Remember to substantiate charges

Remember to substantiate charges March 11, 2013

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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7 responses to “Remember to substantiate charges”

  1. This is at least the second recent post about problems with stories taken from the Italian media. I have to wonder if they’re even worse than the American media, at least in some respects.

  2. As our host have explained a few times, most european press do not hide bias or ,better still, is openly paTrtisan. And no european source is free from the “Don’t let the Truth ruin a good story”
    So the first question to ask is: what kind of source are we working with?
    The second: ¿Has it come more or less botched up in translation? (there have been a few egregious blunders lately)

    Nobody needs to remember that abuse cases are/were not responsability of the CDF (and of the Holy See, in general, only in last instance), so this “news” seems rather pure smearing …

  3. So the CDF is “in charge of overseeing the Church’s goodness”. Fascinating, but maybe an issue in translation. This short of article puts me in mind of the NYT’s Easter sites trying to link the pope to various abuse cases in the U.S. – the untold bits are the Jerry. Such as the actual authority of the Vatican and the meaning of various actions. The goal is clearly to indict the pope.

  4. Did a Google search for news articles re Nello Giraudo. There were a few pages of mostly Italian language articles. They too seemed to be thin on verifiable information.

    One of the English language results,, mentioned that one of the men claiming abuse by Rev. Giraudo “showed” the letter supposedly sent to the CDF in 2003 by the then Bsp. Calcagno. Showed? Did he just hold it up ala Sen. McCarthy? Did he pass it around the crowed for all to see? Did no one even take a cell phone-camera picture of the letter being “showed?”

    I guess what is astounding to me is that every article I read (and my Italian is weak) accepted the allegations without any veridication. Maybe GR needs to publish in other languages besides English.

  5. FW Ken, the CNN piece does exactly what the International Business Times piece does — lays out tenuous connections, but provides no evidence whatsoever that then-Cardinal Ratzinger knew anything about the case.

    What galls me most about this horrible reporting is that everyone is trying to blame Cardinal Ratzinger rather than blaming the local bishops for failure to do their jobs. The buck stops with them, not with the Pope or the Prefect of the CDF.

  6. Many newspapers still foolishly believe that the Pope is like the “CEO” of the Catholic Church or that his position is similar to that of the CEO – hence, if abuse happens anywhere, it is his job to take responsibility of the issue and resign (something by the way, many newspapers are claiming is the reason why Pope Benedict resigned) – But the Pope is at the end of the day also a bishop in communion with his brother Bishops and the buck stops with the local bishop of a diocese and not the Pope!