Peggy Noonan opens a vein

It could not have been easy for Peggy Noonan to write her Good Friday column on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal.

She is, after all, a person who made a return trip into Catholicism that was both joyful and painful at the same time. If you don’t know that part of her story, check out her criminally overlooked memoir, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

But the key right now is that Noonan is the author of “John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father,” a tribute to the late pope that was as much a journal of her emotional responses to his papacy as a volume about his remarkable life. At one point, Noonan states simply, “”John Paul walked into my life and served, unknowingly, as my spiritual father. He had led me like a light in the dark. …”

With that in mind, it is best to look at the end of her column first — before we get to the material that I think is so relevant to journalists and other GetReligion readers who are trying to figure out a way to aim criticisms (positive and negative) at the Vatican and the New York Times at the same time. What are we to make of the papacy during these decades — repeat decades — of scandal in which so many bishops actively hid priests who abused young children and many, many teen-agers (the vast majority of the latter males)?

Some blame the scandals on Pope Benedict XVI. But Joseph Ratzinger is the man who, weeks before his accession to the papacy five years ago, spoke blisteringly on Good Friday of the “filth” in the church. … The most reliable commentary on Pope Benedict’s role in the scandals came from John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, who argues that once Benedict came to fully understand the scope of the crisis, in 2003, he made the church’s first real progress toward coming to grips with it.

As for his predecessor, John Paul the Great, about whom I wrote an admiring book which recounts some of the scandals — I spent a grim 2003 going through the depositions of Massachusetts clergy — one fact seems to me pre-eminent. For Pope John Paul II, the scandals would have been unimaginable — literally not imaginable. He had come of age in an era and place (Poland in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s) of heroic priests. They were great men; they suffered. He had seen how the Nazis and later the communists had attempted to undermine the church and tear people away from it, sometimes through slander. They did this because the great force arrayed against them was the Catholic Church. John Paul, his mind, psyche and soul having been forged in that world, might well have seen the church’s recent accusers as spreaders of slander. Because priests don’t act like that, it’s not imaginable. And he’d seen it before, only now it wasn’t Nazism or communism attempting to kill the church with lies, but modernity and its soulless media.

Only they weren’t lies.

Before readers get to that part of the column, Noonan has already written a statement that could only have been made by someone who genuinely loves journalism and its valid, protected role in public life — public life wherever free speech, freedom of the press and religious liberty truly coexist in painful, but necessary, tension.

Catholic leaders, she argues, are in attack mode at the moment because they believe that journalists are in attack mode. Many Catholics are simply blaming the current crisis on media bias.

Now, read very closely. This next passage contains a statement that I believe simply must be made. To make sure that readers get it, Noonan says it twice.

… (T)his is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press — the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe — has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn’t be saying j’accuse but thank you.

I hope that the blog’s many Catholic readers are still reading.

Noonan isn’t done yet. She argues that many mainstream journalists were actually reluctant to cover this story. Why spend years digging in this filth (the pope’s word), only to have thousands of Catholics accuse your paper of bias — no matter how accurate the coverage — and respond with protests or boycotts or both?

But, but ….

Without this pressure — without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts — the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer. …

An irony: Non-Catholic members of the media were, in my observation, the least likely to want to go after the story, because they didn’t want to look like they were Catholic-bashing. An irony within the irony: some journalists didn’t think to go after the story because they really didn’t much like the Catholic Church. Because of this bias, they didn’t see the story as a story. They thought this was how the church always operated. It didn’t register with them that it was a scandal. They didn’t know it was news.

It was the Boston Globe that broke the dam, winning a justly deserved Pulitzer for public service.

Yes, that needed to be said.

It’s one thing to criticize some of the current coverage — which I think deserves criticism. It’s something else altogether to ignore the heroic efforts that many journalists have made, for whatever motives, to uncover the filth (there’s that word again) in the offices of far too many shepherds.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia

    The Boston Globe’s coverage was much more focussed on facts. They spent a lot of time marshalling those facts before writing the articles that finally got some action in Boston.

    The NYT seems much more focussed on taking down people and often is very snarky in tone. Rather than covering news NYT often reads like part of the culture wars – with the NYT on the side of the seculars who despise religion. The Globe didn’t urge on a Maureen Dowd.

    What is also distorting Catholic reaction to NYT and other current reportage is the invention of on-line comments boxes that I don’t think were around when the Globe was doing its great reporting.

    The anonymity of the combox is facilitating shockingly dreadful vitriol aimed at the Church and Catholics. This unmasking of our neighbors’ real opinions of us and our church is disheartening to the extreme.

    In my humble opinion, that together with the other on-line barrage of bile is overwhelmingly shocking and eliciting some of the over-the-top fighting back reaction. It appears that the NYT’s articles are giving badly-reported ammunition to scary people.

  • Herb Ely

    First, thanks to Mollie and GetReligion for pointing me to good coverage on this topic. Second, I spent 32 years as an intelligence analyst during the cold war. While there were many journalists who didn’t “get” defense affairs, there were several who served as a counterweight to DoD’s tendency to overstate the Soviet threat. Policy makers inside the Soviet Union had no access to assessments other than officially approved ones. The free press helped us. Lack of it contributed to the end of the Soviet Union.

    At least that is the way I see it.

  • Julia

    By the way, I think that’s probably an Anglican/Episcopal outfit in your photo. Doesn’t look Latin Rite Catholic.

  • tmatt


    Interesting. I picked it because it resembled the vestments that I saw so, so often in Catholic circles during my years on the religion beat in Denver and elsewhere.

  • Jerry

    Terry, I have been grumbling to myself about the number of GetReligion posts on the Catholic story (along with abortion and Islamic extremists) hoping that the collective you would tackle reporting on other subjects a bit more often.

    But I have to very strongly welcome this topic. This is the first story I’ve seen that looks well-balanced and benefits of a strong media as well as reflecting the real background of the current and last Pope.

    I know many like to identify either the Catholic church or the media as evil with the other side as good and I confess to falling into that sin as well from time-to-time. So stories that are written by someone who understands both sides strengths and weaknesses are really helpful to anyone who tries as I do to overcome simplistic assumptions.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Filth filled boils need to be lanced-especially in the Church from which everyone rightfully expects so much. With that I agree.
    But across many parts of the media it is going far beyond that. The hatred and bigotry spewed by some people through reputable news outlets would never be allowed to be printed or broadcast directed against any other group. Christopher Hitchins comes to mind. He ,an atheist, who even loathed Mother Teresa, is given a “bully pulpit” to promote hatred regularly in some news outlets.
    And, just as the Church tends to draw the wagons around when under attack–the media, in some of its defenses of shoddy, biased reporting as well as its defense of providing hate platforms for some columnists, does its share of wagon circling and excuse making.

  • Julia


    I said it didn’t look Latin rite Catholic because I’d never seen anything like that on a Catholic priest.

    But I went and googled Catholic vestments (chasubles) and discovered that chasubles with decorative material like that are available but on the upper end price-wise. I come from a rather poor diocese – Belleville, which includes East Louis and devastated coal country – so that’s probably why I’d never seen that style.

  • Michael Pettinger

    As a Catholic, I never thought I would see the day that I agreed with Peggy Noonan. But Easter is a season of miracles…

  • Bern

    Michael Pettinger, amen to that. I do find the analysis of why or how JPII could seemingly dismiss/overlook/ignore the breaking scandals quite compelling. He was formed in an extreme context that couldn’t help but affect his outlook on any number of political and theological issues. (An old joke asked why JPII thought “liberation theology” was OK in Poland but nowhere else.) Still, I think both the so-called news coverage/anti-coverage mostly misses the point, which is not about JPII or BXVI, what they knew or when, or who hates Catholics or the Church, but about what is being done NOW to make sure the filth ends, and those responsible–particularly for aiding and abetting by moving known offenders around–are held responsible and treated appropriately.

  • Passing By

    Respect for Peggy Noonan kept me reading, and it was, I agree, a thoughtful and helpful examination of the issues.

    That said, I think she goes Pollyanna about the news industry in general. But then, it’s her peeps, so maybe it’s a case where either she’s biased, or she’s knowledgeable. Take your pick.

    Off journalism, but any Catholic who doesn’t find both joy and pain – sometimes simultaneous, sometimes alternating – in their Faith is skimming the surface. I’ll look for her memoirs.

  • CV

    Did Noonan’s statement about the press playing a pivotal role in breaking the scandal really need to be said, or is it self-evident?

    I think the vast majority of Catholics experienced shock and revulsion when the extent of the crisis was brought to light nearly a decade ago. I don’t recall much criticism of the Globe’s journalism at the time. It was very hard to read, of course, but I think most Catholics agreed that sunlight was and is the best disinfectant.

    What the NYT did with those recent articles was quite different, in my view. Noonan’s “remember, the press is your friend!” tone struck me as a bit of a lecture, in my view. As is often the case with her opinions these days, I always have the sense that she is trying to protect her perch among the media elite, and retain those invitations to appear on MSNBC.

  • Peterk

    Check with Father Z about the vestments, but I have to agree they appear more Anglican/Episcopalian than Roman

  • Peter

    Noonan said what needed to be said. The Church’s (and many Cathiolcs as the responses here show) initial reaction to any reporting on abuse is to blame the media. LeVada’s attack during Holy Week was typical. Noonan, who is very hit and miss as a columnist, was right on here.

  • Brendan

    Everyone’s talking about US media, but I’ve found the BBC over the years (my main news source since 2004) to have an anti-Catholic Church bias. Sometimes the Vatican folks shoot themselves in the foot, as when they compare the abuse row to anti-Semitism, but the BBC has an ax to grind with the Catholic Church. They’ve come out with several articles suggesting the pope should resign.
    While Noonan may have a point, some media folks are just plain old anti-Catholic Church, I might add especially cultural Catholics in the US who don’t give a fig for what the Magisterium says.

  • Deacon Harbey Santiago

    I read Peggy Noonan’s article this morning and my first reaction was. “Boy is this woman naive!”. I which I could ask her two simple questions:

    1) Do you think the sexual abuse of children is a problem that is exclusive to the Catholic Church?

    2) If the answer is “no” then why is the media not going after other institutions which have this problem? after all the Church has demonstrated corporate repentance and has instituted mechanisms to protect children. All of the allegations against the Church leadership currently in the media happened years ago.

    Not until the media, has the guts of approaching the sexual abuse issue as a societal problem and not a problem of just one institution could anybody claim that they are doing what they are supposed to do.

    Viva Cristo Rey!!

    Deacon Harbey Santiago

  • Peterk

    actually the preacher was quoting a Jewish friend
    he quoted a Jewish friend as saying the accusations reminded him of the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism”.

    so just as when the press misconstrued what the Pope said about Islam they are now doing the same here

  • dalea

    Julia and tmatt:

    Vestments are sold to anyone who can pay for them. The retailers do not limit themselves to any particular denomination. I did a survey of contemporary liturgical metal work some time ago; email me for a link. The issue I have is that currently liturgical items are marketed in terms that mislead the buyer.

  • Peter

    The Vatican picked Holy Week to attack the press. The NYT started it’s recent series of stories 2-3 weeks ago, before Holy Week? The idea they timed this is unnecessarily paranoid.

  • dalea

    Here is link to Church Supply Warehouse:

    Check the links on the left hand side and you will find an assortment of robes etc with no denominational restrictions. There is also a product I find appalling:

    Pre-Filled Communion Cups now 10% Off – Free Shipping
    Now in stock ready for Immediate delivery! Order now and be ready for your Easter Celebration. Individual communion wafer and juice sets. Each serving contains 1/6 fl oz grape juice & 1/6g wafer. Available in boxes of 100, 250, or 500 servings.
    Product Features
    •No Special Preparation Required
    •No Refrigeration Necessary
    •Three – Six Month extended shelf life
    •Time Saved During Church Services
    •Strict Hygienic Packaging Standards
    •Allows For Communion In a Variety of Settings
    •Can Be Transported Without Spillage
    •Sized For Standard Communion Trays

  • CV

    Actually Peter, the New York Times ran the Goodstein article “Vatican Declined to Defrock Priest who Abused Boys” that started the firestorm (the story Archbishop Levada responded to) on March 25, just a few days before Palm Sunday (the start of Holy Week).

    Maureen Dowd piled on with the “A Nope for Pope” column on March 28, the day before Palm Sunday (again, the start of Holy Week), and followed up with her “An Inquisition for the Pope?” column on March 31 (the middle of Holy Week).

    So when Archbishop Levada issued his response to these articles in a timely manner, that’s an example of “the Vatican “picking” Holy Week to “attack” the press?

    Yes, it appears that someone “picked Holy Week,” on purpose, but it certainly wasn’t the Vatican.


  • Montjoie

    I find it hard to believe that this is anything new in the Catholic church or any other institution, religious or secular, for that matter. I guess I’m with the Deacon on this.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    As CV says: unbelievable–And somehow the MSM finds some new way to use its immense power and reach to attack Christianity –or individual Christian beliefs, churches or groups–almost every Christmas and Easter each year. Anyone who isn’t at least a little suspicious about this frequent pattern is simply in denial for whatever reason— (Bigotry?? Media worship??? IQ problems???)

  • Peter

    The media didn’t attack Christianity at Easter, deacon. The church attacked Christianity when it covered up for molesters, the media is just reporting on that attack. The victims are the kids and laity, not the Vatican.

  • Dave G.

    A good post by Peggy Noonan, except for “T)his is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant.” Given what she is talking about, I can’t imagine it being irrelevant.

  • Dan

    Any discussion of the press coverage of this must address proportionality. The press has done a fantastic job of creating the impression that sex abuse is a uniquely Catholic problem. But is it? If it is not, the press has more to answer about than does the Pope. I have seen no evidence whatsoever that justifies the disproportionate coverage.

    It is unquestionably true that the press coverage of the U.S. scandal had the salutary effect of spurring the Church to purify itself. The late Fr. Neuhaus made that point long ago. The grossly disproportionate coverage however has done much damage. It has obscured the Church’s message and weakened the faith of many.

    Ms. Noonan’s suggestion that journalists have been reluctant to appear to be Church-bashing is absurd on its face. The NYT’s coverage has been marked by near glee. If the journalists have been oh so reluctant, why the disproportionate coverage?

    At the root of all this is an anti-Catholicism that derives from hatred of Catholic teaching. I do not believe that the journalists covering this are motivated consciously by anti-Catholicism, at least not most of them. What they are seeking is the next “Big Story” with the hope of becoming to the Catholic Church what Woodward and Bernstein were to the Nixon administration. But whether they know it or not, that mode of thinking leads them into pursuing an anti-Catholic agenda. The reason the Catholic sex abuse scandal is such a “Big Story” — and sex abuse in, say, Protestant churches or the public schools is not — is that nothing provokes people more than the Catholic Church’s stance on sexual issues. What provokes, sells. Hence, a frenzy about the possibility that 30 years ago the Pope may have rubber stamped a bad decision.

  • Dan

    A further point: In evaluating the press’s coverage of the Pope’s involvement in the sex abuse scandal, it is necessary to consider how the press has treated the Pope over the course of his pontificate. It has been highly unfriendly throughout. The press welcomed the new Pope by invoking images of God’s Rottweiler and Hitler’s Youth. There then was nearly exclusive emphasis on controversy, “mistakes” and alleged ineptitude in dealing with the public. The press’s treatment of the Regensburg address was sheer yellow journalism, purposely aimed at inflaming public opinion. Given this history, the press is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt on the question of whether the present attacks are in good faith.

  • OhReally

    I think that Ms Noonan’s column is a good one, except…

    She asserts that early on, the Boston Globe and Catholic journalist were more likely to report on the scandal than non-Catholic journalists. This may or may not be so, but it is not the case now, and Ms Noonan should have stated this. As Deacon Bresnahan points out, the liberal MSM is giving the soap box to extremely biased Catholic bashers like Hitchens without any semblance of balance and allowing Catholic supporters to respond.

    The New York Times article was dreadful journalism, taking its main source as the disgraced and disgraceful former Archbishop of Milwaukee who had big reasons to attack John Paul and Benedict. For a clear rebuttal and refutation, see the essay by Fr. Thomas Brundige, JCL who presided over the trial and yet the New York Times didn’t even see fit to interview! I am not sure if Ms Noonan read Fr Brundige’s essay. All need to. I think that all journalists who have read it have an obligation to call the New York Times out on their yet again failing in basic journalistic standards.

  • Ira Rifkin

    I find it distressing that so many of the posts about the Catholic Church’s massive priestly sex abuse problem seek too minimize its severity by attacking the media and noting that others have similar problems.

    We can quibble over the details of who knew what when and did exactly what. And we can agree that clergy of any and all faiths likewise do despicable things to innocents, and then try to cover their tracks.

    But the Catholic Church is the largest religious institution in the world. That’s why it gets so much attention. Moreover, claim moral authority and you’d better be prepared for cries of hypocrisy when you fail to act morally.

    Defensive denials fool only those who do not wish to face ugly truths.

  • JonathanR.

    I don’t see why the Church should be thanking the jackals who wish to pick at the flesh of the Body of Christ.

    Yes, the media revelations forced the Church to confront the scandals head on. It took the media to make the upper echelons realize fully that there must be a new way of doing things.

    But this does not mean the Church owes the jackals anything. An abusive husband may slap a lazy wife into becoming more industrious. That doesn’t mean she ought to say “may I please have another one”.

    The net effect of the malicious coverage may be good. But in the end, it is still malice. For the Church to thank the New York Times would be like Pope Leo thanking Atilla the Hun for making him realize how sinful and weak the Romans have become.

  • tmatt

    I have been away at Holy Saturday services.

    Folks, Noonan is not saying that all of the press coverage has been good. She is saying that, in the end, the press played a role that deserves praise from the church. The ESSENTIAL act was fact finding and drove the church to try to live up to its own standards.

    And OF COURSE the press should be doing more to cover, oh, public school scandals on this topic. But do we expect higher standards from priests than government employees?

  • Passing By

    If memory serves, Phillip Jenkins, in Pedophiles and Priests claims the liberal Catholic press broke the stories. He wrote that book between the Rudy Kos scandal of the mid-90s and the Boston scandals, so perhaps that’s less true of the latter. I do know that our local flap 10 years ago was broken by the diocesan paper. It was printed first in the daily city paper, but they acknowledged the diocese as the source. Anyone who wants to comment on the Catholic sex scandals really should be locked in a room until they’ve read Pedophiles and Priests. I wish he’d update it in light of the Boston scandal, but it remains a source for facts and context, which you would hope a journalist would value.

    Again, a non-journalistic comment: the church doesn’t “claim moral authority” in the sense of claiming personal sanctity. If Pope Benedict had had a boyfriend for 30 years (or for a year 30 years ago), it would not matter a whit as to my opinion of the papacy. Men far worse than Benedict have been pope.

    And yes, the Catholic Church will be much better for this drubbing; it’s well-deserved. That doesn’t mean the press is being fair, or even professional and they should be called on it. God has spoken before through a jackass before, but that doesn’t mean I seat the jackass at the dinner table and let him sleep in a bed.

  • Jerry

    One critical point in this case is that we don’t yet know all the facts. So those who are prejudging and being premature in their determination no matter which side they are on. Today I read:

    Vatican waited years to defrock Arizona priest

    Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.

  • Ray Ingles

    The press has done a fantastic job of creating the impression that sex abuse is a uniquely Catholic problem.

    Actually, the main thrust of the charges that I’ve seen has been about covering up and thereby enabling sex abuse.

    There’s sex abuse in, say, public schools. But the seemingly monthly news stories about adult women teachers sleeping with minor boys shows that if the schools are trying to cover it up, they are singularly inept about it.

  • Mollie


    Actually, I think it’s that it’s less easy to pin a conspiracy charge against the public school system.

    The problem with sex abuse is much, much, much worse there. Or was in 2007 when this AP report came out:

    Students in America’s schools are groped. They’re raped. They’re pursued, seduced and think they’re in love.

    An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

    There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators _ nearly three for every school day _ speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

    Yes, the media love nothing better than a “hot” teacher sleeping with a mature charge.

    But that’s not an accurate representation of the actual abuse that goes on each day.

    I think that supports the idea that the press picks certain stories and drops others — and only covers that which fits into the narrative that’s been pre-chosen.

  • Dave G.

    I guess for me, I would like to see what the abuse is like – now. Not Before the first scandal broke. But now. How many cases are breaking now? Is that how the Church is doing things now? Has it changed? Not just going back and finding cases that existed before the first scandal broke. That’s sort of double accusing them, isn’t it? We already know the Church screwed up all those years. Finding more cases of how it did is just finding more evidence against someone we already found to be guilty. If these things have been happening since the scandal broke, then that’s news – like the priest who wasn’t let go until recently. But the rest, how is it news? If it isn’t trying to link the current Pope to the scandal that is. This is especially true since we do know that abuse continues to be a problem in our society now. And so little of it is being covered that doesn’t involve a pope or priest. And I don’t think that is irrelevant.

  • Ray Ingles

    Actually, I think it’s that it’s less easy to pin a conspiracy charge against the public school system.

    Why is it “less easy”? Is it because of a lack of a conspiracy? The quote you excerpted talked about “2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished“. (Emphasis added.)

    If it’s because the schools aren’t actively covering up and enabling abuse, then that supports what I said before – “the main thrust of the charges [against the Church] that I’ve seen has been about covering up and thereby enabling sex abuse.”

    Or is there some other reason why a conspiracy charge is harder to pin on schools?

  • Liv

    I echo Dave G’s comment above. The current coverage seems focused on the past, i.e. cases before 2001. Those are important cases, certainly, and stories covering them expose more of the (very tragic) misdeeds of the past. But I think one of the reasons that many Catholics are getting defensive about all this media coverage is that it does seem like the media is just trying to “double accuse,” as Dave G. put it., rather than examining the recent changes.

    Things have changed over the past decade or so in how the Church handles abuse allegations — and I think that those changes are worth reporting, too. How are things done now? What is different? Are the changes sufficient? Etc.

    Another reason I think many Catholics do get defensive about these stories, although as Peggy Noonan points out they do expose filth that should be exposed, is that many of the publications running these stories have what Catholic readers have perceived as an anti-Catholic bias. When the publication has developed that sort of reputation in day-to-day stories not about scandals, it’s difficult for many Catholic readers to not become defensive and somewhat skeptical when the same publication runs a story about scandal.

    Additionally, this recent round of stories did begin not long before Holy Week. In this case, I don’t think that was intentional. But when readers are used to seeing annual “why Christianity probably isn’t true”-themed stories around Easter and Christmas in those same publications, it’s easy to see why some Catholics might get defensive about the timing of these latest stories.

    I do agree with Peggy Noonan that the stories force the Church to make necessary changes. I just wish the press would do a better job of covering what changes the Church has, in fact, made recently. (And, as another commenter said in a post below, I would like to see stories that don’t automatically assume Donatism is true. But that might be a bit too theologically deep to wish for in the mass media.)

  • Dan

    The above link is to an article that provides an interesting sociological analysis of the press’s coverage.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Everyone seems to believe that there was no “conspiracy” in the public schools as there apparently was in the Catholic Church regarding abuse.
    But there was as much of a “conspiracy” in the public schools during the time period the Church “conspiracy” was acting similarly. The NY Times even said this “conspiracy” had a label. It was called “moving the trash along.” The story was on the Times’ front page a few years ago. And there it died.
    How many people reading here or in the rest of the media are even aware of the NY public schools’ “moving the trash along” “conspiracy.”
    We know so little about it because the MSM have been using so much of their available personnel and resources as long knives to hack only at the Catholic Church’s administrative monstrous failings–similar failings of which can, sadly, be found in most other large endeavors if one unleashes some serious probing

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Incidentally, the Times’ article was published on June 18, 2002 and titled: “Silently Shifting Teachers In Sex Abuse Cases.” It was written by Diana Jean Schemo. Anyone wishing to see how monstrous the NY public schools have been (and maybe still are) should read the Teachers section of the Feb. 2004 report “Sexual Abuse In Social Context” published by the Catholic Civil Rights League. Every claim in the report is properly sourced and footnoted.
    Deja Vu the bishops negligence: in only 1 percent of cases in one survey were superintendents warned they were getting a child abuser transfered to them. This is a far, far worse record than the bishop’s record–especially considering the number of cases and children involved. But does anyone care??? Obviously few in the media do. They just blithely point to the few notorious salacious cases of abuse in the schools that bubble to the surface as proof they are doing due diligence on behalf of kids. But survey after survey shows this to be media whitewash.

  • Lori Pieper

    The idiotic AP story about the case in Arizona made me see red:

    “Teta was removed from ministry by the bishop, but because the church’s most severe punishment — laicization — can only be handed down from Rome, he remained on the church payroll and was working with young people outside the church.”

    The article tries in every way to make it seem as if the future Pope Benedict was responsible for Teta continuing to work with young children. False. It is up to the local diocesan bishop to discipline a priest and forbid him certain aspects of his ministry. He has the power to do that. The trial for laicization in Rome had nothing to do with it.

    I’m not sure what “outside the church” means though. Does it mean outside of Mass and confession but still in connection with church ministry. Or had Teta in the meantime gone and gotten a job at a public school? What? None of that is explored in the article.

  • Lori Pieper

    I should add that of course, in the case that he no longer had any ministry in the church, the laicization trial would still have nothing to do with it. Then it would have been a matter for the police.

  • Lori Pieper

    Or rather, solely for the police. Nothing was said about whether there was any police involvement while he was a priest. I hope there was.

    Can’t reporters be bothered to learn even the tiniest thing about how the Church functions before writing? I think they don’t really care. This is typical of the press’s mania for attacking the Pope.

  • Lori Pieper

    Sorry, I’ve been writing so incoherently. I was up pretty late working on my own piece of the Murphy case (based on my own translation of a key document in the NYT fils). There is lots more to this case than anyone knows.

  • Peter

    The “but it happens everwhere” defense to complain about the attention to the scandal is right off the template heard everytime another abuse story is written. If there is abuse in public schools, report it. But don’t let it be a diversion from reportng on the Catholic scandal, which is different in scope, intent, and meaning. Making the church a victim here is offensive.

  • Jerry

    Oh “goodie”. The scandal is a “gift that keeps on giving” for those who are attracted to that “gift”:

    Anglican Archbishop Rebukes Irish Church

    the archbishop of Canterbury has plunged into the crisis over cases of abuse by Catholic priests, choosing the Easter weekend to describe the Catholic Church in Ireland as “losing all credibility” because of its poor handling of the crisis.

  • Passing By

    A study of school sex abuse found that school have not had internal reporting mechanisms for sex abuse and that “with few exceptions superintendents did not report allegations of abuse…”. Of course, schools are protected by liability limitations. The lawyers make a lot more money suing churches, particularly connectional (non-congregational) churches, particularly the Catholic Church, where the property is all in the bishop’s name.

    RE: #35 – sex abuse is often not reported for years, for a variety of reasons. We simply can’t know what’s actually going on today, but I guarantee some priests somewhere are acting out against children, as are some teachers, some coaches, and lots of family members. That’s life.

  • Dave G.

    Passing By,

    Oh, sure we do. In our local news market alone in the last few years or so over a half dozen educators have been let go because of some form of sexual misconduct that has just happened. One of the cases involved administrators covering it up (later those involved were dismissed). Of course, none of it has made the national, much less the international, scene. Which is my point. I made a similar point to Peter, but don’t see it posted. So we know it is happening. It isn’t uncommon. And it isn’t being covered by anything but local outlets, if that (unless it involves hot, blonde teachers with handsome young fourteen year old boys). And that, kiddies, is anything but irrelevant.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Peter–noone is defending bad Church officials or bad priests. That is what haters who like to see Catholic bashing in the media say when Catholics complain of the totally lopsided coverage Catholic sins receive–under the guise of caring about children. If they really cared, they would at least be doing as much probing of the NY public schools (and others) as of the Catholic Church. What surveys have been done indicate massive abuse of children by teachers and administrators who let them get away with it by transfer.
    Doesn’t that mean the media is part of an even bigger “cover-up” than the bishops were? How come the media isn’t hunting down the superintendants and other officials responsible for “moving the trash along” as reported in the lone Times article on the subject?? Too busy scouring the Globe looking for bad priests and stupid bishops instead of the evil plopped down in the school districts right outside the Times’ windows.

  • TC

    The Catholic church is a world-wide organization that covered-up sexual abuse for decades. Bishops and other church officials did conspire to cover up this activity. There was nothing on a similar scale in any public school system that I am aware of. School systems were not conspiring across state and national borders to protect abusers. As far as the Catholic church being targeted, I do recall Protestant friends complaining about all the media attention devoted to the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals. Perhaps other religious denominations are successfully concealing their sex abuse problems, but I doubt it. There is a scale and depth to this problem in the Catholic church that is astonishing. I am amused at the comments commending the Boston Globe’s coverage in contrast to the New York Times. As a Bostonian, I well remember Cardinal Law’s attacks on the Globe. Finally, regarding Noonan’s column, she points to John Allen’s comments about Benedict’s willingness to confront the problem once he understood it.

  • Passing By

    The claims in #50 are contradicted by a good bit of data cited above and easily accessible on the internet. I refer again to Phillip Jenkins’ Pedophiles and Priests. The Mercator Net article on moral panic (#38) was excellent. The
    John Jay study is a good source of facts, as well.

    Not that many people are swayed by facts, unfortunately.

    I do agree that the Boston Globe was not well-thought of at the time. Most people I read felt it was obsessive and manipulative.

  • TC

    The Globe’s reporting has been vindicated by the enormous volume of court testimony by victims, and the convictions of priests. Cardinal Law finally resigned after many priests in his own diocese asked him to do so.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    TC–The scale and depth of the problem in the Catholic Church is only astonishing because we expect so much more of the Church. When you have–according to one report—225 cases of possible child abuse in one school system and NO firings or prosecutions of any kind you have a problem that is astonishing in raw numbers of abused children. And then claiming that since the mechanics of how it was done in the public schools is somewhat different from the way things transpired in the Church– massive abuse cover-ups in the public schools don’t count–even though the raw numbers are far more astonishing in depth and scale than in the Church. Obviously “getting” the Church is far more important to some people than protecting the most number of children. And I wouldn’t be able to say this if the media were digging and scratching at the public schools (as they should be) at least as much as at the Church—including headlining alleged cases from 30 or 40 years ago.

  • Dave G.


    Unfortunately, it is a problem. Just because not everything is set up on a global scale the same way the Catholic Church is does not mean it is therefore not as bad. It remains a major problem in our schools. It is a problem in Protestant churches as well. Just because there is not a singular institution to point to doesn’t mean the problem, when taken with the structures at hand, isn’t as bad.

    Plus, there are a lot of questions not being asked at all, and that is part of the problem. The more I read Peggy Noonan’s article, the more problems I have. That’s not to say the media shouldn’t be covering the story. But anyone who lives in our world today knows that, in the end, the sum total of such abuse exists far more outside the walls of the Catholic Church than inside. And yet almost all we hear about is that small percentage that happens within.

  • Julia

    dales said:

    Vestments are sold to anyone who can pay for them. The retailers do not limit themselves to any particular denomination. I did a survey of contemporary liturgical metal work some time ago; email me for a link. The issue I have is that currently liturgical items are marketed in terms that mislead the buyer.

    Of course vendors will sell to anybody who can pay for them – that’s a given. However, some styles are more appropriate for Catholic use than others. There are many liturgical vestment suppliers that cater only to Catholics for that reason.

    A popular supplier that seems to cater to both Catholics and Episcopalians is Almy, but the Episcopalians seem to actually purchase the vestments that are a little more fashion-forward. That could be more a function of how much money is available to spend on vestments. My bishop was recently pilloried in the local press for buying vestments that were unnecessarily expensive, but they weren’t as expensive as the ones in the photo here.

    The supplier you linked is obviously not one set up for Catholic clergymen.

    Metal work is not liturgical.

  • MikeL

    It seems to me the coverage across the Catholic Church itself is almost exclusively focused on the more orthodox end of the spectrum. Where’s the Boston Globe-like investigation in Los Angeles? Why is the focus in the Murphy case on Pope Benedict and not on Weakland?

  • TC

    There has been an unwillingness by the church to confront the issue until forced to by outside forces, whether media or judicial.

    Regarding all the talk of unfair coverage, that is just the way the media operates these days. It is not anti-Catholic bias. The press has always had a herd mentality, and once there is a template, like Catholic priest sex scandal, it is followed. Look at the coverage of the African American community, pretty much a lot of stories about crime, drugs, and assorted social ills. As Noonan pointed out, for a long time the media did not cover the pedophilia problem. It was the herd mentality at work there as well.

    The church claims a role and has a level of trust that entitles its followers and the rest of society to expect a higher standard, in both the conduct of its priests and how it handles misconduct. More than anything, the guiding principle seemed to be avoiding a public scandal, no matter the consequences.

  • dalea

    Julia says:

    Metal work is not liturgical.

    Never said that it was; the term refers to metal objects that are used in liturgy. That includes things like chalices, monstrances, cibora and others. This is a trade term.

  • Dave G.

    No one is saying the Church wasn’t wrong, and didn’t need to shake things up. And I’ll give that the coverage the first time around seemed to mount as the evidence was uncovered. But this time, it seems more that the assumption of guilt, esp. regarding the Pope, was already there, and the press is simply running around and trying to find evidence to back it up. And reporting as if a mountain of evidence has already been uncovered. All the while flat out ignoring other cases that suggest similar levels of systemic cover up and abuse not linked to the Church – now, today – as the focus continues to be on cases that were from a time already discussd the first time around. Not to mention a truck load of questions not being asked about the issue now. And that is as disturbing as the Church cover up from days gone by.

  • Ray Ingles

    Deacon Bresnahan – The article you mentioned is indeed interesting (a link here: but it’s worth noting that even in its central case, “Mr. Johnson’s reason for leaving Provo City High School in Utah was amply covered in the local news in the early 1990′s”. The article notes that the concealment apparently arose due to fears of frivolous defamation lawsuits, rather than any motivation to protect the school’s reputation.

    The other problem is that saying “somebody else did something even worse than me” doesn’t excuse or minimize the problem, particularly for an organization that puts itself forward as a moral authority. That isn’t about “‘getting’ the Church” – particularly when the Church itself regularly attempts to take a guiding role in matters of public interest. Public figures are treated differently by the press, especially ones that seek publicity.

    In a way, though, the Church actually is taking a leading role, in the sense that it’s illustrated to a lot of people the fundamental injustice of ignoring or covering up abuse in general. We can hope it has salutary effects elsewhere.

  • Passing By

    I’ve been reading rather widely in this area since the mid-90s Rudy Kos scandal in Dallas, and thought I’d heard it all. Your #50, TC, breaks new ground, however. Of course, I reject the notion that we should settle for religious or racial bias in reporting. That something is doesn’t make it acceptable. Moreover, while I am cynical about journalism as a business in the U.S., I believe that journalists, in general, have good intentions and decent ethics. There are exceptions, of course, but we don’t need to tar all journalists, just as we don’t need to tar all priests.

    This notion of manufactured social panic (Phillip Jenkins and the Mercator Net article) is worth a close look. My interests in the Catholic scandals is two-fold. First, I am a Catholic; second, my work for the past 10 years has involved managing sex offenders in the community. For that reason, I am aware that not every sex offender is a predator who “can’t be cured”. Any population of sex offenders includes a percentage who are basically harmless. We call these “Romeo cases”: the 18 year old boy has sex with a 14 year old girl (“She looked 16, she said she was 16″). Another group did a really bad thing when they were young and, often, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or, in one case I know, following his big brother, who really is a pedophile. Another class of sex offender got effective “therapy” when they got caught. As one licensed sex offender therapist put it “they won’t be doing that again”. Then of course, there are the real sex offenders – narcissistic and predatory. They are not compulsive: they are just evil and need to be locked up. Finally, you have true pedophiles: men (mostly, although I met a woman pedophile once)who really are compulsive, can’t be cured, and, however much they want to do well, also need to be incarcerated.

    The point of this is that the press conflates these types into a single stereotype most applicable to the narcissistic predator. And they aren’t alone: look at your local sex offender registry, which was originally designed for the predators, but now includes the romeos and children who played doctor. Yes, look at the pictures of the offenders and see how many children you see.

    Dave G makes a rather important point in all of this. The coverage can begin well. The Dallas Morning News is very anti-catholic and generally anti-christian, but they did a good job on the Rudy Kos business; the trouble came when they didn’t quit until they had simply “jumped the shark” (as folks say). I submit that The Boston Globe may have done yeoman’s work on the scandal at the time, but the media has continued to play that script long past it’s validity. Indeed, the recent coverage in The New York Times is a classic case of jumping the shark. They simply slandered the pope. That’s all there is to it.

    Finally, the scapegoating and social panic in which the press indulges itself at this point in time are troublesome for two reasons. First, the Catholic Church is getting a needed and very helpful cleaning, while other social institutions and religious groups pretend they don’t the problem. So a broad social dysfunction continues. Worse, when the exaggerations and manipulations are revealed, the pendulum will swing back to where it was in the 50s-70s, and kids will, again, be ignored and put at risk.

  • Julia

    If anybody is still reading this thread:

    For what it’s worth, I think the Vatican press office is finally getting good advice. When misleading things are appearing in the press – state the correct facts and don’t get side-tracked into defensive arguments. May they are listening to John Allen. In fact, they couldn’t hire a better person for their public face.

    I’m fairly certain this linked statement about what occurred regarding the Tuscan case, with an explanation of procedures arcane to Americans, was presented in person to the press and then posted at the official site, but I haven’t seen it quoted anywhere by the media.

  • Julia


    did a survey of contemporary liturgical metal work some time ago; email me for a link.

    I thought you were talking about the wrought iron sculptures that are so popular these days.

    I still don’t know what you mean by your comment. There is currently a lot of disputes about liturgical vessels with many bishops like Cardinal Mahony ignoring the rules that govern Catholic liturgical vessels. So the fact that some Catholic priests and bishops are buying vessels that don’t follow the rubrics is not a surprise.