The Real Headline: Pope Benedict Stamping Out Child Abuse.

Because the media’s recent treatment of the Pope was so outrageous – the stories were basically lies, half truths and misinformation, betting that casual readers would not look too carefully into the real facts – it bears restating the basic facts of this case once again. Father Ray Desouza lays it all out. I am going to put his last paragraph first:

Remember what the major items on the sexual abuse file were the day before Goodstein’s story appeared. On March 20, Pope Benedict had published a blunt letter to Catholics in Ireland, apologizing to victims, lambasting the priest abusers and excoriating the failure of bishops to exercise proper oversight. On March 23, the annual independent audit of American dioceses revealed that in 2009, there were six credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors, in a church of 68 million people – a sign of astonishing progress in stamping out this evil. That was the news before The New York Times decided to make its own.

This is important. Benedict has been dealing with the child abuse scandals like no one else before him. He is replacing lax, liberal bishops with men who will not stand for this stuff. He made the changes that allow local bishops to be rid of bad priests immediately. That is the real reason the Times concocted this series of stories. He is slowly getting rid of their touchy-feely bishops and replacing them with real Catholic bishops who will not stand for this stuff.

Sure, there are blossoming scandals in other countries. Germany, Ireland, etc. But the problem – certainly in Germany – was the ridiculously liberal nature of those bishops, and the problem lay in the Jesuit community there. So they had to shift the attention off the real perpetrators and shift it onto the Pope somehow. They tried mightily, but the facts just never backed them up. Let the abuse be revealed; let it all come out. But don’t try to pin it all on the guy most responsible for fixing the problem. If the Times misdirects public attention in that way, it is much less likely that the real problem will be solved. So, in a sense, they are actually helping the abusers.

Desouza continues.

On March 25, the Times set off a worldwide firestorm with a front page story that made an incendiary accusation: “Top Vatican officials – including the future Pope Benedict XVI – did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.”

Falsehood upon falsehood – four errors in the first paragraph. First, the case to defrock Father Lawrence Murphy was approved by the “top Vatican officials,” was never stopped by anyone in Rome and was ongoing when Murphy died. Second, Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, is not shown in the documents to have taken any decisions in this case. Third, the real villain, aside from Murphy himself, was the compromised former Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, who had sat on the case for 20 years. Fourth, the files were not “newly unearthed”; a general chronology had been released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee years ago, and the documents were released by the archdiocese itself.

The New York Times was guilty of egregiously shoddy reporting – or worse – on a story of global implications.

While the case was not new – the priest died in 1998 – the charge landed on front pages around the world, including the National Post, because the Pope was supposedly involved. Within days we learned that the Times was false on the facts, suspect in the sources and reckless in the reporting. All of which the paper had to implicitly concede a week later in an extraordinary rewrite by the same author. So what happened? Were the reporter, Laurie Goodstein, and her editors merely careless, genuinely duped or willing collaborators in an orchestrated smear?

…The only other published source for the original story was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the disgraced former archbishop of Milwaukee. He resigned in 2002 when it was revealed that he had a homosexual affair and then used $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to buy the man’s secrecy. Weakland detailed his other clandestine homosexual affairs, his mismanagement of sexual abuse cases and his longtime hostility to Pope Benedict in his 2009 autobiography. Did Goodstein know how discredited Weakland was? She knew, as she wrote a flattering story about the autobiography last year.

So when she approached Weakland for comment on the story, some basic questions might have been in order. She did not ask them.

…she published an extraordinary follow-up story on April 1. This one appeared on page 6, not the front. Gone was the suggestive headline. This one had the banal title: “Events in the Case of an Accused Priest.” All of the accusations against the future pope are dropped, the new information from her tardy interview with Brundage is included, Weakland’s comments disappear and Jeffrey Anderson is gone altogether.

The April 1 story is for all intents and purposes a correction of the March 25 story. Had it come first, it would not have made the front page on March 25; it likely would not have made the paper at all. The firestorm of the past two weeks would not have occurred.

Remember what the major items on the sexual abuse file were the day before Goodstein’s story appeared. On March 20, Pope Benedict had published a blunt letter to Catholics in Ireland, apologizing to victims, lambasting the priest abusers and excoriating the failure of bishops to exercise proper oversight. On March 23, the annual independent audit of American dioceses revealed that in 2009, there were six credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors, in a church of 68 million people – a sign of astonishing progress in stamping out this evil. That was the news before The New York Times decided to make its own.

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