Monday March 22, 2010

Media Attacks Mounting against Pope over Irish Abuse Letter

By Hilary White

ROME, March 22, 2010 ( – The secular mainstream media has reacted to the release of the letter from the pope this weekend on the Irish sexual abuse scandal, calling it a “failure,” in some cases even before it could have been read. While Pope Benedict XVI clearly stated his apology to the victims of clergy abuse and to the Irish people, headlines from nearly all major news outlets have appeared saying he has failed to assuage anger.

The letter was issued on Saturday in response the government’s Murphy Report of decades of cover-up of clerical sexual abuse of children in Dublin diocese. The pope said in the letter that he shares the “dismay and the sense of betrayal” felt by the Irish people at these “sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.” For those clergy who abused young people, Benedict had harsh words of condemnation: “You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God.”

The media, however, particularly in Britain, has pounced on the letter, calling it a “disappointment.”

After the news broke late last week that the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, had apologized for his role as a young priest in covering up the activities of a notorious pedophile priest, the admission was used as a launching point by many news outlets to declare that the pope is losing his fight to contain the damage to the Church.

Among the hundreds of headlines were, from the Times of London: “Papal letter to Ireland released amid mounting clamour for an apology”; from CBS: “Pope’s Apology Not Enough?”; from the New York Times: “Pope’s Letter Does Little to Assuage Irish Anger”; and from Australia’s The Age: “Pope’s words of remorse fall flat for abuse victims.”

The Times wrote, “The pastoral letter has already been judged a failure by many,” although no one specific person was quoted who holds this opinion. Referring to the Cardinal Brady incident, the Times’s Richard Owen and David Sharrock opined that the letter “is unlikely to have been redrafted to take account of this week’s events in Ireland and it will fail in its purpose if it does not include an apology.”

The attack has been so bitter that it prompted a response today from some high-ranking prelates, including Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, who accused the media of a “campaign” of abuse toward the pontiff and the Church. Bagnasco said the Church is “not afraid of the truth, however painful and detestable” but opposes “generalised campaigns to discredit it.”

Bishop Gerhard Ludwing Mueller of Regensburg, Germany, also decried “a campaign against the Church,” saying, “[The media] are manipulating the people who sit in front of a television or open up a newspaper with their twisted and shortened reports.”

Even Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, himself no stranger to scandal and media condemnation, condemned the attacks, saying in a statement that the pope and the Church are victims of “prejudiciously hostile feelings.”

In his letter Benedict highlighted the changes in the modern, post-1960s Church in Ireland and elsewhere that he said have contributed to the disaster. In the increasingly secularized Irish society, the Church, Benedict said, abandoned traditional religious practices that had bolstered the religious faith of the people, leaving them open to the whims of the secular world.

“Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.”

He added, “Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found.”

Benedict condemned the “tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures” that contributed to the cover-up. He also pointed to “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal,” that the Irish government’s independent reports had uncovered as being rife throughout the abuse scandals. This, the pope said, resulted “in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person.”

While four of the five bishops named in the government’s Murphy Report have resigned, calls continue from laity in Ireland for the resignation of the fifth, Martin Drennan, Bishop of Galway, and of other and more senior prelates. Pope Benedict, however, had only encouragement for the remaining bishops, saying that during meetings in Rome last month, “Our discussions were frank and constructive.”

“I am confident that, as a result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position to carry forward the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the broader issues associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.”

Hatred of Pope Benedict and by extension Catholicism is well established in the mainstream media, dating from long before the last conclave, but is now being fanned to a fever pitch in Britain, where the pope is scheduled to travel later this year. One commentator on BBC Radio 4 said on Saturday that she wanted to see the Pope “prostrate in the dust, begging for forgiveness.” Some media outlets have participated in the dissemination of a petition calling for the Vatican to foot the bill for the papal visit.