Media Distractions

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As the Mysterious Get Benedict Society campaign to destroy Pope Benedict XVI continues shooting itself in the foot with various false starts, half-baked stories, and tales told by mainstream media idiots, the thing that continues to impress me is the sheer self-contradictory irony of the thing. It’s really quite crushing.
 
We are instructed (just as a pedophile priest might have told one of his victims) that our proper response to the media as Catholics ought to be gratitude for the massive eruption of unapologetic lies that have been told about Benedict over the past month because, you know, we depend on them as the mediators of truth and light, and we would live in darkness but for their ministrations. So yeah, even though they may have committed a few peccadilloes in the performance of their sacred duty, still it would be foul ingratitude for any Catholic to offer them anything but abject thanks for the debt we owe them in saving us. Indeed, we are to take it for granted that, with the sole exception of the fact that the MSM has pretty much gotten everything dead wrong in the whole “Benedict, the Nazi pope, protected perverts and endangered The Children” narrative it has ginned up for the past month, it mostly got everything right. On the other hand, those who question that narrative are “deflecting blame” and not taking that “searching and fearless inventory” of Benedict’s wretched moral failings that the MSM are just about to discover after several false starts, lying headlines, and craptastic pieces of lousy reportage.
 

 
But, nothing daunted by their ignorance and transparent malice, the MSM marches on in its war on Benedict, determined to get the Nazi pope, even if they have to completely throw aside all their journalistic ethics to do it.
 
Much of this is due to pride and vanity as much as to malice against Benedict and the Catholic Faith. When a journalista has documentably screwed up not just once but multiple times in his hysterical vendetta, he presses on, hoping that he can find some sort of dirt to prove that he is the brave crusading journalist and not a hack with a grudge who is afraid of looking stupid. So we keep getting a succession of dramatic “Ah-HA!” flourishes from the press, with the assurance that this time, for sure, they’ve nabbed the Nazi with the goods.
Along with the pride goes the bizarre need to have people perceive the MSM journalist as a “Vatican Insider.” I’m familiar with the Insider Complex; one of the ways that out-of-staters periodically embarrass themselves when they visit Washington (my home and native land) is by making casual knowing references to things they know little about. So, for instance, when somebody insouciantly declares that they are going to take a drive out to see “Mount Renyay” (Mt. Rainier) or visit “Poo-yall-up” (Puyallup), Washingtonians smile cryptically and look at the floor. (Hint: It’s “Rayneer” and “Pew-al-up,” and you aren’t from around here, are you stranger?)

When I read the hysteria in the daily installments of the Get Benedict Campaign that the media has ginned up, I feel the same way. For instance, everybody keeps screaming about “defrocking” and seems to think they know what they are talking about. So, last week, we were breathlessly informed that Benedict refused to punish a pervert California priest with “defrocking.” The mob shouts in righteous indignation: “There’s your smoking gun, you Nazi-pope-loving stooge! Don’t you even care about The Children? What do you say to that?”

I say, “Do you even know what you mean by ‘defrocking'”?

 

To begin with: “Defrocking” is a media word, much like “Renyay” is a California word. It signals, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I will say it in a morally superior voice so that I can keep regurgitating the 15-minute hate against Benedict like a good corporate news producer/consumer.”

The actual term is “laicize,” and (clues for the clueless) it is not a punishment. More to the point, however, is that laicizing a priest does not do the slightest good in keeping The Children safe. Removing him from ministry and putting him behind bars for his crimes does that. In the case of the disgusting former priest Stephen Kiesle, then-Cardinal Ratzinger had nothing to do with removing the guy from ministry, just with laicizing him. (Don’t know why he wasn’t behind bars, but that’s for us Righteous Laity to account for, right?) Here’s the story, courtesy of the OSV blog:

 
1. What we’re dealing with here is a petition by the priest for dispensation from the obligation of the clerical state, including celibacy. This is not a situation where the local diocese is asking for the canonical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state, which would require Church court proceedings that the diocese is obliged to start. Fr. Z does a good job explaining this.

The stories I’ve seen in the mainstream media fail to make that distinction, and thus frame the story inaccurately: The Times headlines its story, “Pope put off punishing abusive priest” [No, this was not a case of “punishing”]. The AP does better, but repeatedly uses the colloquialism “defrocking,” which usually is applied to the punishment of dismissal, not granting of a dispensation.

2. That distinction is important because the process for handling petitions and penalties is vastly different — and therefore, it dictates a whole different reading of the Vatican’s response. After the granting of thousands of petitions for dispensation from the clerical state in the 1960s and 1970s, the Vatican, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, saw this as a scandal that needed to be addressed (as Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio points out). So the Vatican made the process more difficult and lengthy, with the result that granting of dispensations slowed to a trickle.

This is the context for the Kiesle petition in the early 80s, shortly after Pope John Paul put the brakes on clerical dispensations. Update: A Vatican lawyer says it looks like Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter appears to be a form letter used by the congregation in its first response to petitions for dismissal from the clerical state.

3. The Diocese of Oakland had every means at its disposal to contain the threat of Kiesle to children — but apparently did a very poor job of using them.

It could have opened a Church trial to dismiss Kiesle from the clerical state. Apparently it did not. Granted, Kiesle could have appealed that sentence to a Church court in Rome, a process that is also very lengthy and with apparently unpredictable results. (Consider the Anthony Cipolla case, in which a Vatican court ordered him reinstated, the local bishop refused, and the Vatican court finally relented and reversed itself.) Since 2001, of course, the Vatican has ordered that all such cases go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to determine either administrative penalties or the need for a Church trial for abusive priests. That has expedited the process considerably.

The Diocese of Oakland could have stripped Kiesle of his faculties and removed him from all ministry. But one of the documents shows the outrage of the diocesan director of youth ministry that Kiesle was still participating in parish youth ministry events, apparently even after the bishop and other diocesan officials had been notified.

The point is: Granting Kiesle’s petition to be dispensed from the clerical state would have had no practical effect in containing the danger that he posed to youth. In fact, not doing so allowed the diocese to keeper tighter control over Kiesle’s activities — and it looks like they fumbled.

There may yet be a smoking gun showing that Cardinal Ratzinger showed disastrous judgment or callous disregard for clerical sex abuse — but this is not it.

 
Bottom line: The laicization was not a punishment being imposed on the disgusting padre. It was a request made by the disgusting padre, who didn’t want to be a priest anymore. It came to Cardinal Ratzinger’s desk, not as, “Here’s a pervert who needs a canonical trial and a good hard boot in the butt,” but as, “Here’s one of a jillion other priests who are bailing on their vows.”

Moreover, the CDF didn’t refuse his request. It granted it in 1987. What it did was . . . subject it to bureaucratic due process, beginning with a standard form letter. Why? Because gobs of priests were requesting laicization in the 1970s and 1980s in order to marry their girlfriends, and John Paul said, in the early 1980s, “Put the brakes on all those laicization requests.” So the CDF fed it into the hopper like all those other requests and, as with all those other requests, basically said, “Hey! Not so fast with the laicization. Think about the good of the universal Church.” The “good of the universal Church” was not code meaning, “Cover up the pervert or it will make us all look bad,” but rather jargon meaning, “Priests can’t just blow off their vows because they want to get married. We’re not giving out laicizations like Pez dispensers here.”

So Benedict is guilty . . . of following due process in making a final symbolic gesture that tells a priest that he may no longer legally function as a priest. Burn him!

Or, alternatively, the Righteous might consider learning what they are talking about. Press who wander about chattering about “defrocking” are in something of the same league as the experts who tell us that thepope wears green to Mass to indicate his support of environmentalism. They are, in fact, ignorami posing as “Vatican Insiders,” just as Renyay tourists are clueless buffoons who wish to appear to be experts on the local color here in Washington. When they tell you what the pope “really meant” in some homily, they are utter dunces who could not parse the meaning of Christian teaching if Jesus Christ personally inscribed it on a two-by-four and whacked them across the head with it. They are know-nothings, pretending to be your specialized guides to the inside story. Trust them only if you are the sort of person who wishes to become stupider. With the exception of John Allen and a couple of others, all they know how to do is badly misinterpret the few stray words they can understand and then repeat their misinterpretation to one another till they believe it.

They are past masters of the art of pseudo-knowledge, using that blessed word “reportedly” — as in, “Shea reportedly signaled his sympathy with violent fundamentalist extremists by suggesting that followers of Jesus Christ should reportedly ‘inscribe Gospel passages on two-by-fours’ and ‘whack’ journalists with them.”

In the present case, the clueless buffoons who serve up the Get Benedict Campaign to sell beer and shampoo know so little of what they are talking about that they don’t understand the difference between “removing somebody from ministry so that they can’t have access to victims” and “stripping them of the legal right to act as a priest.” It’s like trying to do finance journalism without understanding all that complicated mumbo-jumbo about money and stuff. As Jimmy Akin points out, “While the Church obviously sees value in laicizing gravely errant priests (or the procedure wouldn’t be on the books), the burning issue for people concerned about children should not be ‘How quickly was this guy laicized?’ but ‘How quickly was this guy removed from pastoral ministry?'”

But the Poo Yall Up Press, Vatican Insider experts all, don’t know or care about this distinction. They are too eager to demonstrate that Benedict the Evil was Endangering The Children. In fact, of course, all he was doing was following procedure before ripping off the collar once and for all and saying, “You can’t legally act as a priest anymore.”

Now, I’m one of those people who agrees with reformers like, say, post-2001 Cardinal Ratzinger that big changes needed to happen so that a brain-dead bureaucratic system could quickly laicize creeps. Like Cardinal Ratzinger, I don’t think the snail-like pace of the bureaucracy was justifiable. I think something like Father Kiesle’s request for laicization should not have gotten lost in the shuffle along with all the priests who just wanted to ditch their vows and marry their girlfriends. He should have been laicized ASAP, not two years later.

 
In short, I agree that Cardinal Ratzinger (and John Paul) were over-focused on one problem and not paying attention to a much more serious threat. Like commanders at Pearl Harbor who, fretting about sabotage, ordered the aircraft at Hickam Field to be parked wingtip to wingtip (making them easy to destroy by the unsuspected Japanese bombers), the Church’s bureaucracy was, in the 1980s, attuned to the problem of, “How do we slow down the numbers of defecting priests?” and not to the problem, “How do we speed disgusting pervert priests out the door?” So: Good job, MSM. You’ve caught Cardinal Ratzinger in a 25-year-old bureaucratic snafu cause by overfocus on the wrong problem.
 
But here’s the thing: Cardinal Ratzinger’s had his conversion. He gets it. That, among other reasons, is why the media’s focus looks so weird and vindictive and deeply counter-productive. Because it looks for all the world like a vendetta in search of evidence and not an actual exposure of Benedict the Evil Nazi Child Molestation Enabler. There’s no “there” there, but still the press keeps its energies focused entirely there.
 
 
Which is the final irony, because while the press is busily focused on the Protect Us All from Evil Pope Benedict Project, they are energetically ignoring an issue that I think matters a whole lot more. I don’t much care that Benedict followed a slow and dumb procedure he did not invent in laicizing some guy 23 years ago. I’m much more concerned about things like this:
 
Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill [American citizen] al-Alwaki [who is accused of terrorism] no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. . . .
 
No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that.
 
Instead, in Barack Obama’s America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens — and a death penalty imposed — is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone’s guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America’s newspapers — cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they’re granted — to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist. It is simply asserted that Awlaki has converted from a cleric who expresses anti-American views and advocates attacks on American military targets (advocacy which happens to be Constitutionally protected) to Actual Terrorist “involved in plots.” These newspapers then print this Executive Verdict with no questioning, no opposition, no investigation, no refutation as to its truth. And the punishment is thus decreed: this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because Barack Obama has ordered that it be done. What kind of person could possibly justify this or think that this is a legitimate government power?
 
Such is the nature of our corporate and informally state-controlled press that nobody will be asking, 25 years from now, why the press was obsessing over trying to get the dirt on the pope, who was doing more than almost anybody to clean up the Church, while paying no attention whatever to the fact that, on their watch, the president of the United States assumed the power to order the murder of any citizen without arrest, trial, evidence, or conviction, solely on his say so. Nobody will ask why the press acted as the uncritical propaganda organ for disseminating the edict of the president declaring whatever American citizen he designates guilty of crimes against the state and worthy of death. Nobody will note that Obama took a step even the Bush Administration would not take. Nobody will note that, while the press was cheering on “arrest the pope!” frenzy, almost nobody in the media was taking exception to President Obama’s radical usurpation of power — a usurpation that made him a de jure, though not yet de facto, tyrant who had granted himself 007 status against any American he declares to be, by his sovereign will alone, an enemy of the state.
 
The Times and the Post act as lapdogs for Obama because, hey! It’s what they do! Just tell them who to denounce as an enemy combatant, and they will uncritically print the talking points. And the way we will know that our heroic executive is succeeding in our War on Evil and Terror is simplicity itself: Our president will tell us via the helpful and cooperative media. Via that same media, we will be told by our Dear Leader who the Enemy Citizen is and that he deserves to be killed. No need to bother our pretty little heads with complicated things like evidence or proof. All we need to know is that “officials believe” that your neighbor was an enemy combatant, and voila! You and your children are kept safe by this marvelous new alliance of media and government.
 
Of course, these measures will always and only be directed toward our nation’s enemies who wear funny clothes and speak a weird language. There is no chance at all that the press would be enlisted to help in an attack on the very Christians (sometimes kiddingly called “pro-life extremists” or “anti-government nutjobs” or “religious weirdos”) who have hitherto, in their folly, supported giving Caesar all that unchecked power. No, such a thing is as absolutely impossible as, say, the press radically misreporting the facts about Benedict or the government creating an extremist watch list of dangerous internal enemies of the state.
 
So let’s all keep our focus where it belongs: on the most evil and dangerous man on earth — Pope Benedict. The MSM press says so, and we can always rely on them for total accuracy and courageous defense of the truth.

Mark P. Shea

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Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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