Well, silence does not suit me. I admit it. Day after day I lay in my bed recovering from a sore back, each morning my daughters bring me the latest edition of Melbourne’s premier rag, The Age, and (glutton for punishment that I am) I turn to the World News to read the obligatory page on the Catholic Church and (what might as well just be called now) the Scandal.
“Scandal” is a great word for the current crisis, because it exactly mirrors the greek in Matthew 18:6-7
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!”
The word “stumbling block” is “skandalon” in Greek. Remember, Jesus was a prophet.
So there it is. The Scandal filling our daily reports. Is this a good thing? Yes, according to the Jesuit Provincial for Australia Fr Steve Curtin SJ, who writes (without any further elaboration):
“A free and independent media is a pillar of every civil society. To blame the media for misreporting aspects of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church would overlook the service the media have provided for a church that needs to address a grave problem. (Read this article from Fr James Martin SJ).”
In the linked article in the Huffington Post, Fr Martin argues as follows (and please excuse me for quoting this at length, because he makes a number of valuable points):
There has always been a lingering degree of anti-Catholicism in some quarters of the media, for a variety of reasons, some with roots deep in American history, which I’ve written about at length in America magazine. The media also gets things dead wrong at times, even in factual reporting — especially when reporters new to the religion beat don’t have a clue about the way that the Catholic Church functions.
There are also op-ed writers and columnists who seem never to have a good word to say about the Catholic Church, even in the best of times. Snotty comments from pundits who know zero about celibacy are useless; misinformed asides from journalists who know little about the Vatican are unhelpful; and mean-spirited stereotypes from otherwise thoughtful writers about all priests, all sisters, all bishops, all popes and all Catholics are as harmful, and as defamatory, as any other stereotypes. To that end, I agree with a few of the critiques about the media.
But to blame the messenger for this current wave of stories about sexual abuse is to miss the point. For instance, a friend told me that at the Chrism Mass, a diocesan-wide liturgy a few days before Easter, her local bishop told the congregation to cancel their subscriptions to The New York Times, which he called “the enemy.” Besides the fact that a Mass is not the time to critique your local newspaper, this overlooks a critical dynamic about the service the media has provided for a Church that needed to address a grave problem but wasn’t doing enough.
To wit: without the coverage by The Boston Globe in 2002 of the sexual abuse by priests, the Catholic Church in United States would not have confronted the issue on a nationwide basis and instituted mandatory guidelines.
To sum up:
1) Latent anti-Catholicism in the media is a fact, but not the point here.
2) Media reports can often skew the facts or misinterpret them – not due to any malice but simply due to ignorance of the Church’s language and functions; but this is not the point either.
3) Op-Ed pieces in the media are a different matter – often the writers do not even bother to hide their malice toward the Church; this is a point, but does not negate what IS Fr Martin’s point, to wit:
4) Nevertheless, the media reporting of The Scandal has at least served the Church in opening up this issue and prompting a thorough-going review of the Church’s procedures for dealing with both the causes and results of The Scandal. That IS the point.
And I grant it. With all these caveats, we have reason to be thankful for the media reporting on The Scandal. As a number of Churchmen have argued (most vehemently, Archbishop Timothy Nolan of New York – you can download the audio of his Palm Sunday statement here – it is about 4MB in size) the Church in general and this Pope in particular have responded to this media barage by bringing in clear guidelines and procedures that are more stringent than any other organisation. Only just yesterday, the Holy See publically released clarifications of its longstanding policy on dealing with sexual abuse allegations. (In fact, the Vatican Website has put up on its front page an entire page detailing all documentation dealing with The Scandal.)
We can be thankful for all this, painful as it is.
What we have to bear in the mean time is all the rest of it: the latent anti-Catholicism, the misinformation arising from ignorance, and the outright scorn of many op-ed writers.
If there is any comfort here at all, let it be in Jesus own words (Luke 6:26): “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” Jesus was NOT a false prophet. This is a painful and cathartic time for all Catholics. We cannot dodge shame that has arisen because of these sins. Nor can we change the past. Some have claimed in the press that this is the greatest crisis ever to face the Catholic Church. That is hyperbole. Just as we cannot get away from our past in respect to the Crusades, the Inquisition, and a host of other areas, so with The Scandal we are called to repent of the past and move on in hope toward the future.
Update: You might be interested in John Allen’s interview with the editor of L’Osservatore Romano here for some more analysis. A quotation:
A vintage moment came when the Rome correspondent for the New York Times, Rachel Donadio, introduced herself and jokingly said: “Don’t shoot!” She was referring to criticism from senior Vatican officials and numerous Catholic pundits of the aggressive manner in which the Times has pursued the sex abuse story, and especially its connection to the pope. Not to be outdone, Vian laughingly replied: “You’re the ones shooting!”