Defenders of the Pope
in the middle of the media assault over clergy sex abuse are fighting on two
fronts. The first is media distortion. Key newspapers have grotesquely
distorted accounts of how some cases were handled by the Vatican and by the
Pope himself when he was Archbishop of Munich. The second is the widespread
impression that paedophilia is widespread amongst Catholic priests. Both of
these are best dealt with by referring to facts in the public domain.

But these are not
really the most damaging allegations. What really hurts is the impression that
Church authorities did nothing to stop offending priests. It’s not hard to find
bloggers who rant about centuries of cover-ups. The National Catholic Reporter,
a US Catholic publication with a liberal, anti-establishment slant on things has
declared in its latest editorial
:

The strategies employed so far — taking
the legal path, obscuring the truth, and doing everything possible to protect
perpetrators as well as the church’s reputation and treasury — have failed
miserably. We now face the largest institutional
crisis in centuries, possibly in church history.

This meshes neatly
with anti-Catholic narratives coming from other directions. A former
head of the South African Council of Churches, Peter Storey
, writes that “Bishops and cardinals have deliberately swept cases under the carpet
and consistently protected perpetrators.” 

This
impression is what gives life to lawyers’ attempts to get top Vatican officials
and the Pope himself to give depositions under oath in their lawsuits against
American dioceses for compensation for victims of sex abuse. In Oregon lawyers
are trying to sue the Vatican
because a priest who abused boys in Ireland
was transferred to Chicago and then to Portland. They claim that the Vatican
had to approve the transfer. The Vatican says that it is protected by the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which prohibits US lawsuits against foreign
countries. The case could reach the Supreme Court.

This
is juicy material for journalists who were rocked to sleep as infants with the
exploits of Woodward and Bernstein in Watergate. As Paul Moses, a columnist for the
Catholic journal Commonweal
, points out, “journalists aren’t especially
interested in individual cases of sexual abuse, but are very interested in
stories about cover-ups in powerful institutions.” They dream of toppling the
Big Guy.

But
despite all the huffing and puffing about cover-ups, there are no statistics,
as far as I know, only anecdotes. Are all bishops guilty? Only some? How many?
Who is working on this? Only when we have some idea of how many bishops
deliberately turned a blind eye to abuse will there be a chance of stopping the
media assault on the Pope.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.