Remember to substantiate charges

The International Business Times sure has a scoop. Headline:

Conclave 2013: Pope Benedict XVI ‘Did Nothing’ to Stop Paedophile Priest Nello Giraudo

The headline phrasing makes it seem like the conclave decided that Pope Benedict XVI “did nothing” to stop a pedophile priest. Or at least someone said he “did nothing” to stop a bad priest.

Which is why the actual story is so weird. I guess it’s mostly taken from an Italian TV report but there are some problems with following through with the allegations.

To get one thing out of the way, the “did nothing” from the headline is not an actual quote. Or if it is, the quote isn’t in the story. I’m not sure why it’s in quote marks. The top of the report:

Pope Benedict XVI has been accused of inaction over allegations of child sex abuse against an Italian priest.

Former priest Nello Giraudo, allegedly committed numerous sexual abuses on minors in the diocese of Savona, near Genoa, from 1980 to 2005, of which then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was made aware of in 2003 but failed to take action.

Many of the problems in the story would have been helped by just, for instance, telling us who, if anyone, is accusing Benedict of inaction. We’re told that former Savona bishop Domenico Calcagno sent a letter to Ratzinger asking for advice. We don’t know anything about how that letter was received, if or how it was responded to, or anything, really. Instead we’re told:

The Vatican neither opened an investigation nor reported the findings to Italian authorities.

That’s interesting information but in order to check it out, we need to have the words “according to …” included in the report.

It’s super easy to level accusations against someone but journalists should handle all allegations with the same care they would want if someone were accusing someone they knew of something ghastly. Lack of substantiation is a major problem — even if the accused is someone a journalist strenuously dislikes.

And while it’s easy to make a charge like “inaction,” journalists should know a little about who is responsible for pedophile priests and what options are on the table for handling them. Neither of these basic angles were handled well in the story.

Proofing image via Shutterstock.


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