Fr James Martin Gets It

Fr James Martin, The Colbert Report’s chaplain, writes extensively for secular media and is therefore well known outside Catholic circles. Lately he has been addressing the pedophilia scandals and, as usual, he shows the type of insight I wish the Vatican would have. His last peace in particular defends the role of secular media in getting the Church to admit its errors rather than blaming the messenger:

But to blame the messenger for this current wave of stories about sexual abuse is, I believe, to miss the point. For instance, a friend of mine told me that at the Chrism Mass, her local bishop told the congregation to cancel their subscriptions to The New York Times, which he called “the enemy.” Besides the fact that a Mass is not the time for a critique of your local newspaper, this overlooks a critical dynamic about the service the media has provided for a church that needed to address a grave problem, but wasn’t doing enough.

To wit: Without the coverage by The Boston Globe in 2002 of the sexual abuse by priests, the Catholic Church in United States would not have confronted the scourge of abuse sexual on a nationwide basis and instituted mandatory guidelines.

Why do I say this? Because years before, in 1985, The National Catholic Reporter reported and editorialized on abuse cases about a notorious Louisiana priest. In great and numbing detail.

What was the response? Well, in 1992, after many closed-door meetings with experts in the intervening years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a series of guidelines on dealing with abuse. These, however, were not binding on the bishops, but voluntary.

But this was nothing along the lines of what happened as a result of the dogged reporting from the Globe (and other media outlets) that began in earnest in early 2002. That is, there was nothing like the extraordinary meeting of American bishops, convened in Dallas in 2002 that produced the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which set forth the nationwide “zero tolerance” policy for abusers. There was no mandatory institution of “safe practices” for every single church institution (parishes, schools, retreat centers) across the country, no mandatory training programs for all priests, deacons and church employees. And there was certainly no creation of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. None of that happened after the 1985 case. But it did after 2002.

What helped to move the church from “voluntary” to “mandatory” was the full-bore coverage of the mainstream media–harsh most of the time, wrong sometimes, motivated by anti-Catholicm very occasionally–but needed by a church that, at least until that point, seemed unwilling to confront fully the widespread nature of the abuse, the systemic structures that caused it and the seriousness of the damage done to children and their families by these crimes.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: