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Peggy Noonan on the Roman Catholic Church

Peggy Noonan, in her excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal, makes a number of important points, two of which are that the media has done the Church a service because it was the media that brought this stuff into the light and that the victims are the children, the good priests and nuns, and the Catholic faithful. This, my friends, is not Catholic bashing; it’s responsible editorial journalism. Here are some good words of hers:

In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading “gossip,” of going into “attack mode” and showing “bias.”

But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press–the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe–has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn’t be saying j’accuse but thank you.

Without this pressure–without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts–the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.

I also saw this piece by Donna Freitas on how her Catholic faith has survived a stalking experience.

There are three great groups of victims in this story. The first and most obvious, the children who were abused, who trusted, were preyed upon and bear the burden through life. The second group is the good priests and good nuns, the great leaders of the church in the day to day, who save the poor, teach the immigrant, and, literally, save lives. They have been stigmatized when they deserve to be lionized. And the third group is the Catholics in the pews–the heroic Catholics of America and now Europe, the hardy souls who in spite of what has been done to their church are still there, still making parish life possible, who hold high the flag, their faith unshaken. No one thanks those Catholics, sees their heroism, respects their patience and fidelity. The world thinks they’re stupid. They are not stupid, and with their prayers they keep the world going, and the old church too.

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Wolf Paul

posted April 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Most of the criticism of the press I have seen does not talk about “Catholic bashing” but adresses the very determined effort of some media to portray Pope Benedict as the chief obfuscator, even when their own “supporting” documents contradict that idea (as in the case of last week’s NYT piece), and regardless of witness statements to the contrary.
In that they are not doing anyone a favor.

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Catholic Mike in Georgia

posted April 5, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Even an oligarchy needs checks and balances. The press has performed admirably. Many years ago I learned decision making is easy when your values are clearly understood. The decisions made by Catholic leaders in this matter demonstrated their true values. That which you treasure is where your heart is and the bishops and cardinals treasured protecting and insulating the church heirarchy more than they treasured the emotional needs of men, women, and children who kneel and pray every day or week in the churches around the world.
I abandoned the Catholic CHURCH when it was obvious the needs of the CHURCH were put ahead of the needs of the people, both guilty and innocent. My faith is not based on a physical structure or a bishop or a pope so I need none of those humanized elements to practice my faith in God and Jesus. I feel no spiritual obligation to support a human created heirarchy which is corrupted by sin and blind to the needs of the people.
It is sinful to put children in harm’s way and that is clearly what took place.
Too bad the justice department can’t go RICO on them and bankrupt them back to ground zero. Start over. Clean slate. Maybe even put government overseers in place. That would teach them all a lesson about their civil duties which parallel their spiritual duties. The Catholic CHURCH cannot be above the law.

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posted April 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm

You may wish to revise and extend your remarks in light of yet more information that has come out of that extensive pile of documents just released.
“The abuse cases of two priests in Arizona have cast further doubt on the Catholic church’s insistence that Pope Benedict XVI played no role in shielding pedophiles before he became pope.
Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.
In another Tucson case, that of Msgr. Robert Trupia, the bishop wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005. Bishop Manuel Moreno called Trupia “a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that he many have contact with.” There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded.”
It seems that each day brings yet another set of documents that unsettles the settled question of Pope Benedict’s actions in the past.

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posted April 5, 2010 at 4:28 pm

“Too bad the justice department can’t go RICO on them and bankrupt them back to ground zero.”
If it were a non-religious organization this path would already have been taken.

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posted April 5, 2010 at 4:31 pm

At the risk of sounding like someone defending Satan himself, I think that some of the priests were given to the priestly life when they were too young and when they started to have sexual feelings, they did not know how to deal with them because of the represive nature of the religion. They too were victims in this….

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Phil Atley

posted April 5, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Noonan is just plain wrong. The original NYTimes piece was based on “documents” supplied by the lawyers, documents now known to be fraudulent. The supposed author of the handwritten document on the NYTimes website says that it is not his handwriting and that the canonical case for laicization of Fr. Murphy was not terminated by the Vatican, rather, it ended because the priest died. He points out that no newspaper anywhere in the world ever contacted him–a violation of elementary journalistic method. What these media people are doing is acting as mouthpieces for the lawyers.
It ought to be obvious to anyone that the lawyers, esp. Jeffrey Anderson, have an axe to grind. That means that anyone venturing into this territory needs to have a hermeneutic of suspicion.
There is plenty of blame to be directed at priests and bishope, including Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee. But I have to insist that in this case, the effort to blame Benedict is simply, flatly wrong. No one has done more inside the Vatican to reform the procedures than did Cardinal Ratzinger from 2001 onward. Before that time most cases never reached the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (only if they involved abuse of the confessional).
Noonan is just being contrarian, as she loves to do–most people in her circle rightly fault the press’s jinned up efforts to blame Benedict; she has to go the other direction. Noonan never is very analytical–she’s an emotive, idiosyncratic writer. Why post this particular piece, Scot, when there are so many other thoughtful, carefully written discussions out there on this topic–John Allen, for one.

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Phil Atley

posted April 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm

To Hlvanburen
You illustrate my point made in my previous comment. You naively believe what the AP writes. The AP selectively reported the facts in the Arizona case. Here’s what they failed to mention:
* Again, the abuse took place decades ago.
* The priest was suspended by his bishop (there was no cover-up in this case).
* There was a canonical trial in the diocese. As required by church law, it was referred to Rome, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, because it concerned a case of the confessional.
* It was determined that he should be dismissed from the clerical state.
* The appeal process was drawn out for several years because the laws and canonical process of these clerical cases was being overhauled.
* Card. Ratzinger was the one who led the charge for the changes to streamline the process.
* When the new procedures went into effect, the Holy See moved swiftly to dismiss him from the clerical.
* Once again this is a case of lawyers for victims who gave the documents (obviously incomplete) to the Associated Press.
NOTA BENE: the delay in laicization came not from the Vatican but from the appeal by the priest.
People believe whatever the AP or the NYTimes writes when it concerns “the Other” (the Catholic Church). Why don’t you have a the same hermeneutic of suspicion for the AP or the NYT that you would have if the accused was your own pastor or your own cousin or the president of your school or your employer?
I repeat, there was plenty of terrible wrong done decades ago by priests and bishops.
But the present campaign to try to destroy Benedict has other motives. Some want him taken down because he defends traditional theology and sexual morality. Some want him taken down because they hate everything Christian. Some, I’m sure, have other motives.
Non-Catholics need to learn to evaluate information about Catholicism critically. Right now they are gunning for the pope. But they will turn their guns on other defenders of traditional sexual morality later.
Decry the terrible (mostly homosexual) abuse that took place in the 1970s and 1980s and the cover-up by bishops then. But don’t fall for the effort to employ those wrongdoings to bring down the pope.
Martin Niemoller: When they came for the pope, I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t a papist. Then they came for . . . .

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posted April 5, 2010 at 7:10 pm

“* The appeal process was drawn out for several years because the laws and canonical process of these clerical cases was being overhauled.”
Ah…so when folks complain about how long it takes to fire teachers who abuse children, we can point to the Holy See and say, “good things take time.”
Thanks for explaining that.

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Mark Syman

posted April 5, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Peggy Noonan: “The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals”
What a joke, the liberal press hates the Catholic Church and does everything possible to make the Church look bad, even promoting fraudulent documents.
Peggy Noonan has been getting pretty wacky the last 5 years.

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posted April 5, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Phil Atley, thanks for your comment. It is undeniably true that this terrible, awful story had to be brought to light. It also is unfortunately true that lots of people want to discredit the Catholic Church. It seems you can take neither the press nor the Vatican at face value here.
The Freitas comments are wonderful and hopeful.
I still wonder this: will we evangelicals look at the log in our own eye about this very issue? How much sexual abuse goes on among the “Priests” in our congregations — not only by pastors, but also by lay people who are among the priesthood of all believers? What accountability mechanisms do we have in place here?

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Scot McKnight

posted April 5, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Phil, send me the link, I’ll read it, and see what I think. I have no axe to grind on this one; but I have to say I’m not keen on ad hominem arguments and you’re doing some of that with Noonan, calling into question her credibility and then inferring what she says is wrong.
Do you think the Catholic Church has handled these cases — Ireland, Germany, Boston — properly?

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posted April 5, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Isn’t it meant to be the church leadership itself who are required to “out” one of their own if they misbehave (1 Tim 5:20-21)? If the church isn’t the first to go public, the media will soon do so…

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Diane Reynolds

posted April 6, 2010 at 8:52 am

Like the 99% of priests who go faithfully about their business 99% of religion journalists do too. I speak as a former one. Like everyone else, journalists rely on establishing relationships. A journalist hostile to the religious world won’t survive. This is especially so in religion, I believe, because of the high levels of distrust of the “media.” I hope we can lay to rest the idea that the Catholic church scandal is being fanned by Catholic-hating reporters. The church brought its troubles on itself. It bothers me that people try to blame the messenger.

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Phil Atley

posted April 6, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I was traveling today and could not respond until now.
Links: — the Milwaukee canonical judge who was eyewitness to what happened in 1996 and who says that the documents posted on the NYTimes website and attributed to him are not in his handwriting, which points to fraud of some sort on the part of Jeffrey Anderson who, presumably, supplied them to the NYTimes. — a good analysis by a sociologist of exactly how the current frenzy was jinned up — George Weigel?s take — a witty article by Mark Shea in his inimitable style.
Regarding ad hominems, I described Noonan?s style, which is quite consistent and noticeable. She?s not a frontline analyst–that has never been her forte. In the past ten years she has become quite inconsistent. Those are my assessments of her work. I used to read her regularly and with enjoyment. She has become nearly unreadable in recent years. In this particular case, it is simply not correct to say that we should thank the media for this particular media frenzy. She might have a point with regard to the early 1990s and to 2002.
But (I reiterate with emphasis): my criticism of the press here (including Noonan) is specifically about their attempt to link this to Benedict. That attempt is utterly and I do mean utterly, groundless.
In regard to the larger issue,there have been a total of 6 credible accusations of sexual abuse against Catholic priests in the US in the past year. Things really have changed since the 1990s and 2002. Meanwhile, sexual abuse is EXPLODING in other venues. Noonan is simply wrong to thank the press for this particular campaign. It is not a general exposure of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It is very specifically and viciously aimed at Benedict.
These are elementary points of analysis that should be among the first things one considers when deciding whether to create a thread on this topic and, if so, which article to employ to get the ball rolling.

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Phil Atley

posted April 6, 2010 at 8:51 pm


posted April 9, 2010 at 9:45 am

IMO the same kind abuse is likely whenever you get children away from their parents for long periods of time in a situation where typically no one cares or loves them. Typically the child trusts no one and finds a way to survive on their own or goes under and sometimes eventually commits suicide or gives up on life. I first went to kindergarten at a boarding school and finally got out of boarding schools at the end of grade 11. For grade 6 and 9 I was with my parents at least part of the time. The boarding schools that I was interned in were run by foreign Protestant evangelical missions so this problem does not only occur in the RC church. All the same kinds of abuse occurred sadism, sexual, bullying and on and on.
The RC church does need to find a way to clean up it’s act and figuring out how to do that is a difficult problem given their theological position which IMO is untenable in the long term.
Sent a copy of this to Noonan as well.

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