Does Time need to say, ‘We’re sorry’?

Guilt is a heavy burden sometimes. Every now and then, I tear a long article out of a mainstream magazine or journal that clearly deserves comment and put it in the front pocket of the shoulder bag that I carry while commuting. The longer and more complex the article — or the more horrible its contents — the more likely it is to linger in the bag, caught in layers of guilt that get harder and harder to crack.

This brings us to that recent Time magazine cover story on Pope Benedict XVI and the clergy abuse scandal.

My first thought, when I read it, was that the article wasn’t all that bad — but that the headline on the cover was ridiculous. (More on that in a moment.)

Then I decided that the article wasn’t all that bad, except for a stunningly horrible lede. (More on that in a moment.)

Then I decided that the article contained a few interesting ideas, but that it was doomed by — ironically — it’s all-knowing magisterial tone and its utter dependency on anonymous sources and long, long, long passages of analysis that have no attribution whatsoever for the information contained in them. This is kind of where I have ended up.

Luckily, I bumped into an analysis online by a professional Vatican watcher — the conservative thinker George Weigel — that, in its opening paragraphs, put many of my feelings into words. Thus, read this, care of National Review Online:

It’s not easy to understand the decision of Time‘s editors to run the magazine’s current (June 7) cover story, with its cheesy title, “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.” The lengthy essay inside breaks no news; it recycles several lame charges against Benedict XVI that have been flatly denied or effectively rebutted; and it indulges an adolescent literary style (e.g., “mealymouthed declarations buttressed by arcane religious philosophy”) that makes one yearn and pine for the days of Henry Luce.

The lengthy story is also poorly sourced, relying (as many such exercises do) on alleged “Vatican insiders.” …

As real Vatican insiders know, real Vatican insiders don’t give back-stabbing and score-settling sound bites to the American media. That practice is more typically indulged in by clerics far down the Vatican food chain, monsignori who have no real idea of what’s happening within the small circle where real decisions get made inside the Leonine Wall, but who are happy to chat up journalists over a cappuccino or a Campari and soda while pretending to a knowledge they don’t possess. Such sources can be occasionally amusing; they are almost never authoritative.

Now, the problem with this analysis is that it is easy to dismiss it as the whining of a pro-Vatican conservative. The problem with that is that, as even the Time cover notes, conservative Catholics have been some of the fiercest critics of how bishops have mangled or strangled many attempts — over three decades — to bring the horrors of this crisis into the light of day. I mean, I am still trying to finish Leon J. Podles‘ epic, brutal and livid “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church,” a massive tome that makes we want to rethink my total rejection of the death penalty.

This multi-generational crisis is truly not a matter of left and right. There are horrors in all kinds of closets, with Catholic conservatives hiding dark secrets as well as Catholic liberals.

The Time article also gives a small amount of space to the voices that argue that Pope Benedict XVI has been a trailblazer in reform on this issue, as well as a man who, when caught in the maze of ecclesiastical politics, may have been forced into silence or some bitter compromises. But the Benedict attackers are given way more ink, naturally. It’s the pull of MSM gravity.

Thus, the Catholic wire Zenit is able to critique the article in this manner (landing a major punch by quoting that lede that I mentioned earlier):

It would probably be too much to ask that Time magazine run a cover story on the bold statements and concrete actions that Benedict XVI has taken to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis. No self-respecting journalistic enterprise wants to be separated from the pack when it comes to covering a controversial news story, which means it must always follow the herd, even when the evidence points elsewhere. …

“Why Being Pope Means Never having To Say You’re Sorry: The Sex Abuse Scandal and the Limits of Atonement” is the provocative headline splashed across the most recent Time cover, which also features an image of the back of Benedict XVI’s mitered head. Lest we have any doubts where this is heading, the lead sentence of the story manages to drag in the Inquisition: “How do you atone for something terrible, like the Inquisition?”

So what did I find interesting in this piece?

Well, that would be the very last paragraph, which quotes one sobering vision of the Catholic future.

By the way, try to keep reading after the horrid and inaccurate use of the word “prophecy” in the first sentence of this passage. I realize that it’s hard, but please read on:

A conservative website is circulating a prophecy uttered by a 42-year-old Catholic theologian in 1969, amid the turmoil of that year of radicalism and barricades. The priest envisioned a post-imperial papacy, shorn of wealth and pretenses of earthly power. “From today’s crisis, a church will emerge tomorrow that will have lost a great deal,” he said on German radio. “She will be small and, to a large extent, will have to start from the beginning. She will no longer be able to fill many of the buildings created in her period of great splendor. Because of the smaller number of her followers, she will lose many of her privileges in society. Contrary to what has happened until now, she will present herself much more as a community of volunteers … As a small community, she will demand much more from the initiative of each of her members and she will certainly also acknowledge new forms of ministry and will raise up to the priesthood proven Christians who have other jobs … It will make her poor and a church of the little people … All this will require time. The process will be slow and painful.” The theologian was Joseph Ratzinger. And his vision from 40 years ago may now unfold in ways he could never have imagined.

By the way, if you attempt to read the Time cover story from beginning to end, if helps to keep asking a basic question: What do the editors mean when they say that “being pope means never having to say you’re sorry”?

Obviously, the pope has said that the sexual abuse crisis — including the episcopal cover ups — has been rooted in sin and immorality and that many leaders in the church have been guilty. He has expressed regrets. He has urged reforms. He has talked about the “filth” that haunts the life of the church. He has sought forgiveness from victims and has urged bishops to do the same. Is the key here that he has not personally apologized for his own actions, as framed by media reports? Is that the key?

If so, is the crucial issue here actual reform in parishes and dioceses around the world, or some form of media-friendly act of personal penance? Would that be satisfactory? If so, I assume that kind of public statement will eventually be made.

But I have my doubts. I mean, what does the headline on the Time cover actually mean?

A note to those who are about to click “comment.” Please limit your comments to the contents of the articles quoted or, if you have other journalistic issues to discuss, please provide URLs to the sources of your information. This is not the place for angry tirades full of person opinion. Go elsewhere.

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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.

  • Dave

    I would assume the Time title means that there’s a certain Kabuki public apology expected from governors caught with their pants down or presidents who took their eye off the ball, and Benedict hasn’t made one of those yet.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dave:

    I know, I get that.

    But apologize for HIMSELF, for the whole CHURCH (as if the whole church was guilty)? The cover seems to say that the apology would be for the office of the pope….

  • http://bullschuck.blogspot.com Bull

    I think as much of the MSM sees themselves as “representing the little guy,” or the victim in this case, deciding when the Pope has made an appropriate apology is not up to them. Not until all parties feel that they have been satisfied. Unfortunately, that list starts with the folks who are the most vocal. …

  • Mike

    It means people hold someone who is supposed to be Christ’s Vicar on Earth to a higher standard. He has never apologized for his own personal culpability in the crisis, and only offered vague, general apologies about the role of the institutional Church. People want to see the Pope stand up and say in in no uncertain terms that the buck stops with him, and not hide behind the Vatican bureaucracy or Canon law. Actions speak louder than words. When the first Bishop gets laicized for abusing a child or covering up for abuse, then maybe people will think the Church is serious about reforming itself. Until that day happens, that Time headline will hold true. As Pope Benedict recently stated,”Forgiveness is no substitute for Justice”.

  • Martha

    I don’t know if this is wandering into personal opinion, but I think the answer to “What do the editors mean when they say that “being pope means never having to say you’re sorry”?” is that they want the Pope to say “Yeah, you’re right; it’s all the fault of celibacy and the screwed-up Catholic repressive view of sex. Starting tomorrow, I am going to legitimise divorce, re-marriage, contraception, abortion, married priests, and women priests.”

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “When the first Bishop gets laicized for abusing a child or covering up for abuse, then maybe people will think the Church is serious about reforming itself. Until that day happens, that Time headline will hold true. As Pope Benedict recently stated,”Forgiveness is no substitute for Justice”.”

    Right there is one of the problems!! Many of us are wondering why everyone is stuck on the technical and legal process of being LACIZED. For people that want “Justice” they seemed more concerned about PR and how it looks. The press has never explained (and maybe they don’t get it) that for all purposes a Prtiest is “defrocked” when he is removed from public ministry.

    I am not sure how Justice is served by basically going through a process that main result is it allows the Ptiest to marry

  • http://www.Godscreaturesministry.org Jan Fredericks

    I’ve yet to hear our moral leader say ‘I’m sorry for what I did’. If it wasn’t for the secular media, the immorality would still be going on. Where’s Saints Peter and Paul?
    It would never have gone on for 100+ years.
    1 Cor 5 & 6
    James 3:1 Teachers will be judged more strickly than others (that means people outside of the Church, the Body of Christ).

  • J.W. Cox

    Many years ago, I heard former Time religion editor Richard Ostling speak about his work. During the Q&A afterward, someone asked him about a recent story, which he closed with a quote from (as I recall) Malcolm Muggeridge. The questioner wanted to know if Ostling meant X or Y (can’t recall the details).

    Ostling’s reply was revealing, about journalism. He didn’t meant either. He was simply looking for a way to “exit” the story, to bring it to an end.

    I think the Time cover headline actually functions the same way — as a way to enter the story, nothing more. That is, it’s more about tonal rather than a propositional starting point. There’s a certain pop culture frisson, with the allusion to the book and movie “Love Story” (an allusion that only children-of-baby-boomers today will pick up on); a compression or blenderizing of attitudes, rather than ideas.

    It’s simply suggestive of a set of interrelated tropes: The Pope/Catholic Church transgressed, and continues to try to minimize its actions or in-actions, and to avoid accepting responsibility for those transgressions.

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “I’ve yet to hear our moral leader say ‘I’m sorry for what I did’. If it wasn’t for the secular media, the immorality would still be going on. Where’s Saints Peter and Paul?”

    This is incorrect . The Pope and others have been saying they were sorry all the time.

  • Mike

    jh,

    Time and again, a priest has been “removed from ministry”, only to be transferred to another Parish or facility and allowed to assault another child. Removing a priest from ministry for abuse without laicizing him is a slap in the face to victims and an affront to justice.

    There are multiple Bishops in the U.S. and the Europe that have credible allegations of abuse against them. Not one has been laicized! They are all allowed to retire comfortably, with no consequences. How is that justice?

    Then you have other Bishops like Cardinal Law who covered up abuse by many of their priests for years, and are essentially rewarded for it. Law actually helps to choose new Bishops now. In what reality does that constitute justice?

    Justice would have been to report the abuse when it happened so that the predators could have been accountable before the legal system. Just take Cardinal Law alone, how many children’s lives were destroyed because of his actions? The fact that he and others like him are still where they are makes any public apology by the Pope just an empty gesture, unless he accompanies it with real action.

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “Time and again, a priest has been “removed from ministry”, only to be transferred to another Parish or facility and allowed to assault another child. Removing a priest from ministry for abuse without laicizing him is a slap in the face to victims and an affront to justice.”

    There have been abuses but in the cases int he press that have been highlighted it was apparent these Priests were not going to be Priest again since it was all over the papers (Think the Oakland Priest) Again I am wondering why Ratzinger at the time should have moved heaven and earth so a child abusingPriest could get Lacized to get married(which he did) GREAT RESULT

    Also there is a argument that perhaps the Church shoudl not be “washing” their hands of these folks and just putting them out there in society at large.

    “There are multiple Bishops in the U.S. and the Europe that have credible allegations of abuse against them. Not one has been laicized! They are all allowed to retire comfortably, with no consequences. How is that justice?”

    First lets define credible. Credible means “could have happen”. Most papers do not expalin what “credible means”

    I am not sure what retired “comfortablu means” So the Church has the power to strip them of their retirement benefits? I am not sure that is even legal. Shall we put them on public relief? Again so much of this seems PR and how it looks and not much about justice.

    “Then you have other Bishops like Cardinal Law who covered up abuse by many of their priests for years, and are essentially rewarded for it. Law actually helps to choose new Bishops now. In what reality does that constitute justice?”

    I am not sure Cardianl LAW was rewarded in some ways. He still has to face the public. I have mixed feeling on LAW and what was done. It does seem he serving a useful purpose because he knows where the Bodies are buried so at least he is productive on that front

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Okay, I’m two sentences in and already I want to slap the editor that let “two milleniums” go through. This is going to be a tougher read than I thought.

  • http://N/A Conrad J. Noll

    I am a victim of abuse in a church run school in the 60s… I have asked the school, the diocese and the religous order who ran the school if they have looked into abuse at their school in the 60s.

    I was told by the current principal that “no” nothing had been looked into. So I wrote back to the principal and asked him about the abuse that my brother and I experienced. He admitted that his own brother had been the same class as my brother and suffered abuse.

    I wrote to the Archbishop of Dublin and asked him about this. He emailed me back – one time only… and said he would do whatever he could to help me. Then I heard nothing further from him despite many, many email attempts.

    His staff – in a very badly handled exchange – had a representative of the religious order contact me eventually… (this took months). After accepting my allegations. He told me he would be contacting the police about the case. I told him I wasn’t interested in a criminal process, I want the religious order to take ownership over what happened in this and other schools in their care – there are many cases with this order…

    I didn’t hear back from him and have not heard from him in over a month. This has only deepened my depression and despair over the abuse my brother and I suffered and has caused fresh and I am afraid permanent damage to my family. I am sorry I ever brought it up…

    Unfortunately, it seems that the interests of the children who were hurt and hurt badly… by the institutions of the church are still very much at the bottom of the list of the priorities of this church.

    Slainte
    Conrad J. Noll

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Conrad:

    You comment is heartbreaking and I will leave it up. LEGIONS of similar cases are documented in books on the left and the right.

    But you do understand that it does not have to do with the purpose of my post or this weblog?

    Please, folks, try to stay on topic — even though that is difficult.

  • Mike

    jh,

    Here is a link to just one of the American bishops accused of abuse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Thomas_Aquinas_Preparatory_Seminary He admitted to the abuse, yet he is still a Bishop in good standing, living a comfortable retirement funded by the Church.

    You can find most of the others at someplace like http://www.bishop-accountability.org

    Here is a very recent case. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/world/europe/24vatican.html Is the Bishop being laicized or punished in any way by the Vatican?

    What would you consider justice, jh? If a layperson committed some of these acts, I imagine you would want them in jail for a long time. Why should things be different just because someone wears a Roman Collar?

    Concerning Law, there is no defense of him and his actions. The fact that he does know where the bodies are buried is precisely why he still holds the position he does. He is an evil man, who still refuses to take responsibility for his actions.

  • http://N/A Conrad J. Noll

    Dear tmatt

    I know what I wrote is off “topic”. I actually wrestled with that for quite some time.

    I submitted the comment for two reasons…

    1) I found your article to be insightful and helpful. Unlike many that surround this issue.

    2) Despite the number of horrific reports that are available I find that the current experiences of the ‘victims’ are not getting much, if any media exposure.

    Thank you for letting my post stand…
    god bless you..

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Conrad:

    Have you seen or read “Sacrilege”? It is brutal and the single best source of hard documentation I have found. Every reporter should have it.

    Mike:

    What does your comment have to do with the journalism of the piece? At least jh post focused on one term that journalists are using without, perhaps, understanding its meaning or impact.

    BTW, many conservatives involved on this issue DO want to see priests and bishops go to jail.

    Have YOU read “Sacrilege”?

  • joye

    Regarding the title–I have noticed that headline writers seem fundamentally unable to avoid making puns or allusions in headlines, even if that results in a headline which is misleading, offensive, or patently inaccurate.

    Here, of course, the allusion is to the famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

    It’s also common in television news to put something like that in the logo in the corner.

    I understand that it’s designed to catch attention, but I don’t know if the headline writers understand just how irritating it can be, especially when it’s a painfully, painfully forced pun. To me, it also shows a kind of flippancy, which is irritating because if you, newspaper, aren’t taking this seriously, why should I, the reader, bother reading you?

  • http://N/A Conrad J. Noll

    Terry:

    I have not read “Sacrilege”. But I will get it from the library now…

    I am not looking forward to reading it. :(

    BTW… IMHO… The push to have priests and religious “jailed” is misguided. Far better to focus on helping the victims get their lives back in order.

    Slainte,
    Conrad.

  • Theresa

    I think they are just trying to sell a magazine. It’s all about make quotas & money. I have bought many magazines by the cover only and have been disappointed in the article.

  • Theresa

    I also feel the sense that this story is dying down and this is a way of “fueling the fire” in people again. I have noticed it is not “headlines” anymore like it was a month ago. I do think the “Times” have gone too far, but what’s new..

  • Jerry

    A conservative website is circulating a prophecy uttered by a 42-year-old Catholic theologian in 1969,

    I’m a little surprised that the scandals have not motivated more mention of the prophecy of Saint Malachy which includes the current pope, “Gloria olivæ” and the final (next) one:

    In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people.

    http://www.catholic-pages.com/grabbag/malachy.asp

  • Mike

    tmatt,

    Sorry for getting off topic, jh pushed some of my buttons. For the record, I did not make any political statement about jh being conservative or any generalizations about conservatives, or liberals for that matter, nor did I intend to.

    No, I have not read Sacrilege, though I will now.

    Back to the topic at hand. What I think Time meant by the provocative headline was will there ever be a real apology, both for actions taken or not taken personally by the Pope, and also on behalf on the institution? Will it be accompanied by real reform, or is just PR? Do children come first, or does the institution? That all remains to be seen.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MIKE:

    I never use the word “conservative” in political terms here, but in terms of doctrine. I simply want to continue to stress that, on this issues, there are strong voices of reform on both sides of the church aisle and there are sinful ghosts on both sides, too.

  • R.S.Newark

    George Weigel ended his review of the Time story with the observation that the novel (Love Story) from which the quote is taken was a really dreadful novel. So, the quote is – how do the politicians say it – a “no burger” or some such…

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Sorry, I can’t let this pass. Law was dismissed from a major metropolitan see and moved to a ceremonial post. If this happened to someone the MSM approved of, we would be told that he was “kicked upstair”, not “rewarded”.
    Or does “reward” mean “failure to punish to my satisfaction”? Were Johnson and Nixon “rewarded” by not being imprisoned for life, say? If not-being-laicized is a “reward”, were Kung and Curry “rewarded” by not being deposed (“laicized”) or tried for heresy?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    The trouble is that these writers are approaching the story expecting the Church top behave like either a corporation or a government. They are bewildered and/.or angry that the Church has not fired or punished wrongdoers. But the Catholic Church sees its mission in completely different terms: the restoration of sinners to grace.

    So the journalist sees that (as in a recent example) a nun has been excommunicated for authorizing an abortion, and thinks it’s hypocritical that priests do not receive the same “punishment” for molesting teenagers. After all, a corporation or government would take action that would reduce its liability, mollify its shareholders or satisfy its voters. But in both cases, the Church’s actions are directed toward bringing the sinner to repentance, through different means for different sins, rather than making the Church look good externally.

    Pervert or not, a priest is still a part of the Church and the Church isn’t simply gong to throw him to the wolves as a secular organization would.

    That is the “Aha!” that I’ve been waiting for a secular journalist to grasp, and I don’t think I’ve seen one get it yet. Has anyone else?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Sorry, I only half-finished that thought. The extension of that misconception is that the pope is (a) in complete control of “his” bishops, or ought to be if he’s not, and (b) to blame if things go wrong and must atone for his failure to the secular world. I’d give a lot to see a good in-depth explanation in the MSM of the relationship between canon law, bishops and the pope, without falling into the assumptions that I described above.

  • SteveP

    By the way, if you attempt to read the Time cover story from beginning to end, if helps to keep asking a basic question: What do the editors mean when they say that “being pope means never having to say you’re sorry”?

    To be honest, tmatt, I don’t know what the editors are trying to say. The Time article, in conjunction with a slew of similar articles this year about Ratzinger, seems to suggest that pharmakos is the only path to catharsis.

  • Mike

    Will,

    Law resigned and left the country one step ahead of a grand jury subpoena. He is Archpriest of a major Basilica in Rome and sits as a member on numerous Vatican Congregations, including the Congregation of Bishops, where he helps to select new Bishops throughout the world. He was a part of the enclave that elected Pope Benedict. If in your eyes that constitutes justice for someone who knowingly enabled the rape of numerous children, then that is truly sad. To equate what Law did with Kung and Curry is ridiculous. Just because you do not agree with their Theology, to equate them with someone who enabled the rape of children is disturbing.

    Joel,

    The Church ignored many of its own laws when dealing child predators in its ranks, not to mention completely ignoring secular criminal laws. Or in your view, is the Church above the law? The trouble with these writers from the Church’s standpoint is that there are shedding light on something the Church would like to remain hidden.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    What do the editors mean when they say that “being pope means never having to say you’re sorry”?

    I think they believe the apologies the pope has given so far can’t be sincere or adequate because he hasn’t acted as a CEO or head of state would and stepped down.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    The Church ignored many of its own laws when dealing child predators in its ranks, not to mention completely ignoring secular criminal laws. Or in your view, is the Church above the law?

    Mike, I’m not sure we’re on the same page. When you say the church ignored many of its own laws, what do you mean? The Church as a magisterial body mandated that individual churchmen ignore the laws that were in place? Bishops turned a blind eye to violations of laws defined for them by the magisterium? Or bishops failed to follow in the 1960s the guidelines that they would set forth in 1991 (and which are not today canon law)? Likewise, by “above the law” do you mean canon law or secular law? And how has the Church as a body not complied with either of those as they existed at the time?

    (Bless me, Terry, for I have strayed from the topic.)

    All of that is tangential to the point I was trying to make, which is that reporters are framing the sex scandals in secular terms that simply do not apply to the Church. They expect the pope to behave in a pattern familiar to them, that of the errant politician, rather than as a shepherd equally responsible for both victim and victimizer. Whether you or I or they actually agree that the pope should be behaving this way is moot; he acts as he does for a reason and they should know what his motives actually are rather than dismissing them in favor of motives they identify with.

  • Mike

    Joel,

    You know as well as I do that Church law has never sanctioned the sexual abuse of minors. How many of these predators were ever given canonical trials for what they did? The first instinct of most bishops was to cover up the abuse. As far as civil law goes, was child rape legal at some point in the U.S. and Western Europe until the recent past? Hiding behind legal technicalities while children are harmed would seem to be a fairly grave Sin of Omission.

    To say that the Pope has acted as a Shepherd equally responsible for both victim and victimizer does not jibe with the facts. The victim in many cases was re-victimized by the Church while the predator was set free to do it again.

    To repeat once again what the Pope recently said, “Forgiveness does not equal Justice”.

  • http://bullschuck.blogspot.com Bull

    “That is, it’s more about tonal rather than a propositional starting point.”

    “It’s simply suggestive of a set of interrelated tropes: The Pope/Catholic Church transgressed, and continues to try to minimize its actions or in-actions, and to avoid accepting responsibility for those transgressions.”

    Seriously, I wish I had written that. It isn’t about informing anymore, it’s about entertaining. Like songwriting or film making, you rely on archetypes and build on what other people have made successful. This is the information age – it’s not what you say but how you say it and how forcefully and poetically you make your point. Never mind “journalism” or “facts.” Glibness is the only virtue.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    You know as well as I do that Church law has never sanctioned the sexual abuse of minors. How many of these predators were ever given canonical trials for what they did?

    Mike, this is exactly what I was talking about.

    The Church has never sanctioned the abuse of children, nor homosexual relations, which is a better description of the sin these priests were engaged in. (The definition of “minor” varies; the definition of “fornication” does not.) However, they weren’t given canonical trials because a canonical trial is not the same thing as a secular trial.

    The priests were engaged in carnal sin, which does not occasion a canonical trial. It occasions confession and absolution. In addition, the bishop would be prudent to remove the priest from circumstances where he is likely to fall into the same sin. But canon law does not mandate penalties against a repentant sinner.

    This is the sort of thing that the MSM simply cannot grasp. They see the word “law” and assume it must be analogous to secular law. They see “trial” and assume it’s analogous to a criminal trial. In their minds, when a “law” is broken, a “trial” ensues, and either the guilty party is punished in a pre-determined manner or justice has been thwarted. But in the Catholic Church, those words simply do not mean the same thing that they do elsewhere.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Looking to the future–the Catholic Church will survive this crisis and scandal–it has survived far,far worse scandals and crises in the past.
    However, the Catholic Church is a community of over a billion souls, a half million priests, thousands of bishops, and tens of thousands deacons, nuns, professional lay ministers, catechists, choir directors and members, as well as Catholic school teachers.
    If the media uses all its immense and powerful resources to constantly probe the Catholic Church, is there any doubt humanly speaking they could come up with a scandal a day every day of the year. As it is now, if some priest stumbles in Brazil, the Phillipines, Rwanda, or (fill in the blank_____)
    you can be sure it will get a good play in our Boston Globe.
    And, as suggested here, maybe every reporter should have Podles scandal book at his elbow. But how about every reporter having at least the latest copy of the Catholic Catechism there also. For it is obvious from many, many excellent dissections in Get Religion of stories in the media on the Catholic Church that reporters are frequently writing and reporting on the Catholic Church from a seemingly bottomless well of ignorance.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    I’ll try to make this fit into the journalism issues. My sense from reading the article was that Benedict recognizes an obligation to the history of the Catholic Church – including to the people who led the church in the past – and thus would never issue a public apology that simply throws the past under the bus. Thus his statement about “men of the church, in the name of faith and morals” in reference to the Inquisition. Time calls this “ambivalence,” but I bet Benedict simply sees it as appropriate historical nuance.

    And this is where the “get religion” part comes in. I’m over-simplifying, I know, but in politics (the realm that MSM is most comfortable with), all that matters is the present. Journalists simply don’t know how to write about a public leader to whom 400 AD is more important than yesterday’s poll numbers.

  • Julia

    Catholic canon law is more like European law. It is not structured like the US legal system. Pay attention to how the Van der Sloot guy was treated first in Aruba,under Dutch law, and now in Peru to recognize how different the legal systems are from what we are used to in the US. And recall how the investigation into Princess Diana’s death was handled in Paris and it frustrated the English from whom we derived our common law system.

    In European and common law, prosecutors have some discretion about how to proceed or even drop cases in favor of lesser or other means of handling a situation.

    Finally, canon law is more like the by-laws of of the Elks’ Club. It can’t be used to put people in jail or execute them. The purpose of that type of law is for the internal order of the organization. Like the Senate, it can censure its members to change their behavior and as a last resort it can expell them. Note that expelling a member isn’t a punishment so much as it is cleaning house for the organization.

    Perhaps reporters could check out how the Episcopal Church canon law is set up – and how often the Episcopalians have actual trials. Lots of churches have the equivalent of Catholic canon law. A comparison would make a very interesting story.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Ignoring everything else, including the content of the article: when I first saw the Time cover in the grocery checkout line, I knew it would be appearing here. The semiotics are bold: anyone who sees the cover and doesn’t already know better understands from it that the pope is guilty as sin and refuses to admit any responsibility for the mess. It’s the most egregious religion cover I’ve seen in a long time, discounting the traditional Newsweek Lenten expose.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    The priests were engaged in carnal sin, which does not occasion a canonical trial. It occasions confession and absolution. In addition, the bishop would be prudent to remove the priest from circumstances where he is likely to fall into the same sin. But canon law does not mandate penalties against a repentant sinner.

    I have to admit, I don’t quite get how abortion causes a latae sententiae excommunication, but murder or molestation of a minor (whatever fraction of the abuse cases they were, such things did happen) do not. How come abortion gets singled out (along with, say, mishandling the consecrated Host) where other actions don’t? Now that’d be a story…

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    How come abortion gets singled out (along with, say, mishandling the consecrated Host) where other actions don’t?

    Julia could probably answer better, but it looks to me as though excommunication is applied in matters whose sinfulness is in dispute. There are many Catholics who would argue that they have not sinned in procuring an abortion and therefore have nothing to repent of. That’s why things like heresy and schism are excommunicable. In contrast, nobody but a NAMBLA-ite would argue that molesting teenage boys wasn’t a sin. A repentant sinner isn’t generally excommunicated.

    I’m sure the distinction is more complex than that, but that’s how it looks from here.

  • Ed

    No one appreciates the passions about this subject more, but ‘Time’ asked an appropriate question for us to consider. What is clear from the question is that no reasonable person doubts the implicit guilt but the point is whether anyone will have the backbone to apologize for the problem and moreover to correct what seems to been an institutionalized problem that’s being covered up. Accountability and responsibility are moral virtues that have been left in the dust bin.

    Time is correct to step up the journalistic responsibility to ask the hard questions. But its a trick question, like as if someone asked “Are you ready to apologize for beating up your spouse?” These days the standard PR corporate response is to deny everything and to include a denial clause when the lawsuit is settled out of court.

    Leadership is needed to fix this mess. Time was merely asking whether we should expect any from the current Pope or have to wait another generation.

  • Mike

    Will, you are being deliberately obtuse. You said “Sorry, I can’t let this pass. Law was dismissed from a major metropolitan see and moved to a ceremonial post. If this happened to someone the MSM approved of, we would be told that he was “kicked upstair”, not “rewarded”.
    Or does “reward” mean “failure to punish to my satisfaction”? Were Johnson and Nixon “rewarded” by not being imprisoned for life, say? If not-being-laicized is a “reward”, were Kung and Curry “rewarded” by not being deposed (“laicized”) or tried for heresy?”

    Yes, Law was rewarded. He deliberately covered up the rape of children and enabled it to happen time and time again. This is not my opinion, it is fact that has been voluminously documented by many journalists. I don’t think anyone seriously disputes this. He has his own Basilica in Rome. He sits on the Congregation of Bishops, where he helps decide on the appointment of Bishops throughout the world. He was a member of the Conclave (I mistyped this earlier)that elected the current Pope. In whose eyes is all this a punishment?

    Did Johnson or Nixon, or Kung and Curry cover up the rape of children? Nixon was arguably a criminal who should have gone to jail. What criminal acts did the others commit?

  • Rick

    Why is it that the legal system failed to charge Law? If the case is strong against him, why has our legal system failed us?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Why is it that the legal system failed to charge Law? If the case is strong against him, why has our legal system failed us?

    Because a criminal trial requires a standard of proof that popular opinion does not. To make criminal charges stick, it would be necessary not only to persuade twelve good men and true of his guilt in general, but also to prove to them that he deliberately violated clearly-written laws.

    The court of public opinion requires no such proof. All you have to do there is to convince enough people that Law must be guilty of something, because bad things happened in an area where he should have been in control. There is no way a criminal prosecution of most of these errant bishops could even make it into court. That’s also why the whole scandal has been fought out in civil court. Standards of proof obtain there, too, but they’re much less rigid.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    A question that comes to my mind is why is there not more attempts to hold those who are responsible for actions up to public retribution.

    This news-report from the Chicago area illustrates my point. http://cbs2chicago.com/local/joliet.priests.abuse.2.1739423.html . The news does not even name the accused priests.

    It seems that when the Pope could possibly be implicated there is no limit to the attacks thrown at him, but when proper procedures are followed by the Church the actual criminals or accused get protection.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Where is the clamoring for apologies from the state of Massachusetts. See this aritcle. http://www.iobserve.org/rn0607b.html

    They left in the child-welfare office for nine years an ex-priest who had been accused of sexual relations with a minor in the past for nine years after the accuser came forward. How is this responsible or treating sexual abuse of minors as a problem?

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Bishop Dupre of Springfield in Massachusetts faced criminal charges, althoug I think he ended up being sent for treatment where he still is.

    His downfall has not gotten the press coverage of the charges against Murphy. Should not criminal charges against a bishop be more notable than a civil suit over the actions of a priest who has been dead for over a decade?

  • Black Jaque

    I tell you what I think the intent of the title was – to discredit the Pope in any way they can. I’m getting really suspicious of this scandal redux. It comes out right in between the Democrats push for Nationalized Health Care and mid-Term elections.

    The Catholic Church turned out to be a big force opposing the health care bill. A force that could not be ignored. In a few months, election time will heat up. And the Church will be a voice. The liberals know this.

    The strategy? Make the Catholic Church look so evil and hypocritical that no decent American would ever want to align themselves with her.

    Time Magazine knows that the headline is what sticks in most people’s memory. Heck they could have written a glowing article about the pope’s work and by the article’s end have the answer to the cover questions be “no it doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry.” Even so the American public would have the cover photo in their heads.

    It’s interesting to see the “chess game” being played out. As the Catholic Church gains ground in her fight for the lives of babies, the pro-abortionists get more desparate. Resorting to poor journalism stunts like this.

  • Black Jaque

    There’s also a bit of a presumption of guilt going on here. We seem to presume Pope Benedict is guilty of something.

    American liberal, “I want you to appologize!”
    Pope Benedict XVI, “For what?”
    AL, “For your role in the sexual abuse scandal.”
    PB16, “I didn’t have a role in it.”
    AL, “Aha! You’re covering it up!”
    PB16, “Well if I were to appologize for something I didn’t do that would be dishonest. If I were a dishonest pope, you liberals would hate me as a hypocrit.”
    AL, “We have evidence that you played a role in the scandal.”
    PB16, “Oh? What?”
    AL, “Well you were around when it was happening, so you must have been aware of it. You’re the pope now, so you must have had the power back then to put a stop to it, and you didn’t.”
    PB16, “Is that your evidence? Well I’ve already appologized for the remote role I played. And I believe my current policies are evidence of a ‘firm purpose of amendment’. So, no I won’t appologize for something I haven’t done, and no I won’t stand trial.”
    AL, “AHA! The pope said it! He won’t appologize!”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    OK, I’m depressed.

    Look back through this thread (from which I spiked at least 12 comments and should have done many more).

    Count the comments that are actually about journalism issues in the coverage, as opposed to arguments about the Catholic Church itself.

    What number did you get?

  • Norman

    One fault of the reporting we have seen is that it fails to convey the theological aspect of Benedict’s response. Austin Ivereigh draws this out very succinctly in America Magazine’s In All Things blog with regards to the Benedict’s homily marking the end of the Year for Priests:

    http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=2998

    “Benedict XVI is developing a response to the clerical sex abuse which is essentially theological — discerning its place in God’s plan for the purification of the Church. Put simply, the growing awareness of the fragility of the human dimension of the priesthood (the broken vessels) should lead to a greater dependence on its divine dimension. And to the extent that the priesthood has become — or is in the process of becoming — less clerical, less ‘attached’ , less about power than service, the clerical sex abuse crisis can be seen as part of Divine Providence — the way God uses the devastation of sin as a chance for smashing idols and rebuilding on more secure foundations.”

    Ivereigh is right about this, and understanding the theological focus of the pope’s response leads us to the great “missed” story of this scandal so far: Benedict’s key May 26 General Audience address: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100526_en.html History will look back on this as one of the most momentous addresses of this pontificate, and the only mention it got in the mainstream press was the “not even the Pope can do anything he would like” line, which was ripped completely out of context and included in Time’s cover story in an egregious manner to suggest “Pope Bemoans His Powerlessness to Act” (if you’ll forgive my headline-speak). It was in this General Audiences that the Pope’s response crystallized in its most developed form so far.

  • Norman

    Typo alert: in the last paragraph I meant to type “not even the Pope can do EVERYTHING he would like”.

  • Norman

    The May 26 address is hard to excerpt briefly, but I’ll have a go at it:

    “It is important, therefore, to recognize that human authority is never an end in itself but always and only a means and that, necessarily and in every age, the end is the person, created by God with his own inviolable dignity and called to relate to his Creator, both along the path of his earthly journey and in eternal life; it is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, before the Creator. An authority whose sole purpose is understood to be to serve the true good of the person and to be a glass through which we can see the one and supreme Good, which is God…

    “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ, who received from his Father all authority both in Heaven and on Earth…

    “…In order to be a priest according to the heart of God (cf. Jer 3: 15) it is necessary that not only the mind, but also the freedom and the will be deeply rooted in living friendship with Christ, a clear awareness of the identity received in Priestly Ordination, an unconditional readiness to lead the flock entrusted to him where the Lord desires and not in the direction which might, apparently, seem easier or more convenient. This requires, above all, a continuous and progressive willingness to allow Christ himself to govern the sacerdotal life.

    “…he who enters into the Sacred Order of the Sacrament, the ‘hierarchy’, is not an autocrat but he enters into a new bond of obedience to Christ: he is tied to Christ in communion with the other members of the Sacred Order, the Priesthood. Nor can the Pope, reference point for all the Pastors and for the communion of the Church, do what he likes; on the contrary, the Pope is the custodian of obedience to Christ, to his word summed up in the ‘regula fidei’, in the Creed of the Church, and must lead the way in obedience to Christ and to his Church. Thus hierarchy implies a triple bond: in the first place the bond with Christ and with the order given by Our Lord to his Church; then the bond with the other Pastors in the one communion of the Church; and lastly, the bond with the faithful who are entrusted to the individual, in the order of the Church. “

  • Black Jaque

    Tmatt,

    I hope my posts did not contribute to your depression. I thought I was addressing the journalistic aspects.

    In other words, I think it’s poor journalism that has an obvious bias. I don’t think the authors OR the editors at Time Magazine have an unbiased view of the Catholic Church.

    I also think the article has a presumption of guilt tone to it. They present thin evidence to make their case, yet blow their trumpets about the Pope’s unappologetic stance.

    In short – lousy, stinking journalism. I’m glad I do not subscribe to TIME (although I’m tempted to purchase a copy of this one just as evidence of the MSM’s willingness to abandon decent journalism standard to sink their claws into the RC church).

  • Passing By

    Well, the pope has apologized.

    And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again

    Here’s a Google search of initial articles.

  • Passing By

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-pope-forgiveness-20100612,0,5233828,print.story

    The LA Times comes through as expected, closing with the expected quotes from the expected sources.

  • http://www.contratimes.blogspot.com Bill Gnade

    I have not read all the comments here; I have not read the Time magazine article in question. But please permit me to express what I felt when I first saw the headline when I spotted this particular issue of Time on the newsstand.

    It’s simple. The editors of Time are exploiting a wild misunderstanding about papal infallibility. The common belief is that the Church teaches the Pope is intrinsically infallible in all matters. In other words, the Church teaches that the Pope — as Pope — is never, ever wrong and thus cannot apologize. The headline is really a fundamental dig at a parody of Catholic teaching; the headline is perhaps even meant as ironic. If so, it is ironic in an extremely mean and petty way. Ultimately — if the editors are NOT ignorant of Catholic teaching — the headline employs a straw man fallacy, one that essentially courses through those salons willfully ignorant of Catholic doctrine and dogma.

    This is cheap journalism at its most obvious. It’s vulgar; it’s the sort of stuff offered by snickering scoffers one might meet in junior high school. The whole thing brings to mind a revised temptation of Christ: “If you’re really infallible, you can’t be wrong, can you?” Time wants to exploit this fundamental prejudice about Church teaching, hoping that, if the headline is all people read — and it will be — the prejudice will still be effectively reinforced in the populace.

    Truly discouraging.


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