The news media loves nothing so much as to bash the Catholic Church.
Consider the recent cover of Newsweek, headlined “Sex, Shame and the Catholic Church.”
Clearly, this is designed to be a devastating cover, a dagger aimed at the hearts and hope of those faithful Catholics unsure of how to puzzle out the apparent failings of their leaders. I am referring, of course, to the current media storm over allegations of pedophilia.
This is not to say that the alleged handling of any case of pedophilia is above criticism, or that the Church is above criticism. Priests are supposed to be worthy of trust, and not predators. Priests are supposed to provide guidance for the salvation of souls, and not moral corruption. Moreover, if the Church mishandled any alleged incidents of pedophilia out of concern for dealing with an alleged shortage of priests, this too may be laid at the feet of the Church: for the past 30 years, the Catholic schools have taught that all religions are equally valid, thereby discouraging many young men from entering the challenging life of the priesthood. In summary, the allegations of pedophilia and of cover-ups are serious and greatly disturbing.
On the other hand, the American news media is not in any moral position to render judgment on the Church.
The cover of Newsweek mentioned above is hypocritical, to be blunt. Recall that Newsweek refused to run Michael Isikoff’s investigative reports on Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affairs until the stories were already quite old.
The reason for this journalistic double-standard is quite obvious. The men and women who decide what daily events shall qualify as “news” dearly wanted to be on Bill Clinton’s good side. Being on the good side of a man of loose morals like Mr. Clinton allowed them to get scoops, to get invited to hot Washington parties, and to feel important. And that, after all, is what matters in life. All the “right people” adored Bill Clinton, and were ready and willing to cover up his infidelities and abuses.
Where the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, however, the media knows its enemy. Consider the pompous New York Times. During the Second World War, New York Times editorials praised the work of Pope Pius XII in protecting European Jews from the National Socialists. Fifty years later, the “paper of record” has a case of amnesia, as it routinely accuses the same Pope of nearly conspiring in the Holocaust.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the Times still has the Pulitzer won by Walter Duranty in the 1930s. Duranty was an eyewitness to Joseph Stalin’s terror famine who dutifully filled the Times with glowing accounts of the glories of Communism.
Where the news media is concerned, the Catholic Church is a rival. To understand this rivalry, it is necessary to understand the nature of the press. There is nothing inherently anti-religious about a printing press, a typewriter, a computer, a modem, or a television. Indeed, the Church itself publishes newspapers, runs television stations, and is on the Internet. The conflict, then, is a human conflict, i.e., a conflict between men and women with different visions for the world. To summarize: there are those who despise the moral teachings of the Church, and who strive to destroy the credibility of the Church.
Consider the cartoonist Don Wright of the Palm Beach Post, whose recent cartoon depicted a woman complaining that the Church tells her what to do with her body, but does not similarly condemn pedophiles.
Wright’s cartoon is sheer nonsense, at best a cheap attempt at humor. But his goal is serious: to undermine the notion that abortion is evil by claiming that the Church is hypocritical.
This is foolish for several reasons. First, whether or not abortion is evil is wholly unrelated to the moral goodness (or evil) of the one contending that abortion is evil, just as the truth of the fact that gasoline is not good for human consumption does not depend on the morality of the man who tells you not to drink gasoline. Wright’s insulting humor is merely an attempt to distract the weak-minded (and willingly led) from the real issue.
Second, contrary to Wright’s offensive cartoon, the Church does not advocate pedophilia. At most, Wright might argue that the Church has failed to adequately punish known pedophiles and prevent their doing further harm.
Here, Wright may have a point. It may be the case that certain men should have been dealt with differently than they were; this, however, is a factual question, and I do not claim to know sufficient facts to say much more than that. Even if this is the case, however, it cannot excuse or explain the cover of Newsweek or the silliness of Don Wright’s cartoon.
What explains the rage directed at the Catholic Church? At the most basic level, human beings are emotional; their emotions short-circuit thought and thereby drive them to do silly things. If you doubt this, go to a political rally and watch alleged “adults” dress up as for a wrestling match and cheer for no-name stuffed suits running for office as if picking sides for Armageddon. People are prone to foolishness.
Moreover, our lives can tend to grow boring. We work, we go home, we whine and complain. And it’s fun to go berserk condemning a public scandal because everyone is outraged. Individual intelligent thought is replaced by mindless group think and the herd mentality.
Finally, it is easy to hate the Church. Those who are not Catholics may easily distrust what they do not understand. Many who call themselves Catholic may also hate what they do not understand. And many who cannot tolerate any views but their own, or who regard moral instructions as condemnation, despise the Church precisely because they do understand.
The Church will endure all such criticism, scandals, and abuses. Those who hate the Church are the inheritors of the French revolutionaries whose mass executions of priests were designed to obliterate the Church. Priests were executed in the Mexican Revolution as well, and they are persecuted in China today. In England and Ireland, during the Penal Laws, priests had a bounty on their heads. The Church, however, has endured all these things, and will endure countless others until the end of time.
The French revolutionaries did not get their wish. Neither will Newsweek or the New York Times.
No matter how the Church may have mishandled any alleged incidents of pedophilia, the Church remains the Church. One hopes and prays that any necessary reforms will be made with due consideration and speed, and that those whose lives were affected may be healed, and that they may forgive those who wronged them. In the end, no matter how much the media may love a scandal, and the rising magazine sales it brings, the moral authority of the Church will endure.
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2002 David Dieteman