Clarity & Spirited Defense re Pope -UPDATED

Clarity & Spirited Defense re Pope -UPDATED March 30, 2010

After adding a link to this post, I decided that this piece by Jimmy Akin deserves to be more than a footnote in a blogpiece.

I am not saying that the Holy See’s handling of abuse cases can’t be legitimately criticized. I’m not saying that then-Cardinal Ratzinger/now-Pope Benedict XVI didn’t experience a learning curve on this point. And I don’t know what else is out there that remains to be discovered.

But I am saying that the media is getting this story wrong, particularly in the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, the American priest whose case was dealt with by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Cardinal Ratzinger was its head.

The New York Times has done a great service to those wanting to look into this story by putting online a large number of primary source documents pertaining to the case. No doubt they mean these to incriminate Pope Benedict, but if you read them carefully—and if you know the relevant background—they don’t. (The documents are also posted here in .pdf format.)

So let’s look at the facts of the case in light of the documents:

Yes, do. It is very instructive.

Akin has done something remarkable here, for any who wish to see it. He has written the best, most intelligently and dispassionately rendered piece on this whole terrible story that I have yet read. For people who really want to understand -not to simply be angry- but to understand what happened, in reality, this is a must-read.

In a voice that is calm and charitable -even to those in the press, who have omitted facts or slanted their coverage over the past few weeks- Akin essentially lays it all out in a readable timeline, with details about both the bad priest, Murphy, and the Vatican channels, that you may not have read anywhere else. I know I hadn’t.

It is actually too good to be easily excerpted. Just read it all. And see what you think, when you are done.

A few emailers have wondered whether Church leaders like Archbishop Timothy Dolan, here and now Bishop DiMarzio are not perhaps running a little too hot in their rhetoric?

I don’t think so. I think Dolan, DeMarzio and the rest of us have a duty to both the victims in this mess, and to the pope. The victims deserve to have their full stories told. But so does the church.

Ross Douthat has a very good take on that question.

Call out bad reporting, by all means; defend yourself against unjustified allegations, definitely. But don’t spend too much time complaining about a double standard, or griping about being unfairly targeted . . . If the day comes when crimes and cover-ups in the Catholic Church attract the same yawns and per forma stories as, say, scandals in the Anglican Church of Canada or the American public school system, then Catholics will really have something to worry about.

Douthat is correct, that the press needs to tell the story.

But Dolan is correct that the press needs to get it right!

This story is very big and wide and deep, and it’s not something we can be reckless about – not if we are serious about honoring the pain of the victims, because justice cannot be a half-and-half thing. Their justice must be balanced with justice for the pope, too. The few people I have known or corresponded with who have had some experience of these bad priests are not looking for the collapse of the church to assuage their pain.

But this story -if framed poorly and reported recklessly- can contribute to such a collapse, as I’ve written. This is not a case of all of us having a bit of battalion fun by taking easy swipes at Bush or Obama. This is a case where the fanning of passions with conveniently framed “facts,” culled from dubious sources, can have a very deleterious effect on the world: take down Benedict and you quite possibly take down the papacy for the foreseeable future. Take down the papacy and you have dislodged the centering pole of the whole “big tent” of Christianity, and you snuff out all the smaller churches which grew from her taproot. You leave the people with what? Judaism (with antisemitism is on the rise), or Islam or secularist authority.

Some may think secularism is sufficient to the life of the world, but billions disagree, and want more than that.

I suspect that there are some out there (and not all of them are malicious; some of them just think this defines “justice”) who think the destruction of the Catholic Church would be the only possible response to these shameful, exquisitely harmful decades.

The church, of course, has done a very good job of destroying herself interiorly, without the world’s assistance. It is also going to have to save itself interiorly. Benedict has certainly been trying – tirelessly, so. And since he is only human, “trying” is the best he can do, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

His bishops are not wrong, therefore, to offer a spirited defense against shoddy reportage. If they do not, who will?

Speaking of email, I got a very hot one from someone who seems to have willfully misread me in this morning’s piece and is levying all manner of false charges against me -most heinously that I am gleefully “smearing” the victims- by daring to defend the pope. Apparently because injustice has occurred, injustice must continue, or something. People read and see exactly what they want to see, all the time -all of us do that, and so responding seems pointless- but I did want to clarify another charge: that I have “closed comments for Holy week” in order to deprive people of their right to express themselves.

In re-reading my piece, I can see where some might, in fairness, get that impression. My point -writing it directly after coming from a mass where “quiet” was emphasized- really was to get quiet. Not having comments has actually been quite an eye-opening challenge. I did not realize how much time I spent moderating comments, responding to arguments, and so forth. One discovery I have made is that -without realizing it- I’d become very accustomed to the immediate gratification of the comments section; whether in agreement or disagreement, there was “response.” I’d become used to the attention in a way that is uncharacteristic within my personal life. Closing comments has had the very leveling effect of denying myself the sometimes too-effusive and downright embarrassing praise of some readers and the self-puffery of thinking I have bested someone in argument, or made a “clever” retort.

I am glad that I have closed comments for this week, and make no apology for it. It’s not like people don’t use email, as evidenced here, but that’s not quite so immediate!

But all of the time I have not spent in moderating the comments section, I have managed to spend in prayer and contemplation. Prayer for the whole world. The world surely needs all the prayer it can get.

WOW. Still think the press isn’t actively trying to destroy the pope? My jaw is on the floor: NBC Apologies for egregiously untrue,shocking headline

Cardinal Levada makes a long, serious, stunning response to the NY Times, and even the NY Daily News -no fan of Benedict- is calling the Times story an unfair hit piece

More from Msgr. Charles Pope

Also, read about The WaPo and The Big Lie

From the UK: Why Can’t the Media Treat the Pope Fairly?

Moving with the Times?
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