News flash! Conservative bishop opposed abuse!

As I mentioned the other day, the historic Catholic throne in Baltimore has a new archbishop and he also happens to be an emerging leader in America’s increasingly tense debates about religious liberty. Just wait until some of these issues hit the U.S. Supreme Court (and you know that they will).

In addition to the belated coverage in The Baltimore Sun (the newspaper that lands in my front yard), the move to Charm City by Bishop William E. Lori — who leads the U.S. bishops’ new Committee on Religious Liberty — drew the attention of the well-known liberal Catholic blogger David Gibson of Commonweal, who also does news reporting for Religion News Service. His story included a wealth of details that will interest a wide variety of Catholics, including the kinds of details that one expects out of a wire service that focuses on religion news — period.

I am sure that some Catholic GetReligion readers will have a few bones to pick with this feature (Gibson has that affect on many Catholic readers). Still, this is must reading. I was especially interested in the human details in this chunk:

Quiet and soft-spoken, Lori nonetheless brings a single-minded focus to defending sacred principles while also deploying the kind of double-edged humor that a religious leader needs to do battle in the public square. He can be sharp to the point of sarcastic but also self-effacing in regards to his own career.

“They say timing is everything,” Lori said with the quiet laugh of a man who tends to see the irony and absurdity of so many aspects of modern life.

Now, with the move to Baltimore — the oldest archdiocese in the U.S. — timing is again Lori’s ally. At just 60 years old, his new post will put him that much closer to the action, and now he’ll have a papal imprimatur to bring with him.

Unlike the gregarious Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lori is slightly-built and almost shy. He likes nothing more than reading history, and loves books so much that he named his pair of sibling Golden Retrievers “Barnes” and “Noble.”

Read it all. However (and you knew this was coming), as you read this report pay special attention to some of its language that frames Lori and his work in ways that are not always very fair.

Consider, for example, this passage:

While Lori is known for his orthodoxy on doctrine and social issues, he was praised by many for taking a hard line in dealing with abusive priests, and in dealing with subsequent financial scandals that emerged.

Catch that? It’s all about that crucial word “while.”

Even though Lori is theologically orthodox, he was also willing to take a hard line against abusive priests who did everything they could to shatter both their vows and the church’s doctrines, on multiple levels. Why is it hard to believe that someone can be orthodox and, well, just?

Well, yes, there were tons of supposedly orthodox Catholic leaders who did everything they could to hide the serial rapists and molesters in their midst. Then there were orthodox Catholic leaders who insisted that the abusers have their necks sized for millstones, pronto.

There were also liberal Catholics who hide the criminals. Yes, and there were liberal Catholics who fought the good fight on behalf of reform.

The bottom line: There was shame on both sides of the doctrinal aisle during the multi-wave, multi-decade clergy sex-abuse scandals. There were people on both sides who deserved praise, too. This giant scandal was too complex for simple labels.

Consider the following quotes. Are these harsh words from a liberal or conservative Catholic?

“If the bishops had not coddled these priests, if they had not hidden them and then put them back into parishes full of children and parents who were kept in the dark, they could have prevented evil acts against thousands of victims. … There were bishops who could have acted and they should have acted. But they didn’t act. … For some reason they never got angry and, as a result, they never acted to protect the laity, especially the children.”


“There are evils in this world that we can do something about and we should get angry about them. … In any battle, it’s hard to act in an effective manner without a kind of appropriate anger that energizes your actions. Without that anger, innocent people will suffer and evil will win the day.”

OK, so the art up at the top of this post gives this one away. That’s the very conservative Catholic writer Leon J. Podles, author of a fierce, take-no-prisoners tome called “Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church.”

WHILE Podles is known for his orthodoxy on doctrine and social issues, not that there’s anything wrong with that, he also has been praised by many for taking a hard line on how the church should deal with abusive priests.

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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.

  • Jeff

    It ought to be noted that, while very few people make apology for pedophilia and/or ephebophilia, the very few who do are virtually *all* on the cultural *left* — mostly in the academic world, hardly a hotbed of love for The Catholic Church, let alone for the orthodox teachings thereof.

  • tmatt


    What you meant to say is that these people PUBLICLY do apologetics for these fringe beliefs.

    The candid heretics tended to be on the left.

  • David Clohessy

    Lori’s track record on abuse is awful:

    David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (

  • tmatt

    GIBSON’s story mentions critics as well as well as praise.

    In particular, there were bishops who opposed the lengthening of the statue of limitations on CHURCH cases, when secular institutions could not be sued in a similar manner.

    However, let’s keep the thread focused on the journalism issues in the content of Gibson’s article.

  • Crude

    I admire your sharp eye for catching little word games like the “while” move.

  • Jeff


    If you’re not doing it publicly, it’s not apologetics — it’s just hypocrisy.

    Not many people offer any kind of apologetics for sex between adults and children or adolescents.

    But the few who do are mostly academics on the cultural left.

    It would be unfair to say that some Catholic clergy have come out strongly against sex-abuse of children “even though” they are on the theological and cultural left.

    It would be unfair, but it would not be the kind of *non sequitor* that you are rightly note at the heart of this piece.

  • ron chandonia

    Gibson is hopping mad about this astute observation and has posted his usual whining rant over at the Commonweal blog, where he is sure to draw plenty of sympathy from fellow travelers who claim never to have heard of you but to be appalled by your efforts to dissect leftist cant.

  • Doug Sirman

    As a “conservative” Catholic, I have to recommend that you take a look at how “Sacrilege” was received by the majority of the “conservative” or “orthodox” voices in the catholic media. The will to worship the Church or the clergy, which is known as idolatry, is neither conservative nor liberal; the “conservative” catholic media, the press, radio, and television outlets, proved this beyond any doubt. They were far too busy propagandizing on the part of the USCCB to do anything so pedestrian as tell the truth…or acknowledge the existence if Mr. Podles’ book. When they finally did, it was with words like “shrill” and “unlikely” in a rather pathetic attempt to marginalize him.

  • James Kabala

    Gibson has replied, for what it’s worth: