Rocco Palmo

Archbishop Wilton Gregory appointment: Apparently no one else wanted the D.C. job?

Archbishop Wilton Gregory appointment: Apparently no one else wanted the D.C. job?

When I used to work across town at the Washington Times, I always used to envy the ability of our crosstown rival, the Washington Post, to run articles by not just one, but two, maybe even three reporters.

Multiple bylines are possible only for very large papers. The rest of us only had ourselves to rely on.

Thus I was interested in the triple-bylined Post’s take on Washington’s newest Catholic archbishop, Wilton Gregory, who will move from the Atlanta archdiocese to Washington when he’s installed on May 21.

I am guessing they had to put three reporters on the story because they had to come up with some decent reporting on Gregory’s appointment quickly. When the dust settled, it was pretty clear that the reporting team at the Post was less than impressed with Gregory, who will be the city’s first black archbishop and probably a cardinal in coming years. This see typically brings a red hat with it.

So here’s the piece, with a long anecdote leading into it:

When the first Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted in the early 2000s, Wilton Gregory led hundreds of defensive and divided bishops in passing the most aggressive action on abuse in U.S. church history.

But Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke remembers something else about Gregory, who was selected this month by Pope Francis to head the prestigious D.C. archdiocese.

As one of the laypeople Gregory appointed to serve on an advisory board to the bishops, Burke was struck by an inquiry he made to her one night when they found themselves alone after a meeting. He wanted to know how she’d been able to visit Vatican officials for her research on abuse.

She’d Googled “Vatican,” she told him, selected several offices she thought were related to the abuse issue, then faxed letters asking to visit.

“His face was ashen. ‘You what?’ ” she recalls him saying. At 55, that was, she believed, Gregory’s first experience with lay­people who went outside the chain of command.

His shock at her ability to get around protocol startled her, she said, and told her something important — that it was nearly impossible for Gregory to see things from an outside-the-church perspective. “His whole life has been devoted to this institution that’s a bureaucracy — to the point where he doesn’t know how infiltrated he is in that fabric.”

What follows is a profile on a company man who’s had to do the dirty work -- at times –- in cleaning things up after sex abuse allegations have leveled a diocese.

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Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

Early Vatican tea leaves: Pope mentions 'pedophilia,' while a public memo includes some land mines

So the tsunami of reporting from Rome has begun.

I hope there are lots of GetReligion podcast listeners reading this latest update on the event now known as “The Protection of Minors in the Church” — previously that was “The Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults in the Church” (italics added). If there are, let me note a few predictions about this event that I made in the past (for starters, here, here, here, here and here):

* The emphasis will be on the sexual abuse of “children,” with little or no public discussion of ephebophilia — intense sexual interest in post-pubescent young people.

* There will be some kind of high-profile penitential rite expressing sorrow and seeking forgiveness from victims, in part to help provide visuals for television newsrooms without religion specialists.

* It will be shocking if progress is made on this key issue: Creating procedures for dealing with the sins and crimes of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

* The key word remains — “seminarians.” That is the door into discussions of secrecy and power networks within the church. What about this word, as well — “McCarrick”?

So now we have the first remarks from Pope Francis, as the event opened for business. The Vatican also handed out a “talking points” document that may have — in terms of public discussions — put several of the hot-button topics into play. Hold that thought.

There is a crucial translation issue in this Washington Post overture.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis opened a landmark summit Thursday on preventing clerical sexual abuse, saying Catholics were looking to church leaders not for “simple and predictable condemnations” but for “concrete and effective measures” to deal with the scourge. 

“May the Virgin Mary enlighten us as we seek to heal the grave wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused” in both children and believers, Francis said, according to an official Vatican translation.

He called sexual abuse a “scourge” and urged the prelates in attendance to “hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice.” He said the assembled Catholic leaders were obliged to discuss, frankly and in depth, “how to confront this evil afflicting the Church and humanity.”

Ah, as often happens with remarks by Pope Francis, we may have a translation issue. Did he really say this is a “pedophilia” scandal?

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Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political news in 2019  

Attention all newsroom managers: There will also be non-political news in 2019  

We already know that in 2019 the news biz will be as consumed by All Things Trump as during the prior three and a half years. The media must also monitor countless maneuvers by countless Democratic presidential hopefuls. And there will be those ongoing eruptions in global politics.

If any column inches and air time are left over for our beat, the temptation will be to do those “religion and” stories, oh you know like predictable Donald Trump accolades from the media’s favorite evangelicals. On the big 2019 theme of whether the President can win a second term, The Guy reminds pundits for the umpteenth time that white Catholics outside the  Bible Belt will decide that.  

Most important, The Guy advises editors that audiences will welcome a bit of a break from political news. How about covering the more religious aspects of the religion beat like these three major 2019 stories?  

First, the top story of 2018, as the Dec. 5 Guy Memo proposed, is reports that the “CRISR” technique in November successfully produced the first newborns with engineered genes that  will be inherited by future generations. Biologists “playing God” to create human “designer babies” is an ethical quagmire that demands 2019 folo-ups.

Then, two vital and nearly simultaneous church events, one dealing with moral performance and the other with moral doctrine, will reverberate throughout the year.

Ready to mark those calendars?

Feb. 21-24 — Pope Francis has summoned the 135 heads of national  bishops’ conferences and comparable officers for a Vatican summit to cope with the disgusting and ceaseless cascade of priests who sexually molested underaged boys and girls (and the bishops and cardinals who hid them). The stakes could not be higher for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics.

This brings fierce memories of Pope John Paul II’s 2002 Vatican abuse confab with U.S. Catholic leaders (which The Guy covered for The AP alongside Rome Bureau legend Victor Simpson). Shortly thereafter, several hundred reporters (including The Guy alongside award-winning AP virtuoso Rachel Zoll) swamped the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Dallas that devised a cleanup plan.  

U.S. scandals then dominated the news. Since, it’s become obvious this is no “American crisis” but a worldwide one. The fact that victims’ suffering, scandals, cover-ups, malfeasance, investigations, lawsuits and bankruptcies persist 16 years later shows how intractable the moral rot has proven to be, with Cardinal Pell’s conviction the latest instance. 

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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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Coverage by the conservative and global press raises the stakes in Viganò affair

Coverage by the conservative and global press raises the stakes in Viganò affair

It’s now Day 5 after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò dropped his nuclear bomb on the Catholic world. Although the best coverage seems to be resting mainly on media that have the good fortune to have Rome correspondents, there is some good work being done Stateside as well.

As one Washington Post columnist said, Viganò effectively nailed his 95 theses to the door of St. Peter’s. 

So this is a big deal. But in the secular press, it’s mainly two newspapers: The Post and the New York Times doing the heavy lifting.

But Viganò is not talking with them. He’s using conservative media as his outlets. I’m sure LifeSite News, a Canadian site primarily devoted to fighting abortion, never dreamed it’d be in the midst of a Vatican fist fight. But Vaganò trusts them; their articles must be bringing in tons of page views, so what’s not to like? 

Ditto for the National Catholic Register, which in the past has been overshadowed by the liberal National Catholic Reporter. These days, the Register is publishing exclusives and the Reporter is reduced to running snide analyses by Michael Sean Winters or stories like this one that only quote one side of the story.  

One newly published piece from the Register is by an Italian journalist who’s one of a number of people to whom Viganò released his 11-page “testimony.” Near the end, he repeats the dialogue between him and the archbishop.

“Monsignor, do you know what they will say? That you want revenge. That you are full of resentment for having been dismissed from the Governatorate and other things. That you are the crow who leaked the Vatileaks papers. They will say that you are unstable, as well as a conservative of the worst kind.”

“I know, I know. But that doesn’t matter to me. The one thing that matters to me is to bring the truth to the surface, so that a purification can begin. At the point that we have reached, there is no other way.” ...


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Nuclear war in Rome: Vatican's former U.S. ambassador claims Francis protected 'Uncle Ted'

Nuclear war in Rome: Vatican's former U.S. ambassador claims Francis protected 'Uncle Ted'

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said -- right out in public -- that he worked behind the scenes as part of the network that helped elect Pope Francis.

Now, according to the former Vatican ambassador to the United States from 2011-2016, McCarrick had every reason to do this. That would be Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a major Vatican player on the doctrinal right, who claims that Pope Francis and his network of supporters in red hats protected McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Thus, Vigano has called for Francis to resign.

Yes, Vigano is a Francis critic -- as noted (with good cause) by Elizabeth Dias of the New York Times. However, journalists will also note that Vigano was in a position to see the letters and emails from people on both sides of the long, long battle over whether "Uncle Ted" McCarrick could be driven out of the College of Cardinals. He is claiming the ability to name names and quote chapter and verse.

This will be a nuclear war between the Catholic left and right and people on both sides will have what journalists should -- read SHOULD -- find hard to ignore: documents and first-hand knowledge of key moments in this secret drama. Will the mainstream press quote the voices and documents on both sides, in the battle between bishops and cardinals?

Here is the key information at the top of the Edward Pentin report in The National Catholic Register:

In an extraordinary 11-page written testament, a former apostolic nuncio to the United States has accused several senior prelates of complicity in covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s allegations of sexual abuse, and has claimed that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò ... said that in the late 2000s, Benedict had “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis” and that Viganò personally told Pope Francis about those sanctions in 2013.

Archbishop Viganò said in his written statement, simultaneously released to the Register and other media, (see full text below) that Pope Francis “continued to cover” for McCarrick and not only did he “not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him” but also made McCarrick “his trusted counselor.”  Viganò said that the former archbishop of Washington advised the Pope to appoint a number of bishops in the United States, including Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark. 

The Register report claims that it has direct confirmation of the Benedict sanctions against McCarrick. The source? Staff close to Pope Benedict XVI.

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Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

Covering the priestly sex abuse scandal: How did Catholic media score this week?

It’s certainly been a tortured Catholic summer here at GetReligion, what with our reporting on the scandals surrounding now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick –- that took up multiple news cycles from June 20 to mid-July -- and this week's explosive grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that with some of the saddest news that religion beat reporters have had to cover in ages.

I’ve talked about how the secular media are treating this disaster but what about Catholic media? There’s a bunch of other publications out there but many are weeklies or even monthlies. What I found most helpful in several of them had insider observations that secular media reporters might not have.

The two largest Catholic publications are the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter. I’ll start with the latter.

The Register’s reporting was heavy on analysis and blogs -- such as this one asking why no one listened to McCarrick whistleblower Richard Sipe –- and it tended to defend the bishops more; at least the ones it felt had been unfairly treated. Its breaking news was supplied by the Catholic News Agency, a wire service affiliated with the Birmingham, Ala.-based Eternal Word TV Network. (A screen shot of EWTN host Lauren Ashburn reporting on the grand jury report is atop this blog.)

CNA’s reporting included a piece on retired Erie Bishop Donald Trautman, who was excoriated in the grand jury report. Trautman said a great deal of details had been left out of the report; details that would have put him in a better light.

Bishop Trautman said that the report “does not fully or accurately discuss my record as Bishop for twenty-two years in dealing with clergy abuse. While unfortunate, these omissions are consistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s findings that the grand jury process that produced the Report suffered from 'limitations upon its truth-finding capabilities' and lacked 'fundamental fairness.'”

The news service had a similar article defending Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was also criticized by the grand jury.

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'The murder of souls' -- Covering massive Pennsylvania sex abuse doc = brutal assignment

'The murder of souls' -- Covering massive Pennsylvania sex abuse doc = brutal assignment

We’ve been bracing ourselves for this all summer.

Yesterday, a massive grand jury report (full text here) was released covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses of 1.7 million parishioners. It was the largest such report ever done in this country.

There’s not a whole lot out there that can shunt the horrors of the Cardinal McCarrick affair onto a back burner, but this report fits that bill. It is a stunning summary of degradation and evil that reporters have known about for years and have been waiting to dissect all year. I'm predicting it will be the religion story of the year in the annual Religion News Association poll.

The grand jury subpoenaed a half million pages of church internal documents. Think about that. Then they came down upon a number of bishops for going out of their way to hide these horrors over a 70-year period of time. And when did things begin to change?

When the media, starting with the Boston Globe, began reporting on this story in 2002. Think about that next time you hear Donald Trump bloviating about all journalists being the "enemy of the people."

First, listen to the video of the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s R-rated press conference in Harrisburg that introduced this report. It’s atop this blog post.

We’ll start with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s reporting, the lead story of which was written by their courts reporter, Paula Reed Ward. (She posted on her Twitter feed early yesterday a photo of all the media lining up for the press conference at which the report was released).

The 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury identified more than 1,000 child victims from more than 300 abusive priests across 54 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties…

In a scathing introduction that provides excruciating detail of only a handful of instances of abuse, the introduction explains the grand jury's purpose, its findings and its ultimate recommendations.

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Why didn't journalists investigate McCarrick earlier? Because they thought conservatives were out to get him

Why didn't journalists investigate McCarrick earlier? Because they thought conservatives were out to get him

Wow, they’re all coming out of the woodwork now. That is, cardinals and bishops who swear they knew nothing of the doings of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

A bunch of pieces on McCarrick came out on Tuesday, including the suggestion that rumors about McCarrick were ignored by some journalists because they were seen as coming from Conservative Catholics.

I was wondering when issues of doctrine and even politics were going to enter this journalism story. More on this in a moment.

First, some interesting tidbits in Rocco Palmo’s “Whispers in the Loggia” blog. He said that, technically, the cardinal is now “Archbishop McCarrick,” as he has resigned from the College of Cardinals as of last Friday. I wrote about this Monday. (By the way, it was Palmo's Twitter account that showcased the stained glass window photo I have with this post. It's a window in a New Jersey church showing McCarrick as one of the bishops co-celebrating Mass with John Paul II during the pope's 1995 visit to the Giants stadium in New York.)

Palmo gets details no one else gets, including the following:

Archbishop McCarrick's precise whereabouts have remained tightly held since the June allegation was made public, when he was moved out of the Washington nursing home run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Weeks before the New York report was revealed -- knowing that it was to come, and already under pressure to keep a low profile at home -- the fallen cleric chose to make one final trip in active ministry: an early June pilgrimage to the shrine of Poland's Black Madonna at Czestochowa, where he marked the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

The Catholic Standard’s laudatory May 18 piece is here. (The Standard is the archdiocesan newspaper). So what Palmo is saying is that McCarrick knew the ax was about to fall and that his free ride was over. So, he did one last overseas trip.

What must he have thought, knowing that he was about to lose everything? How could he, through a spokesperson when the news first came out June 20, say that he didn’t remember abusing anyone?

This curious lack of memory has emanated from other bishops.

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