Yesterday the New York Times made the case that Pope Benedict knew more, and did more to cover-up the actions of paedophile priests, than has previously been supposed. This has prompted another offensive from the Vatican, accusing the media of smear campaign against the Pope.
As reported in today’s Irish Times,
The Vatican angrily attacked the media over its reporting of sexual abuse of children by priests, saying there was an "ignoble attempt" to smear Pope Benedict "at any cost."
Benedict’s actions have been marked by "transparency, firmness and severity in shedding light on the various cases of sexual abuse committed by priests and clergymen," the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said in a front-page article.
It lashed out at what it said was a "prevailing trend in the media" to ignore facts and spread an image of the Catholic Church "as if it were the only one responsible for sexual abuses – an image that does not correspond to reality."
Also jumping to the Pope’s defence is the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. Writing in The Times, he says,
What of the role of Pope Benedict? When he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he led important changes made in church law: the inclusion in canon law of internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse offences to include the sexual abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statue of limitation and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders. He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words.
There may be some small bit of substance to the Vatican’s complaints about the media, although to be honest, I struggle to find any substance.
But even so, such a defensive posture – bordering on a persecution complex – is not going to play well with victims, survivors, and all of those who are currently so disillusioned with the Catholic Church.
Defensiveness is not endearing. To many, it will look like the Catholic Church is, once again, simply trying to avoid taking responsibility for its actions.
As Nichols says, actions speak as well as words. But despite the examples Nichols gives, I think that most of the Catholic Church’s actions in relation to clerical sex abuse have not been helpful.
Yes, it is true that the Catholic Church is not the ‘only one responsible for sexual abuses.’
But I think the faithful expected a higher standard from the church. The Catholic Church has set itself up in many countries as the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. If it can’t be trusted to deal with its own sins in a manner that is more transparent and more just than the civil authorities, what does that say?
How can it be wrong for the media to expose the actions of the Catholic Church? In the absence of any attempt at comprehensive confession and genuine repentance (by that I mean a repentance of meaningful action, not empty words) on the part of the Church hierarchy, we are left with the media to lift the veil on what was happening for so long behind so many closed doors.