Young people get bits of information from the Internet; urbanites pick up free newspapers stuffed with short stories; others rely on snippets of news from radio or TV; millions depend on wire service stories in their hometown newspapers; and a slim minority are able to access in-depth articles in newspapers and magazines. So when any person or institution is being hammered night after night, a negative impression is bound to stick, independent of whether the “facts” are really facts. Such is the case with the recent wave of media attacks on the pope.
NewsBusters.com keeps a close eye on the media, and the day after Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times ran her piece on Fr. Lawrence Murphy, the Wisconsin priest who molested deaf boys extending back to the 1950s, it disclosed that critics of the Church outnumbered defenders by a margin of 13-1 on ABC, CBS and NBC. A few weeks later, the Media Research Center found that 69 percent of the 26 news stories carried by the three networks featured reports that presumed papal guilt.
Given these two factors—the limited amount of hard news consumed by most people these days, and the clear media bias against the Catholic Church—it is hardly surprising to learn that the pope’s “Poor” ratings on handling the abuse scandal literally doubled between 2008 and 2010. However, a month later, it appeared that a backlash had set in, at least among Catholics.
In a New York Times poll taken in late April and early May, the pope’s favorability rating among Catholics had jumped from 27 percent at the end of March (when the abuse stories were just getting started) to 43 percent. The evidence that this was due to a backlash against the media is supported by the finding that 64 percent of Catholics said the media had been harder on the Catholic Church than on other religions; almost half said the abuse stories were blown out of proportion.
The backlash was warranted. Not only that, but much of what was being reported was simply not true, though the misinformation was often passed on as if it were factual. Let’s just take one of the more famous untrue “facts” that have been floated at the expense of the pope, namely, the one that contends that the abuse scandal is widening under the tenure of Pope Benedict XVI. This claim was made by Roland Martin on CNN, as well as by many other commentators.
The real fact of the matter is that, as the John Jay College of Criminal Justice landmark study of 2004 showed, the vast majority of the abuse occurred between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s. Now it is true that we did not hear much about this problem during that time, but it is nonetheless true that by the time the Boston Globe exposed the Boston Archdiocese in 2002, most of the worst of the scandal was behind us. Fast forward to 2010 and what we have now is nothing but a media-driven scandal: the cases recently trotted out go back a half century or more.
The impression that the scandal is widening is also contradicted by the latest report on this issue. Between 2008 and 2009, exactly six credible allegations were made against over 40,000 priests. There is no organization in the world—never mind the United States—that could match this record. Just as important, there is no other institution that is having its old dirty laundry hung out for everyone to see.
If the media were to launch an investigation of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, public school teachers, camp counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists (to say nothing of stepfathers, boyfriends and other “partners”) then, yes, it’s okay to include Catholics. But when only one group is targeted, and every other one gets a pass, then those who belong to this entity have every right to scream “Witch-Hunt.” In this case, the more apt term would be Papal Witch-Hunt.
The irony is that Pope Benedict XVI has done infinitely more to correct the abuse problem than Pope John Paul II did. It was Benedict who pressed for investigations of priests who had previously escaped an inquiry. It was he who put into place procedures of a more punitive sort. It was he who spoke of the “filth” within the Church. It was he who reopened the case of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, and is now about to render another judgment on the order he founded, the Legionaries of Christ. It was he who met with the victims. All considered, this is not so much an irony as it is an injustice: Pope Benedict has done much to improve conditions.
One of the most important reforms ushered in by Pope Benedict was the decision to raise the bar on practicing homosexuals. While homosexual men are not per se barred from the seminaries, those who have been gay activists, or are practicing, are. And because the overwhelming majority of victims have been post-pubescent males, the more difficult it is for homosexuals to enter the priesthood, the more likely it is that sexual abuse will continue to decline.
As for the Fr. Murphy case, the evidence shows that the pope was never personally involved. Yet this didn’t stop Philip Pullella of Reuters from writing that “The New York Times reported the Vatican and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, were warned about Murphy but he was not defrocked.” However, Laurie Goodstein of theTimes never said that the pope was personally aware of the Murphy case, and Father Thomas Brundage, the judge in the trial, has said that the pope’s name never came up in discussions in Milwaukee, Washington or Rome.
Just as bad is Cal Thomas, the evangelical writer and activist. He wrote a seriously flawed piece, one that asserted that “The trial was never held.” One wonders whether anyone fact checks his articles. It must be pointed out that the Vatican could have dropped the case (as the civil authorities did in the 1970s), citing the fact that the statute of limitations had expired. But it didn’t.
It was the Murphy case that got the whole media-driven scandal started. And it was not by accident when it happened. On Sunday, March 21, the House passed the health care bill. On Tuesday, March 23, President Obama signed it into law. On Thursday, March 25, the Goodstein piece on Murphy appeared in the Times. What am I getting at?
Health care had dominated the news for weeks in the run-up to the House vote. Now no newspaper that is sitting on what it believes is a major story wants to compete with an issue that literally overwhelms the news. So two days after Obama signed the bill into law, it was safe to pull the trigger. And it worked—the Murphy story took the lead, eclipsing all other news stories. As an added bonus, the following week was Holy Week, guaranteeing massive media coverage of the unfolding scandal.
Those who think this was just a coincidence, think again. On the day the Murphy story broke, protesters from SNAP, the professional victims’ group that thrives on scandals, were seen on TV demonstrating in Rome. Was it just a coincidence that they happened to be there? Did they travel to Rome for a pasta special?
So who tipped them off? Jeffrey Anderson. Anderson is the maniacal Catholic-hating attorney who has made an estimated one hundred million dollars suing the Catholic Church (in 2002, he admitted to making $60 million, but he refuses to say how much more he has made in the last eight years). In any event, it was Anderson who fed Goodstein the information for her story on Murphy. How do I know this? Because on CNN she admitted it. Here is what she said an attorney working on this case told her: “I have some interesting documents I think you might want to look at.” Though she does not identify the attorney, this was Anderson’s case.
Back to SNAP. How do we know it was Anderson who tipped them off? Because he is their principal benefactor. Several years ago, Forbes magazine disclosed that Anderson regularly greases SNAP.
See the connection? Anderson, motivated by hatred and greed, goes after the Catholic Church, and he, in turn, gives critical documents to Goodstein, knowing the New York Times would love to nail the Church; and then he gives the heads up to his radical clients, SNAP, who travel to Rome just in time to appear before the TV cameras when the story breaks on March 25.
What is driving Anderson, the Times and SNAP? Anderson’s daughter was once molested by a psychologist who happened to be a former priest. So why doesn’t he sue the American Psychological Association? Because there’s much more money, and fun, to be had sticking it to the Catholic Church. As for the Times, as I said in the op-ed ad I wrote on this subject, it hates the Church’s teachings on abortion, gay marriage and women’s ordination so much that it delights in bashing Catholicism. SNAP is fueled by revenge and money: the activists will go to their grave screaming “it’s payback time”; and because they have no other stable job, they thrive on lawsuits and the kick-backs they effectively get from steeple-chasing lawyers.
Another vicious lie is the one that maintains that the Catholic Church handled these abuse cases in a manner that was very different from the way others handled them. Nonsense. Back when the scandal was flourishing, in the 1970s, everyone knew what the drill was: whether the accused was a priest, rabbi, minister, public school teacher, counselor—whomever it was—he was immediately put in therapy. Then, upon a clean bill of health, he was returned to his job.
Was this wrong? In many cases it was. Who pushed for this? Ironically, many of those in the same liberal circles who are now pointing fingers. Back then it was chic to have an analyst, and there wasn’t any psychological or emotional malady that the therapists couldn’t cure. Or so they thought. Indeed, had a bishop sidestepped his advisors—some of whom acted more like therapeutic gurus—and decided to throw the book at the accused, he would have been branded as heartless and un-Christian by the Dr. Feelgood types. So for many of them now to get on their high horse saying there was a cover-up, when in fact what happened was the decision to conform to the prevailing zeitgeist—as understood and promoted by liberals—is sickening.
When the Murphy report on the situation in Dublin was released, one of the major conclusions was that if the bishops had followed canon law, instead of recommending therapy, the scandal may have been avoided. Sadly, this is true.
Yes, big mistakes were made, but the advice and the strategies employed in the Catholic Church were not any different than existed elsewhere. Moreover, all the news about the scandal today is not about new cases, it’s about old ones. So why is the Catholic Church being singled out? For the very reason the Catholic League was founded in 1973.
A shorter version of this article was posted on the Knights of Columbus website, Headline Bistro, on May 4.