In an exclusive for These Stone Walls, Catholic author David F. Pierre, Jr takes a soul-searching measure of the Catholic media at this time of crisis in the Church.
Introduction by Father Gordon MacRae: I wrote a post for this week with a searing assessment of the media and moral crisis that now embroils the Catholic Church in America. Then noted Catholic writer, David F. Pierre, Jr. sent me a stunning article that is a perfect prelude to next week’s post on These Stone Walls.
It is an honor this week to present this guest post by Dave Pierre, moderator of The Media Report and author of Catholic Priests Falsely Accused and Sins of the Press. David’s writings have also appeared at Catholic World Report and numerous other Catholic and secular media venues. Please share this most important contribution to the current state of Catholicism in America. I now present “Losing Perspective: Catholic Media Join the Sex Abuse Pile-On” by David F. Pierre, Jr:
LOSING PERSPECTIVE: CATHOLIC MEDIA NOW JOINING THE SEX ABUSE PILE-ON
By David F. Pierre, Jr.
The high-profile allegations that the prominent Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused seminarians and teenagers decades ago are indeed revolting and maddening. The hearts of all faithful Catholics ache for the unimaginable suffering that anyone may have endured at the hands of Church leaders and others. [See: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Homosexual Matrix by Father Gordon J. MacRae.]
However, when it comes to writing about the McCarrick story, there are signs that some Catholic writers have pushed aside truth to attack those with whom they disagree and further their own ideological agenda.
For example, a prominent Catholic web site recently published the claim from a woman that she was repeatedly abused for years decades ago by a priest who was living at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, New Jersey, at the very same time Theodore McCarrick was bishop there.
It is a startling story indeed. The woman all but stated that McCarrick endorsed her abuse. Except there was one major problem with her narrative: The diocese said there was “no record showing [the priest] having lived with then-Bishop McCarrick at the Cathedral.”
In other words, the woman’s story didn’t check out at all. There would be more than enough justification not to believe her story and surely good reason not to publish her tale. (The woman was also promoting a book she had written.) But because the woman’s story had the name “McCarrick” in it, the site rolled out the story anyway under the banner, “Woman abused under McCarrick’s roof,” as if we should accept her story despite the glaring factual issue.
“BITTERNESS, BAD TEMPER, ANGER, EVERY KIND OF MALICE”
For many years I have been sensing a palpable fear among many Catholic writers, a fear that they will be accused of being “soft” or “silent” in their reporting on the issue of clergy sex abuse, or worse, that they will be accused of “defending the indefensible” (as I have been).
A result of this fear has been that fairness and historical context have been thrown out the window in writing about the issue of clergy sex abuse. (And, yes, there is a historical context to why Catholic leaders handled cases decades ago the way they did.) It seems there is an untold competition among Catholic writers to see who can appear the most hard-edged and hysterical about these crimes committed decades ago.
However, recently a certain mean-spiritedness has even permeated the reporting in Catholic media, a mean-spiritedness most evident in the recent coverage of the McCarrick story.
Typical of the nastiness has been the treatment of Cardinal Kevin Farrell, who worked with McCarrick in the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., from 2001 to 2006. Farrell has twice voluntarily gone to the media to emphatically deny that he knew anything about McCarrick’s past with regards to seminarians, adding that he was “shocked” when he first heard of the charges against McCarrick.
It is here where I believe Catholic writers may be suffering from a form of insular bias from which they cannot assess a situation clearly.
Take it from someone who still works in the “regular world” and does not make his living writing on a computer. Even if you work closely with someone every day for years, you still know relatively little about them. Sure, you may come to know a bit about your co-workers’ families, a bit about their daily lives, the restaurants they’ve tried. But do you know with whom they socialized last weekend? A year ago? Five years ago? Twenty years ago? No, not at all. Not in the least bit.
In truth, it makes perfect sense that Cardinal Farrell had no idea what was going on at a beach house twenty years before he started working with McCarrick. And Catholic writers are reckless in accusing Farrell of lying without a shred of evidence.
A CALL FOR BALANCE AND SKEPTICISM
And it is a bit disturbing that so many are accusing Cardinal Farrell of lying while at the same time wholeheartedly believing decades-old accusations from anonymous men profiled in the New York Times.
When the Times published its first story back in June claiming abuse in 1971 (47 years ago) by McCarrick, did not a single cleric raise an eyebrow when the accuser – anonymous, of course – claimed that he was abused while his inseam was being measured for a cassock? (Think about it.) Was there not a degree of skepticism when the accuser claimed that this abuse occurred in the sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Christmas Eve, a time when as many as two dozen clerics would have been living there and whose bustling atmosphere would have rivaled Macy’s department store?
When yet another accuser came forward to the Times – this one anonymous also, of course, but going by the name “James” – initially there was little reason not to believe the claims, even if they were a half-century old. Yet after James talked to additional media outlets, obvious contradictions and strange elaborations soon became apparent. By the time he spoke to a popular conservative writer, his story included bizarre roles with Cardinal Law and the notorious Paul Shanley, people he had never previously mentioned when talking to the Times or the Associated Press. Why were there sudden cameo appearances by two of the most notorious names in
the clergy abuse narrative in James’ story?
Fr. Gordon MacRae has been serving time in a New Hampshire prison for nearly a quarter of a century for abuse which evidence concludes never occurred. If he admitted to the crimes for which he was accused, he would have been out of prison ages ago. He writes a weekly blog, and he recently made a salient point about the McCarrick case:
“A man accused of a crime – like the sexual abuse of a 16-year-old – must be judged on the evidence of the crime and not on his reputation. This is why our legal system has so-called ‘rape shield laws.’ A woman who is a victim of assault is protected from having her sexual history placed on trial. The same must be true of a defendant.”
Indeed, just because McCarrick regularly cavorted with gay seminarians at a beach house decades ago does not in itself make the stories in the New York Times about the sexual abuse of minors true. Not a single Catholic writer – with the exception of MacRae in prison, of course – has recognized this truth.
And having studied abuse cases in the Church for quite a while, I can say that the mere fact that the accusers’ decades-old claims have been deemed “credible” and/or “substantiated” have little bearing on their veracity. As I have written in the past, “credible” could mean as little as that the abuse was geographically possible, that it can be shown that the accuser was merely at a parish at the same time as an accused cleric. The “credible” bar is a very low one indeed.
What do we truly know about the McCarrick scandal? We know he had a beach house. We know that he often invited priests and seminarians there. We know that McCarrick often shared a bed with a guest. We know a lot of clergy were uncomfortable with it.
People ask, “Why didn’t people say anything?” Well, here’s an idea: Maybe there was no abuse. Maybe the whole beach house thing was gay, creepy, and wildly inappropriate, but no one ever felt that the interactions rose to the level of “abuse.” Has anyone ever thought of that?
Yes, gay seminarians and priests should not be sharing a beach house. But was anyone really surprised by this public revelation? Really? If you were, then you really have not been paying attention for the last forty years.
ONE FINAL THING
A lot is being made out of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania which alleges abuse and cover-up spanning decades across dioceses in the state.
But here is some important information: A “grand jury report” is not actually written by jury members. As any lawyer will tell you, the report is written by a district attorney’s office with a predetermined outcome. The people chosen for the jury are merely a formality, window dressing to make the matter legal. There is no fact-checking, and those cited in the report have almost no recourse to defend themselves. A jury member just puts his signature on it to make it official. Press conferences ensue, and hysteria follows.
It is being reported that the PA grand jury report is 800 pages long yet does not recommend a single criminal charge. Many of the priests in the report are long dead. Reported lines such as, “Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing: they hid it all” are nothing but inflammatory and bereft of any proven fact but founded only upon twisted narratives and unsupported assumptions. The truth that countless tax dollars were spent on a report studying actions from many decades ago should raise serious questions among everyone.
And please keep this in mind: One of the last times a grand jury report about the Catholic Church made big news, it was in Philadelphia back in 2011. Mug shots were plastered across the media landscape and endless bandwidth was expended to excoriate the Catholic Church yet again.
It eventually took years for all the facts to come to the surface, but in the end, it turned out that the entire report was a complete work of fiction. Really. Innocent men went to prison, and one priest even died there. The report was a complete crock.
If you didn’t already know this, you should. And when the Pennsylvania grand jury report is eventually released, we should all remember Philadelphia. We can believe that bishops horribly mishandled abuse cases decades ago.
We can believe that an evil culture of homosexual predation has poisoned the Church. We can believe that homosexual priests are still a major problem in the Church today. We can demand change. We can demand a return to orthodoxy, and we should.
But the answer should not be the echo chamber and pile-on that is coming from the Catholic media today.
David F. Pierre, Jr. is the author and creator of TheMediaReport.com, an educational cooperative chronicling and monitoring the mainstream media’s coverage of the Catholic Church sex abuse narrative. He is also the author of three books on the topic.
Editor’s Note: Please share this important post. You may also like these other articles about the ground-breaking Catholic journalism of David F. Pierre, Jr:
- “A Book Every Priest Should Read: Catholic Priests Falsely Accused” by Fr. Gordon MacRae (TSW)
- “Bogus Claims Against Priests Abound“ by Fr. Michael Orsi, (Catalyst)
- “Spotlight on Spin: The Sins of the Press” by David F. Pierre (TSW)
- “The Pulitzer Lies: David and the Truth About Goliath” by Fr. Gordon MacRae (TSW)