October 20, 2009

Do Good Works Balance Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Pope Vader
In the face of scandal after scandal, many of which involve the sexual abuse of children followed by systematic and well-organized attempts to conceal the crimes and ensure the perpetrator ready access to more victims, one cannot help but wonder how the Catholic Church endures. Tempting as it may be, one need not conjure conspiracy theories to explain how they survive. No, one only need to examine how easily the public rationalizes away the crimes. The bottom line for many people appears to be this: as long as churches continue to do something we can call "good works," we are perfectly willing to ignore the evil they do, even if our silence makes us complicit in their crimes.

If my accusation seems overly harsh, allow me to draw your attention to a brief letter to the editor by Tom Albano of Miramar, FL (update: link no longer active), that appeared in The Miami Herald:
The media are quick to report about priests who are having affairs and breaking their celibacy vows. They reveal their names and publish photographs of them, as well as their life histories.

Where is balanced news reporting? The Catholic Church, which includes many priests and laypeople, helps the poor, feeds the hungry, visits the sick, counsels prisoners and comforts AIDS patients, to mention only a few of its the positive activities in our community.

I'd like to read about these. I would like to read about the teenagers at my church who collected 2,000 canned and nonperishable food items last weekend to help the poor in our community.

Report the news that people need to hear, not the news that destroys people's lives and reputations.
To be clear, I am not claiming that Mr. Albano wants to see more kids molested by Catholic priests. I am simply using Mr. Albano's words to demonstrate how the Catholic Church is able to survive. Not only does he imply that news of clergy abuse is not something about which the public should hear, but he seems to think that the good works he attributes to the Church somehow make up for the pain and suffering it causes.

It seems to me that newspapers, indeed media in general, have an obligation to promote public safety by providing accurate and timely information for use by the public. Blowing the whistle on child molesting clergy strikes me as an excellent way to do so.

Mr. Albano calls for balance. I cannot speak to the Miami Herald specifically, but I can say that every newspaper in every city in which I have ever lived has made the mistake of heaping praise on churches and churchgoers simply as a function of their professed religiosity. That is, the coverage I have seen buys the hype propagated by the churches themselves that religious belief is superior to atheism and that religious believers are superior to atheists.