Monday, April 12, 2010

Toward a unified theory of lies and distortions about the Pope

Once again the defenders of truth, justice, and the anti-Catholic way are engaging in their anti-Catholicism by making a mockery of truth and justice.

The most recent excuse for completely disregarding facts and evidence in their campaign to smear the Pope is another misleading press report that leaves out crucial aspects of a child abuse case, making it appear that then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, had something to do with hindering the prosecution of a pedophile priest. This is just the latest episode in a series of such smears that have emanated from the AP and the New York Times. In the Times report on the case of a Milwaukee priest, it turned out that Ratzinger was not involved at all and the Times got the quotes it said were from the judge in the case from a memo hand-written by someone else. Oh, and there was that little matter of getting their information from people who had a vested interested in a legal case against the Church.

It's enough to give lies and distortions a bad name.

Now the Associated Press seems to be vying for the most lowdown outlet for untruth--with a little help from its friends.

Of course, all the usual suspects have taken the AP report, like the Times report and spread it far and wide without actually checking to see whether it is accurate. "Pope put off punishing abusive priest," claims the headline, after which comes the claim that the future Pope, "signed a letter saying that the case needed more time and that 'the good of the Universal Church' had to be considered in the final decision, according to church documents released through lawsuits."

Now when the reader of the earlier New York Times hit job read the documents the paper linked to about the Milwaukee case, it turned out that the major claim of the story was completely fabricated. Without doubt the AP wouldn't make the same mistake.

Without doubt.

And surely those who uncritically passed along the dubious allegations of the Times piece had enough sense to delve a little more deeply into the AP charges so as to preserve at least a semblance of credibility on this issue.


But as soon as the AP report hit, the voices that bit on the last piece of anti-Catholic bait bit again. Hard.

Now comes our old friend Josh Rosenau at the National Council for Science Education, passing along the same charge that it is not a few bishops at the local level who have botched the handling of child abuse cases (which we know without question to be true), but the Vatican itself that has done it--and linking us to erroneous reports to back him up. Let's just hope this handful of wayward bishops don't botch their jobs of protecting their flocks the way Rosenau has botched his job of reporting on it.

Now I have tried to hold my tongue on Rosenau's perennially silly posts, but I'll admit: I'm a sucker when it comes to excruciatingly boneheaded attacks on the Church. They're just hard to resist.

Interestingly, Rosenau's most recent effort has him siding with a pedophile priest. It was the pedophile priest who petitioned to be released from his priestly vows. Here is an excerpt from the originating letter of John Cummins, the Bishop of Oakland, to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981:
I wish to present the petition of Father Stephen Kiesle for laicization. He wishes to return to the lay state and to be relieved of all the obligations of the priesthood, including celibacy.
Of course Rosenau doesn't mention this in his post on the incident, an oversight that, if made by someone he disagreed with, would immediately be grounds for questioning their motives (Josh has kind of a thing for that). We won't do that here of course, and will just assume that Rosenau was just sloppy and careless. But given this fact, it would be interesting to hear Rosenau's argument for how releasing the priest from his vow of celibacy would make it less likely that he might abuse children.

It would be a bit of sophistry few could accomplish, but when it comes to sophistry, Rosenau is a seasoned veteran.

In fact, the issue of letting him out of his vows had literally nothing to do with disciplining the priest for the sexual abuse. Nothing. It is a completely different issue with completely different implications for everyone involved.

One of the issues in the case was that the diocese apparently continued to allow him within the vicinity of children, and the people busy trying to put the rap on the Pope for this seem to assume a) that Ratzinger knew about this (there is no evidence he did), and that b) letting him out of his vows was necessary to keep him away from children (which is simply false). If he was near children, it was the fault of diocese officials plain and simple. There was simply nothing that prevented them from taking more care with the priest.

Rosenau proclaims, "As Ratzinger dithered, the priest returned to ministry and began volunteering at a youth ministry." And this was Ratzinger's fault? Only priests can volunteer at youth ministries? In fact, the story from which Rosenau quotes tells exactly what happened at the diocese and makes it clear that it is was first mishandled and then corrected there. The Vatican had nothing to do with it. Nada. If Rosenau or any of the other Keystone Kritics have proof that Ratzinger was somehow responsible for putting the guy in the vicinity of children, then they ought to produce it. In the case at hand their best case consists of the fact that the Vatican did not efficiently handle the case of the priest seeking to escape his vows at a time when the system was apparently clogged with many priests seeking the same thing.

Was the bureaucratic process too slow? Clearly. But does that mean that the slow reaction of the Vatican made it responsible for the actions it wasn't in any way responsible for? Just because the Church's critics engage in hasty judgment and jump to conclusions doesn't mean that the Church is somehow obliged to do so as well.

In fact, the AP article also mentions that several charges against the priest had to be dropped when the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations on child molestation cases. So why isn't Rosenau arguing that the U. S. Supreme Court is somehow at fault for the priest's roaming the streets? Their decision is just as irrelevant on that score as is any of Ratzinger's actions.

Rosenau, however, cloistered in his study doing his graduate work, not responsible for anything in the way of a worldwide church with hundreds of millions of members, has a competent grip on the situation:
Surveying the mess that the Pope made of this issue – the casual indifference to life and health – is sobering business. Not, I dare say, as sobering as the loss of life and health in Massey Energy's coal mines.
Now if you never saw a forced transition, you just did.

But the only problem is the Pope has not made a mess of the issue and has in fact done more to address this particular problem in the Church than any other single individual--despite the reckless charges of those who not only pass along flawed reports of the situation, but ought to know better.

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