It is an honor, of sorts, to have one’s Lenten penances externally imposed, and the whole Church has shared in this honor this year. Led by an ignorant and malicious attack in the New York Times, the liberal media internationally have been doing everything in their power to pin something — anything — on Pope Benedict XVI. A series of “try ons” has been mounted, with the help of internal Church documents such as old memoranda, to advance the unlikely thesis that, as archbishop of Munich and Freising, or later as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former Joseph Ratzinger knowingly participated in a cover-up of some child-molesting priest or priests, and then acted in a way to put other children at risk.
There is not space in this column to go into the fine details of either the case of Rev. Peter Hullermann in Germany or of Rev. Lawrence Murphy of Wisconsin, let alone the numerous supplementary “me too” stories about people alleging that “the pope knew everything” in various local media, travelling the world in the age of Internet. Suffice to say, a Catholic or any man of goodwill, with minimal search skills, will soon find sufficient information to rebut these charges. They rest on speculation as flimsy as the fact Ratzinger was copied on a memo that he obviously never read (in the German case), or on nothing at all (in the American). Those with some elementary knowledge of how the Catholic Church works will quickly grasp the staggering misrepresentations in published reports.
The sleaziest of media pundits — for example, Christopher Hitchens and Maureen Dowd — have gone to town with widely circulated diatribes in which malignant speculation is mounted on malignant speculation, and Benedict’s guilt is entirely assumed. But even the more responsible reports, which confute themselves by adding a little context in the final paragraphs, have sailed under headlines and ledes designed to convince the half-attentive general reader that “there is smoke, so surely there is fire.”
We can only hope that with the failure of their assault, the focus will eventually turn onto the media themselves. Given their habitual non-interest in fine details of ecclesiastical governance, how did they come to be combing through old files? Who supplied the New York Times in particular with the materials now linked — a careful examination of which actually shows that, first, Ratzinger was at no point directly involved in the Father Murphy case; and second, his office handled the matter responsibly and correctly from the point of view of either canon or criminal law, and made not the slightest effort to hush up anything? The most likely answer is: enemies of the pope and of the orthodoxy he articulates, within the Church herself.
We may hope; but as someone who works in the news and entertainment “media” (the two functions have long ceased to be distinguishable), I think we can wait until after we are dead. For the media are not in the habit of turning the lens of scandal upon themselves, and they have the last word when it comes even to reporting what their victims said in defending themselves.
The effect of all this anti-Catholic malice was brought home to me in the case of a cleaning lady who works for a friend. A devout and simple woman, attending daily Mass, and working to support herself through widowhood, my friend found her in a state of agitation bordering on despair. She had seen headlines in newspapers and heard talk on TV and was under the impression that the Holy Father had himself been caught molesting children. Which, in turn, is exactly the impression for which I am sure the headline writers were striving.
I could go on — at indefinite length, with anecdotes of the kind and flavor of anti-Catholic bigotry to be found in progressive newsrooms, and more generally among the smug. At the risk of slander, I would recall in more than one instance the gleeful way in which some person of dubious sexual proclivity himself mounted a high moral horse to hurl mud at the Church. Yet I doubt a reader of this Web site would be much surprised by any of it.
The impression that pedophilia happens, and gets covered up, only within the Catholic Church — or perhaps also in the Boy Scouts of America — is one that has been cultivated for many years among the liberal elites. That this meme defies logic and common sense goes without saying — but it needs to be said. It further needs to be said that the motive for the imaginative forensic examination of Church scandals has little or nothing to do with the protection of the innocent.
The fact that the Catholic Church has done more than any institution in society, religious or secular, to root out pedophiles and other sexual deviants, goes unreported; though at some point it is likely to attract additional defamation, because the whole operation is politically incorrect. For everywhere we look in secular society, we find the opposite effort: to remove the “stigma” associated with all sexual activity previously held to be perverted.
This is a painful business. But so was the conversation in the garden of Gethsemane. It is something that we must go through, in the path of Christ, toward Good Friday.