Illustration by Carla T. Gamalinda

MEDIA have their own way of destroying credibility. But each time these charges are proven false, the “free” press loses some credibility of its own.

This was the case of the Western press’ relentless coverage of sexual abuse cases in America and Europe involving Catholic clergy. Indeed, the damage done to innocent children victimized by predator-priests is a shame and the Church should exert all effort prevent further abuses.

The recent coverage of influential media outlets like the New York Times, the Associated Press, and others, as many observers have pointed out, had more to do with undermining the Church’s moral authority on issues like homosexuality, premarital sex, priestly celibacy, contraception, and abortion, than protecting innocent children.

Reporters and commentators zeroed in on Pope Benedict XVI, accusing him of sitting on abuse cases and abetting child molesters. The salacious stories were timed for the holiest of all Christian feasts, the Easter Triduum, apparently to shock and then weaken the resolve of the one-billion-strong Roman Catholic faithful.

The series of “bombshells” turned out to be duds, showcases of journalistic irresponsibility and bias against what is now the only remaining beacon of morality in an increasingly secular world.

First they wrote about the abuses in the prestigious Regensburg choir in Germany – while the Pope’s older brother once headed it as choir master, Georg Ratzinger was not involved in sexual abuse, although he admitted to having slapped children, something that was not unheard of three decades ago.

Next, the secular press criticized Benedict for giving housing to a priest undergoing therapy for abusing children, when he was still archbishop in his native Bavaria. That priest was later on allowed to return to active ministry. But in 1980, the Munich diocese merely followed the medical opinion prevailing at the time, that pedophilia is curable. Of, course, we know better now. But it’s simply dishonest to apply today’s standards to past events.

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At any rate, then Archbishop Ratzinger’s vicar was the one who made the decision to transfer the priest in question. And anyone who is familiar with how the church works knows the diocesan vicar handles the day-to-day chores.

Not content with that, the Western press dug up the old story of a Milwaukee priest abusing 200 deaf children in the 1960s, a horror story indeed. The New York Times and others accused Benedict, this time as cardinal and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of intervening to stop the church trial against Fr. Lawrence Murphy, and failing to defrock him.

Fortunately, the Times posted its documentary evidence online, exposing its errors. The paper trail shows that no one stopped the canonical trial; in fact Benedict’s deputy encouraged it even when the statute of limitations – beyond which trials could no longer be held under church law – had expired. The Vatican indeed asked that the trial be discontinued later on, but only because the priest was already old and dying; it in fact ordered the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to speed up Fr. Murphy’s removal.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of ecclesiology would realize that Fr. Murphy was directly responsible to the Archbishop of Milwaukee. But the ordinary at the time, Rembert Weakland, did not notify the Vatican until 1996, or 20 years after the abuses occurred. Even the Milwaukee police did not pursue the case.

Why was Weakland given a pass? Because the New York Times quoted him as a source. In fact he is a polluted source – the disgraced Weakland had been found to have used Church money to hush a male lover. Last year, the Times wrote a kind review of Weakland’s autobiography. Weakland, in fact, is often used by the liberal Western press to speak against the Vatican.

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It did not interview the trial judge, and when the now Alaska-based priest protested of being quoted out of context, the Times ran a “correction,” this time buried in the inside pages.

The picture being painted of Benedict is flat-out wrong. In 2001, as head of the doctrinal dicastery, he was exposed for the first time to the graphic details of abuse cases all over the world, when it was decided that the serious ones be handled by his office. Since then, Benedict has taken a hardline stance against priestly abusers, calling them the “filth” of the Church.

He has met with abuse victims in the United States, Australia, and more recently, Malta, an unprecedented display of the Church’s sympathy for its wounded flock.

As the Vatican’s spokesman had noted: “It’s rather clear that in the last days, there have been those who have tried, with a certain aggressive persistence … to look for elements to personally involve the Holy Father in the matter of abuses.”

“For any objective observer, it’s clear that these efforts have failed.”


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