Abusing the Catholic Church
I normally like The New York Times, but it seems to have been on a crusade lately to abuse and discredit the Catholic church.
Here is what everyone (including Pope Benedict) agrees about:
- Child abuse must be prevented as much as possible and punished when it occurs.
- A tiny minority of priests have abused children (defined as anyone under 18).
- All child abuse is wrong but it is not all the same. Sexually assaulting a five-year-old is different from having a consensual sexual relationship with a seventeen-year-old, though both are included under the definition of “child abuse.”
- The Catholic church has not done enough to prevent child abuse by priests. A few times, it has failed shamefully.
Here is what most news articles, including those in The New York Times, seem to forget or ignore:
- To be accused of a crime is not the same thing as being convicted of a crime.
- Just like anyone else, accused priests are entitled to due process and a presumption of innocence. That doesn’t mean that church officials were right when they did almost nothing in response to abuse accusations, which has happened in a few highly-publicized cases. But it does mean that the news media’s apparent demand to “shoot them first and then have a trial” is equally wrong.
- Most cases of Catholic child abuse involved gay priests having consensual sexual relationships with teenaged boys. That is still wrong and still child abuse, but the idea of “child abuse” starts to stretch a lot when the “child” is a high school senior.
Reporters at The Times have been on a frantic hunt for anything they could pin on Pope Benedict to show that he was negligent in preventing child abuse. So far, the best they’ve come up with is the case of a priest in Wisconsin who abused deaf boys starting in the 1950s.
While the Times article practically screams its headline “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys,” it “buries” some important facts down in the middle of the article:
- The priest abused children from the 1950s until his retirement in 1974.
- By the time that the Archbishop of Milwaukee alerted the Vatican to the situation, it was 1996. The abusive priest was long retired, had confessed and repented, and was dying. He was no longer a danger to anyone. Yes, you can argue that he still should have been punished. You can also argue that he should have been allowed to die in peace. The Catholic church is in the compassion business. Its decision was not surprising or shameful in that case.
- The archbishop’s letter went to church officials working under Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict. But there was no evidence that Cardinal Ratzinger was personally involved in the case, despite the Times’s breathless insinuations to the contrary. If anyone was negligent, it was the Archbishop of Milwaukee.
One of my uncles, who is Jewish but has written a history of the Catholic church, said it very well: The church’s most relentless critics “don’t have anything against gay relationships but they do have something against an organization that claims timeless and unchanging moral authority.”
The current crusade against the Catholic church seems to be only incidentally about preventing child abuse. It seems to be mainly about discrediting the ideas and moral authority that the church represents.
Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.