Sed Contra: Delivering Bad News

Deal W. Hudson
October 1, 2002

Some Crisis readers may be startled by the lead story in this issue, “The Price of Priestly Pederasty.” They might argue that such a story damages the Church’s reputation and hurts the Church’s evangelical outreach. While such arguments are plausible, they also can undermine Catholic journalism and its benefits if they are used to discourage serious reporting.

As publisher and editor of a Catholic monthly, I don’t enjoy telling stories like this month’s main feature. The pattern of pedophilia among Catholic clergy may not be statistically greater than among any other group of adult males, but its presence in the Church, along with its financial and spiritual impact, should not be ignored. Why? Because it has to stop. We hope our overview of this unhappy chapter in recent Church history will encourage religious and lay leaders to take whatever measures are necessary to minimize these occurrences.

An independent Catholic monthly has a different response to its readers than a diocesan newspaper. A diocesan newspaper is owned by an archdiocese and is managed by an archbishop. A diocesan paper prints Catholic news but, as the house organ of a diocese, cannot report on episodes embarrassing to the bishop and his diocese.

Independent Catholic magazines and newspapers like Crisis have more journalistic latitude, which should be used for the benefit of the Church and its readership. The Church encourages Catholic journalists who do not work directly for a bishop to report and opine on events that cause all of our discomforts.

Having been part of a movement that decries the influence of the liberal media, I am surprised to find myself asserting the rights and prerogatives of a journalist to publish bad news about the Church. We have come to expect regular Catholic-bashing in the secular media. Perhaps this is one reason why many Catholic journalists have shied away from controversial stories in the past: Their initial impulse is to offset the negative bias of the mainstream media.

Good news inspires, but the lesson it teaches is rarely remembered for very long. Bad news, like the pain of a pulled tooth, burrows more deeply into our consciousness. Call it penitential, if you like.

Independent Catholic magazines and newspapers should demand more from their editors and reporters. Armchair musings on the state of the Church do little to encourage positive change in the Church and its various institutions. How many times are we going to be subjected to large-scale critiques of the Church from G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis wanna-bes? I hate to say it, but we need more reporters and fewer philosophers in our business.

My one reluctance in publishing this story is my sympathy for our bishops. Our bishops are held responsible for every mishap that occurs within the parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service organizations of their dioceses. Not only do they have to manage hundreds, if not thousands, of personnel; they also have to run a large nonprofit enterprise that makes payroll every week. Thus, bishops and their staff are expected to be experts in business practices in addition to theology, morality, politics, liturgy, and even architecture.

Our cover story sends a message to all diocesan administrators that the screening of future priests and their seminary formation must be monitored more closely. It must be recognized from the outset that pedophilia is a disorder different from homosexuality and, according to present evidence, much more difficult to alter or control. Pedophilia cannot be “managed” just by placing someone in a new environment.

There are those who argue that in certain dioceses a laxness toward certain “lifestyles” has caused this situation. If there is indeed a general climate of sexual permissiveness among the clergy, this will only aggravate any inclination toward pedophilia.

Looking forward, the situation must be remedied and—to judge from all the evidence I’ve seen—is being remedied. Some dioceses have longstanding procedures regarding screening and treatment; others have learned the hard way.

We can all hope that the worst of this story is in our past and pray that a lesson has been learned.

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