Whispers in the Loggia

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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How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

How the mighty are fallen: Press should keep asking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick's secrets

The ongoing demolition of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick came to a head last weekend as the Vatican announced that he was being defrocked — an action that didn’t surprise anyone.

Big questions remain, of course. They are the same questions your GetReligionistas and lots of other people have been asking for months. Who promoted McCarrick? Who protected him, as reports about his private affairs circulated for years? And finally, who did McCarrick promote, in his role as a powerbroker in U.S. Catholic life?

Rocco Palmo, wizard of the Whispers in the Loggia blog had one of the better summations of what the issues are. Gone are the days, he wrote, when clergy sexual involvement with adults, ie the seminarians McCarrick preyed upon, were dismissed by the higher-ups.

“(Such) acts with adults are listed among the graviora delicta (grave crimes) warranting McCarrick's dismissal – specifically "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power" – represents a massive sea-change in the church's handling of allegations beyond those involving minors, one which could well have significant ramifications going forward, both in Rome and at the local level.

With his laicization now imposed, McCarrick – a particular favorite of Popes John Paul II and Francis alike – loses all the titles, responsibilities and privileges of a priest and hierarch, except for one emergency role: namely, the faculty to absolve a person in imminent danger of death. As for his descriptor going forward, he should be referred to as "the dismissed cleric Theodore McCarrick," with the ranks or offices he once held only used after his name to reflect that they no longer apply.

Given his dismissal, it remains to be seen whether the now-former cleric will keep his residence at the Capuchin friary in Kansas where Francis ordered McCarrick to live in prayer and penance pending the outcome of Rome's investigation; as a result of today's decree, the onetime cardinal is no longer bound by obedience to his now-former superior.

That does bring up an interesting possibility; what if McCarrick decided to slip his bonds and walk away?

McCarrick’s hometown paper, the Washington Post, had quite the busy day on Feb. 16, producing a trifecta of pieces.

This story by the newspaper’s Rome bureau chief was first out of the gate:

The top part of the piece was mostly material we’ve heard before but further down was this note:

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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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'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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Thinking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick and whether Pope Francis will back #BishopsToo

Thinking about 'Uncle Ted' McCarrick and whether Pope Francis will back #BishopsToo

Surely GetReligion readers are not surprised that the think piece(s) for this weekend are linked to the saga of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the horrifying three-level scandal of clergy sexual abuse of children, teens and seminarians.

Archbishop McCarrick? Bishop McCarrick? Father McCarrick? Mr. McCarrick? I'm not sure that's the proper Associated Press style at the moment.

But "Uncle Ted" is no longer a member of the College of Cardinals. That's the latest news -- with this announcement from Rome, care of the team at Crux:

ROME / NEW YORK -- After a month of mounting allegations of sexual abuse against American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Pope Francis has accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals.

The 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington -- who was one of the most prominent faces in the American Catholic hierarchy -- has been ordered to remain in a house “to be indicated” until the accusations against him are examined.

“Yesterday evening the Holy Father received the letter in which Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington (U.S.A.), presented his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals,” said a statement released on Saturday by the Vatican’s press office.

The statement continued to say that Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the cardinalate and “has ordered his suspension from the exercise of any public ministry, together with the obligation to remain in a house yet to be indicated to him, for a life of prayer and penance until the accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial.”

Ah, there is the crucial phrase -- "accusations made against him are examined in a regular canonical trial."

In other words, this scandal is about McCarrick and McCarrick alone?

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Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

Fire keeps falling: 'Uncle Teddy' the DC cardinal faces the reality of Matthew 18:6

The whole story of retired Cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick has reached the stage where reporters, as well as concerned readers, simply have to ride the waves of coverage and wait to connect the hellish dots. The victims are starting to tell their stories.

But let's pause to note a significant change in the shape of the clergy abuse story that has haunted Catholic leaders in America (and elsewhere) since the mid-1980s.

Reporters who have covered this story for decades -- such as my colleague Julia Duin -- have always known that this was a tragedy on three levels, in terms of law, science and even moral theology. But it's hard to tell the bigger story, when the victims remain silent, often because of pressure from parents and clergy.

Level I: Pedophilia -- The sexual abuse of prepubescent children. These cases have received the most news coverage.

Level II: Ephebophilia -- The widespreed sexual abuse of under-aged children and teens.

Level III: The sexual harassment and abuse of adults, often young seminarians.

A bombshell report from The New York Times -- "He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal" -- opened the floodgates, in terms of urgent discussions of sins and crimes at Level III. 

Now the Times team is back with a report that, in the words of Rocco Palmo of the Whispers in the Loggia website, is "a nuclear bomb." The Times headline: "Man Says Cardinal McCarrick, His ‘Uncle Ted,’ Sexually Abused Him for Years."

With a devastating three-word tweet -- "Millstone, neck, sea" -- columnist Ross Douthat of the Times (a pro-Catechism Catholic) has pointed readers to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 6:


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'Snake news': Pope Francis takes on 'fake news,' without asking some crucial questions

'Snake news': Pope Francis takes on 'fake news,' without asking some crucial questions

There he goes again. Pope Francis has jumped into another crucial issue in the public square, one involving everyone from the New York Times DC bureau to Fox News, from Facebook to Donald Trump's White House spin machine.

We're talking about "fake news." The problem, of course, is that hardly anyone, anywhere, agrees on a definition of this omnipresent term.

Fake news as in tabloid-style coverage (or worse) of mere rumors, acidic political fairy tales and outright hoaxes?

Fake news, as in screwed-up, mistake-plagued coverage of real events and trends?

Fake news, as in biased, advocacy journalism about real events, whether in shouting matches on talk-TV or on the front pages of elite publications?

Fake news, as in reporting based totally on anonymous sources, leaving the public in the dark on the motives of those providing the information? Waves of news from journalists who basically say, "Trust us? What could go wrong?"

Fake news, as in news that partisan leaders -- in government and in the press -- simply don't like and want to see suppressed?

So what are we talking about here? Here is the top of the Los Angeles Times story on the "snake news" blast from Pope Francis:

Pope Francis has brought a biblical bearing to the global debate over fake news by condemning the phenomenon as satanic and saying it began in the Garden of Eden.
In a document released Wednesday, Francis claimed peddlers of fake news use "snake tactics" and "disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place." Francis pinned responsibility for the start of disinformation on the "crafty serpent," who, according to the Bible, "at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news."

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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.

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Were U.S. bishops really sending Trump (or Rome) a message through Archbishop Gomez?

Were U.S. bishops really sending Trump (or Rome) a message through Archbishop Gomez?

One really annoying thing about the secular media is the inability of many in it to see anything outside the political grid. When I saw this headline over this article in the Los Angeles Times: “LA’s Latino archbishop now holds a top position among U.S. Catholics. Some think that’s a shot at Trump,” I had misgivings. 

For starters, hearing that vague “some think” attribution -- or non-attribution -- drives me batty, as more often than not, it is the reporter’s opinion or the reporter's summary of what's happening, in this case, in the Catholic blogosphere.

I've covered the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meetings many times and it's never easy to discern just what such-and-such a vote might mean. It always helps to remember that the teachings of the Catholic faith simply do not fit neatly into one political party.

So, see what you think about the opening paragraphs of the Times' piece. 

Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez -- a native of Mexico, an American citizen and a supporter of immigration reform -- was elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. ...
The first Latino to hold the position, he will begin his three-year term just eight days after the country elected Donald Trump as president. Trump has vowed to deport millions of immigrants who are here illegally and made the construction of a border wall a centerpiece of his campaign.
In a phone interview from Baltimore, where the bishops assembled, Gomez said he was surprised by the results but “grateful to my brother bishops for their trust in me.”
He dismissed the notion that his selection had anything to do with Trump, saying it was about the “challenge in our country to address the broken immigration system.” In elevating him to vice president, Gomez said, the bishops were acknowledging the “importance of Los Angeles in our country and the importance of Latinos in our country.”

Right out of the blocks, Gomez says there's no politics involved.

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