?

I wrote a pair of columns about this and, frankly, I have been getting some interesting feedback from readers. People are not neutral on this subject, for sure. They either think this problem is real or they think that people who want to discuss the issue are (a) way too liberal, (b) way too conservative, (c) anti-women, (d) anti-Catholic tradition or some combination of the above (and I could have added lots of other factors that folks put in that mix.)

The columns were based on a series of lectures by the conservative Catholic writer Leon Podles, author of the controversial 1999 book "The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity," that were delivered recently at Mount Calvary Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore. In a way, Podles -- a former federal investigator with a doctorate in English -- was updating the work in that book.

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The obvious gap in that NYTimes report on sexual abuse

Almost a year ago, The New York Times launched a series of web-only video-and-text features called the Retro Report. The goal of these short documentaries is, apparently, to help readers by filling in the gaps on complex, ongoing stories. While these short features have been identified as “columns,” the content — at least to me — seems to be rather ordinary news analysis work. The key is that the goal is to give readers a summary of background facts and history. At the very least, then, we can expect these pieces to be factual and somewhat thorough.

This brings me to the recent piece that ran under this headline: “The Fight to Reveal Abuses by Catholic Priests.” That’s a very important topic, of course, an let me stress, again, what I have stated in the past: Journalists have been totally justified in focusing on the cover-ups as well as the crimes.

These scandals have been drawing waves of coverage since the 1980s, although there are reporters out there who seem to think that this hellish pot of sin, sacrilege and clericism didn’t boil over until the revelations in Boston about a decade ago.

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