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The Conservative Media: Unfair and Unbalanced toward Clergy Abuse

Let me summarize: There was a hard news story establishing that a foreign sovereign and the largest religious organization in the world had internal policies that mandated secrecy about child sex abuse and the Wall Street Journal editors concluded that this was the moment for its readers to rank the relative virtues of the two popes who concocted these directives. That, my friends, should bring the entire journalistic culture at the Journal into question.

While O'Reilly and Hannity have railed against the Church's policies periodically, they have not taken on the pope or the bishops with any consistency or intensity. On page 10 of Hannity's Deliver Us from Evil, he identifies Fr. Paul Shanley as one of the most evil men to ever live. Shanley is an evil man, who championed the North American Man-Boy Love Association and abused dozens of boys. But Hannity did not have the moral mettle to take the next step and to name the man who knew full well about abuse worldwide, and who set the policies that kept those like Shanley in the child abuse business. He is the one under whose leadership top Vatican officials issued the letters to the Irish and the Tucson bishops dictating a conspiracy of cover up—John Paul II.

And neither Hannity nor O'Reilly have ever to my knowledge taken up the public policy question that is unavoidable: how should the law be changed so that we as a society never let churches, or synagogues, or mosques do this again? The answer is to give victims more legal rights and power. Their occasional sniping at their church is a poor substitute for the fact-based, hard-hitting journalism that would help their listeners understand the world as it is.

The message is clear: the conservative pantheon believes their audience does not want to hear negative news about their religion (mostly Christian) or their religious leaders, so they edit their message accordingly. Let others tell the only truth that will eventually protect our children.

Who gets harmed when they throw the whitewash on religion? The vulnerable—suffering adults, innocent children. Who benefits? The religious leaders polishing their image and reputation. And the A-listers who get to ask them for favors in the future.

When it comes to the issue of the protection of our children from predators in religious organizations, there is only an either/or choice: protect the children or protect the perpetrators (and their enablers). The "family values" folks so far are on the side of the perpetrators' enablers and, therefore, against the children. So the next time you hear them decry the "liberal press," remember editorial decisions can be just as myopic in their universe.

1/26/2011 5:00:00 AM
Marci Hamilton
About Marci Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, 2008) and God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2005, 2007).