Catholic Publications' Response to the Abuse Crisis

Soul-searching, New York Times bashing, and harsh criticism directed at the Vatican

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The New York Times' twin stories yesterday on papal involvement in abuse coverups in Wisconsin and Munich have marked a turning point in general opinion on the Catholic abuse crisis. But what about specifically Catholic opinion? Here, the Wire summarizes four American Catholic publications' opinion coverage of the abuse scandal throughout March. Some have been harsh on the Vatican from the very beginning, while others have been skeptical of anti-Catholic media spin. In general, however, it looks like writers for all four of the publications are getting increasingly critical of the Church as more abuse cases and coverup stories emerge.

  • National Catholic Reporter: Time for a Full Account  The independent publication has covered the abuse scandal extensively, beginning the month with some mostly opinion-less analysis on the subject from John Allen and Tom Roberts. Then on March 17 John Allen took a look at the pope's twin responses to priestly abuse, arguing that Benedict has been extremely strict with the abusers themselves but perhaps not as strict with those covering for abusers. A much harsher op-ed from David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, followed two days later. "Action, of course, protects kids. Words protect no one," he wrote simply. John Allen also stepped up his criticisms, urging the Munich Catholic bureaucracy to come clean: "get it out now!" Today, following the New York Times stories about the pope's involvement in the Wisconsin and Munich case coverups, the National Catholic Reporter issues an editorial: "The Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role... in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis." The editorial marks a turning point in the publication's coverage of the scandal:
No longer can the Vatican simply issue papal messages--subject to nearly infinite interpretations and highly nuanced constructions--that are passively "received" by the faithful. No longer can secondary Vatican officials, those who serve the pope, issue statements and expect them to be accepted at face value ... We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history. How this crisis is handled by Benedict, what he says and does, how he responds and what remedies he seeks, will likely determine the future health of our church for decades, if not centuries, to come.
  • Commonweal: It Just Gets Worse and Worse  The publication "edited and managed by lay Catholics" has a liberal bent, and has been pretty critical of the Vatican throughout the crisis. As early as March 13 Eduardo Peñalver wrote that "obviously, the investigation is ongoing, but this doesn't look good." His severe blog post blames the "status of lay people within the Church’s bureaucracy" for the "history" of coverup and non-response. David Gibson followed up a few days later pointing out some oddities of the Church's policy on confession and absolution for sex abusers and, on Thursday, with the new stories about the pope's involvement, declared that "when they update the text books on how not to respond to crises, this will be prominent." The stories, he wrote, "are growing worse by the day, if not by the hour."
  • America: Criticizing 'Old Structures of Governance'  The Catholic weekly magazine's opinion coverage has included Kerry Weber's comments on celibacy on March 12 ("a refusal to closely examine any aspect of the priesthood is to neglect the need to search for a deeper understanding of why these abuses happened") and Francis Clooney's call the next day for men in the church to step up and ask women how they can do better--"we men are not doing a great job in governing the Church on our own." A few days later, James Martin remarked how refreshing it was to hear "a bishop speak plainly" about the abuse crisis. Michael Sean Winters attacks The New York Times today, saying "neither the Pope nor the Church got a fair treatment" in the report on the Wisconsin cases. Yet meanwhile, Tom Beaudoin writes about "the singular Catholic truth that my church has abused, raped, and silenced boys and girls, has accepted that abuse as collateral damage in the outworking of the Roman Catholic project, and worked hard to invent ways to protect abusers and to protect itself from knowing the details." He says that, starting with the Boston abuse cases, "the end of a kind of Catholicism has begun." The religion will survive, but the "old structures of governance" will not, and he seems to think that a good thing.
  • National Catholic Register: What Abuse Crisis?  At this more conservative publication, a full five of the seven featured blog "voices" seem not to have covered the abuse cases at all. One exception has been Edward Pentin on March 12, who dedicated a post to a "timely reminder not to forget what is often overlooked: the well-being of priests in all of this." He discusses a conversation he had with a Vatican official about how innocent priests often "have to bear most of the fallout." Jimmy Atkin has devoted more time to the abuse stories, first accusing the New York Times on March 13 of trying to "spin" a "pope-as-paedophile-enabler narrative," but, by early this week, questioning Church policy about confessions for sex abusers.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.