Blundering the Defense

This is ministry?

Should victims and their families take comfort in the notion that if a priest didn’t abuse them, it probably would have happened anyway at school, in a medical clinic, or with a grandparent or uncle?

Let’s be clear: the secular media have gotten details wrong in their feeding frenzy over the bishops’ scandal. That shouldn’t be surprising. Journalists aren’t theologians, nor are they scientists, athletes, politicians, philosophers, or celebrities. Journalists make mistakes all the time when they lack proper depth to get details right. But they aren’t composing a catechism. They are breaking stories not about child abuse–that’s no longer news on a big scale. They are reporting that all over the world, bishops have behaved badly. It might not be insolence. But ignorant incompetence is just as damaging. And certainly newsworthy.

Through his Irish letter, the pope admits he got it wrong with the Munich priest. A bishop is responsible. End of story. Pope Benedict is not a hero yet, but he might be in the best position to be one for the healing of victims and their loved ones and for a renewed fruitfulness of modern episcopal ministry.

Our response to the errors of the media: calmly correct errors, then move on. Attacking the side players and appealing to conspiracy theories is the stuff of the family members and close friends of addicts. Alcoholics frequently protest that everyone else is screwed up. Addicts of drugs, sex, or food are quick to blame other people, even their closest family members.

The Twelve Steps contain the wisdom the Church needs. In being confronted by their errors, the hierarchy would do well to adopt steps four and five:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

Addicts do realize the roots of their addiction. Some were abused as a child. Some were raised in dysfunctional homes. Some were themselves victims of heinous crimes.

The Twelve Steps do not include this:

Brooding over injuries or happiness that others have transgressed.

The urge to defend the innocent is a good urge. It was championed by the Lord himself and countless saints. We have been confronted with crimes against those not only innocent, but powerless in the face of abuse. They did not have blogs or media organs at their disposal to fight back. They suffered in silence, unlike the bishops whose protestations of innocence are not only public, but backed up by scores of defenders.

Archbishop Dolan, George Weigel, and others would do well to keep their eyes on the ball here. Correct errors simply and without undue criticism. Then attend to the deeply wounded with singlemindedness.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Blundering the Defense

  1. Liam says:

    Perfectly put.

  2. bill bannon says:

    You are brave and greatly in danger of being thrown into a category as Chaput apparently was some months ago when he mentioned his notice of certain mean people in our body who had emailed him. Catholicism is like one of those beautiful geodes that have a center like a jewel but on the outside, there is a human crust that is not pretty. That is what you are seeing in this crisis…crust for the main part. The number of writers and editors involved on the Benedict as deficient side is actually a handful but in the paranoid spirit of the day, we somehow know that they are legion really and are really motivated by issues they never mentioned. “Reading of hearts” is a charism in rare saints but faking “reading of hearts” is actually the sin of rash suspicion.

  3. Sam Schmitt says:

    “Let’s be clear: the secular media have gotten details wrong in their feeding frenzy over the bishops’ scandal.”

    “The details?” No, Todd, they didn’t just get the “details” wrong. I don’t expect sports reporters to be athletes, or art critics to be professional musicians or painters, but I do expect them to quote accurately, check their sources, and present both sides of a story. The NYT did not do this but made irresponsible and unfounded claims in their stories, and they should be brought to task for this. It isn’t a matter of “details.” I can’t believe you take the NYT at face value that much.

    “Mistakes?” OK, let’s say they weren’t deliberate. Manslaughter is not deliberate but you’re still culpable for it.


    In all honesty, I do not remember this memo but I do admit to being wrong on this issue and I apologize for my mistake. Father Murphy’s death 2 days after Archbishop Weakland’s August 19, 1998 letter made the matter moot as de-facto death permanently abated the case. I again, am sorry for my mistake and for making a very complicated and painful case even more complicated and painful.

    Er, if you explore, sadly, it is not the NYT which has made gross errors; they are imperfect, but it is interesting that those who have made the claims against the NYT have had to consistently say “sorry, I was wrong” many times. Why?

  5. smf says:

    One of the Italian papers had a piece a while back that the NYT had based an entire line of its attack on a grossly incorrect translation from Italian to English. The letter from Rome to the bishop had been incorrectly translated by a free online automatic translator program. The Times used this incorrect translation as a key point in their case against the current Pope’s actions.

    Certain elements of the press have not interest in getting the details right or even in telling the truth. They are interested in selling a story, particularly if it is one the public is willing to buy and one that fits their own agenda.

    Their really are enemies of the church out there trying to destroy the church.

    There are also lots of blundering idiots inside and outside the church who are probably causing more damage than the malicious folks are.

    After all, I was once told it is better to suspect ignorance, even stupidity, than malice.

  6. Sam Schmitt says:

    At least the good Fr. apologized.

    Thnnk the NYT will follow suit . . . .


  7. Jimmy Mac says:

    What is needed in these cases is a review by qualified, well-versed LAITY assisted when needed by canon lawyers, with the duty and right to make the final decision. A bishop should be able to overrule this decision only in very few cases, and that veto would be subject to appeal by the group established to review the case to begin with.

    The idea that clergy have the right to have the final say when dealing with miscreant clergy is nonsense!

    The victims are usually not members of the clergy and need to have a majority input into how the guilty party is dealt with.

    Clericalism has lived its day and needs to die and quick and final death.

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