Go on, kick us again

Damian Thompson, a Catholic, is in a frothing rage – not at the pope or the all-male hierarchy of his authoritarian church, but at the Times for reporting on it.

There is international outrage in Catholic circles over a headline in The Times this morning that many people regard as utterly misleading and part of the newspaper’s reliably biased coverage (reinforced by vicious cartoons) of anything to do with Pope Benedict XVI…A universally admired Catholic journalist contacted me this morning and accused The Times of (and I am toning this down for legal reasons) an extremely serious error of judgment.

A universally admired Catholic journalist? There is no such thing. There’s no universally admired anything, and certainly not a Catholic journalist. Thompson is clearly very keen to give the impression that the outrage he is describing and attributing is widespread. It may be, but his heated rhetoric doesn’t convince me of that.

Another respected commentator, the American journalist Phil Lawler, takes the headline to pieces on CatholicCulture.org.

There it is again. He’s citing Catholics as authorities for the unfairness of coverage of a Catholic issue, without so much as acknowledging the potential for bias, but instead simply announcing that his chosen Catholics are admired and respected. Admired and respected by whom? Other Catholics? Other loyalist Catholics? Other Catholics so loyal that for them the church can do no wrong? Other Catholics so loyal that they are more worried about the coverage than they are about the reality of what the church has been doing all this time? That’s the appearance he gives, at least.

Thompson quotes the ‘respected’ Lawler (ironically named, he turns out to be):

Here’s what we know: While the Pope was Archbishop of Munich, a priest there was accused of sexual abuse. He was pulled out of ministry and sent off for counseling. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the decision to remove the priest from his parish assignment – got that? remove him.

Yes, got that. But what he wasn’t, was ‘pulled out of ministry and sent off’ to the police. Got that? The police. What he was accused of was a crime, and not no victimless crime, neither, but a peculiarly nasty crime against people. Ratzinger was involved in this failure to report a crime to the police. Got that? To report a crime.

Several years later, long after Cardinal Ratzinger had moved to a new assignment at the Vatican, the priest was again accused of sexual abuse. A grievous mistake was made in this case; that much is clear now, and the vicar general has sorrowfully taken responsibility for the error. Could you say that the future Pontiff should have been more vigilant? Perhaps. But to suggest that he made the decision to put a pedophile back in circulation is an outrageous distortion of the facts.

Is it? Really? In particular, is it really an outrageous distortion? In a sense it’s more of a distortion not to put it that way. Lawler is an American, so he should be aware of the crime of reckless endangerment. He’s right that we don’t know, and it’s not likely, that Ratzinger said ‘let’s not report this priest to the cops so that he can go back into circulation as a pedophile later on.’ But the fact is that that’s what happened, and the not reporting the priest to the cops wasn’t the best way to prevent its happening.

Thompson finishes up by shouting at Ruth Gledhill for saying, ‘The Pope is pretty unassailable. He is not elected…’ Thompson points out, acidly, that there is such a thing as a conclave. Well yes, but ‘elected’ is commonly used to mean ‘democratically elected’ – elected by the people as a whole, not elected by a tiny powerful exclusive secretive body of celibate men. The pope is not ‘elected’ by Catholics, he is ‘elected’ by some cardinals. That makes a difference.

Thompson continues the theme later.

Fr Tim Finigan, one of the most respected traditionalist priests in England and certainly its most influential priest-blogger, described it as a “Disgraceful attack on the Holy Father in The Times”…There is a wider perception that The Times’s entire coverage of the scandals in the Catholic Church, including Peter Brookes’s revolting cartoons, has the flavour of an anti-Catholic crusade…Let me quote my colleague Cristina Odone, former editor of The Catholic Herald: “I have been shocked by the Times’s anti-Catholic coverage.”

Same stuff, see? Loose references to respected and influential and wider perception, and citation of Catholics without mention of the possibility of pro-church bias.

What I’d like to do is put The Times’s elder statesman, Lord Rees-Mogg, on the spot. How can he, as a former editor of the paper and a devout and distinguished Catholic, stand by as the paper he loves traduces the Holy Father?

And there you have theist slavishness at its most revolting.

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