Catholics Media and Culture

Continuing my interview with CNN’s Gary Tuchman about this Saturday’s documentary on the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal (What the Pope Knew, Saturday @ 8:00 PM [ET]), I asked him if it was difficult obtaining interviews with both the victims and the Vatican itself.

JWK: Were the victims eager to talk with you?

Not eager. As you saw in the documentary, there were some 200 deaf boys
who were molested as children. One of the deaf men just decided to file
a suit. It was painful for him. He was anonymous when he filed the
suit. He was ashamed. Here’s a grown man who had never been able to
hear. He could barely speak. His life had been hell. And, all of a
sudden, he feels like he is doing something to his life that is
extremely valuable. He’s filing suit because he’s found out about these
documents too and he realized nothing was done when it could have been

And, he wasn’t eager to talk. He wasn’t even eager to use
his name in the suit but he realizes now, after we talked to him, that
(that was) an important thing for him to do.

JWK: You
interviewed Vatican Prosecutor Monsignor Charles Scicluna as part of
this program. What kind of cooperation did you receive from him and
from the Vatican as a whole?

TUCHMAN: Monsignor Scicluna
is the Vatican prosecutor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith which is where Cardinal Ratzinger worked before he was pope. He
was the head of the Congregation. 

He was a very gracious man.
It took us a while, frankly, to get a high-ranking Vatican official to
talk with us. They were weary, as they have every right to be. We
explained what we were doing — that it was going to be a hard-hitting
look, but fair, and that’s why we wanted their response.  So, we’re
grateful he talked to us and he was a very nice person who appears to
be very dedicated to getting rid of the miserable, selfish molesters
who may still be out there.

JWK: Is there a sense that there are still more molesters out there?

There’s definitely more out there. We hope it’s not as high of a rate
as it was in the 1980’s and 1970’s and before that. We have every
reason to believe it’s not as high of a rate because of the awareness
of it. More People are paying attention to it but you’d be a fool to
think there aren’t any.

And, indeed, in our hour documentary
we talk about a priest in India who is wanted in the United States for
allegedly molesting a girl. The United States wants him extradited —
today — and the Indian authorities will not extradite him. He claims
he’s innocent. He certainly deserves a day in court. In any other
(organization) you’re temporarily taken off the job while the
investigation is going on if you’re an accused molester. But the
Catholic Church is not insisting upon that. So, it shows you there is
still some undone business.

JWK: The program, I think, is very fair — but may I ask what your religion is and how it may have affected your expectations?

Can I just say that I am observant and I am a believer? Religion and
faith is a very important part of my life and my family’s life.

You present a complicated portrait of Pope Benedict — as a man who, as
head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seemed more
obsessed with clamping down on dissent than abusive priests. But after
2001 or so he seemed to have a change of heart and was more aggressive
in the pursuing the cases.

TUCHMAN: What I hope had
happened is that there is increased realization among the high-ranking
officials in the Catholic Church that the religion is important and the
reputation of the Church is important but what’s most important are the
children within the Church and, perhaps, that wasn’t given as high a
priority in the past and is getting a higher priority now. I think
that’s wonderful for the children.

JWK: You say in the documentary that Cardinal Ratzinger wasn’t the villain in this story but he wasn’t the hero either.

of the arguments is that the way the Church is structured is it’s the
Pope who can make the big decisions. John Paul had the power in the
early eighties. He could have done what Pope Benedict did in 2001 and
he didn’t.

The question is Cardinal Ratzinger was very close to
him in the 1980’s and there’s no indication that Cardinal Ratzinger
said to John Paul (that) I think we need to be more aggressive about

In the early part of the 2000’s you still had important
bishops and archbishops around the country blaming the news media for
this. To Cardinal Ratzinger’s credit he’s now acknowledging (Church
responsibility). His quote is this has been, quote, “born from the sin
within the Church.”  It used to be blamed on enemies of the Church on
the outside but he’s acknowledging that and that’s an important

JWK: What was Pope John Paul II’s responsibility? Was he lax? Or did he not know — until, perhaps, the very end?

TUCHMAN: Journalistically
we can’t say.  We don’t know. It seems unlikely he didn’t know because
of everything that was going on in the eighties and nineties and the
letters being sent to the Vatican. But it’s certainly possible he
didn’t know. Even in big companies bosses are sometimes shielded from
bad news.

We don’t know the answer because popes don’t do
interviews. Not only do we not know from John Paul but we don’t even
know from Benedict necessarily. We can’t draw a conclusion because
Benedict didn’t talk to CNN. Not that there’s anything bad to be drawn
from that because popes don’t do television interviews. That’s

But if Monsignor Scicluna or another high-ranking
official didn’t talk with us — if no one at the Vatican would talk to
us — I think it would be fair for a viewer to draw a negative
conclusion. But he did. So, therefore, we do have the response from the
Vatican and he’s not saying anything the the Pope wouldn’t approve.

One criticism, even among Catholics, is the idea that the Church seemed
to feel it could handle allegations of child sexual abuse internally. 

TUCHMAN: There’s
no question about that. The public and police were not told about these
child molestations that we feature in our documentary and that wouldn’t
cut it anywhere else.

Looking at it in the most sympathetic
way to the Church, the feeling was, based on the the faith, that
pastoral counseling and treatment and prayer could cure these priests.
But what was neglected to be thought about was (that), even if you
cured the priest, you still have the child who’s damaged for life and
that wasn’t considered. Hopefully today it’s being considered a lot

Tomorrow: The Conclusion

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