15 August 2019, The Tablet

Don’t shoot the messenger, your eminence


The gross evil of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy would have gone unexposed had it not been for three principal agencies, all secular. In the lead were the media, both electronic and print. They were followed by the police and other statutory agencies; and then came the courts. By contrast, the Church’s own investigations have made comparatively little impact.

This should have induced the Church to show profound gratitude and humility towards the media. Countless lives of innocent children would have been blighted by continuing sexual abuse by priests, had the media not listened to the stories of courageous survivors and exposed the perpetrators and those who tried to cover up their crimes. Pope Francis has acknowledged this debt to journalists, but elsewhere in the Church the response has been more grudging. It is also true that investigative journalists do sometimes go after their targets too hard, and have published stories that lack balance or have been later found to be false. The issue of paedophilia is highly emotional. Judgements are easily swayed by bias.
The latest in the long line of such scandals has unfolded on the Pacific island of Guam. And it was an investigation by a US news agency – Associated Press – that has exposed a disgraceful culture of clerical abuse. Not long before that, a documentary made by Polish film-makers and shown on YouTube suggested that at least 300 priests had been guilty of child abuse, while the church authorities either ignored the complaints or moved paedophile priests from parish to parish. The classic case, made into the film Spotlight, was the investigation by the Boston Globe into child abuse in the Boston, Massachusetts, archdiocese, which led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, who had fought tooth and nail to put the journalists off the scent and derail the inquiry.

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