Connect to share and comment

The priest sex abuse scandal is closing in on the pope

Opinion: He needs to stop blaming the media for the failings of his own leadership and his own church.


First of all, the "media" is not a monolith out to get the Catholic church. Reporters who have worked hard to expose injustice on the part of priests and the church hierarchy that allowed them to prey on children are not villains. We were just doing our job.

I started reporting on this sordid story 20 years ago when I uncovered a disturbing side of Father Bruce Ritter, a kind of folk hero in New York who saved kids from the street. The only problem was that a long list of those street kids came forward to say Ritter, the founder of the charity Covenant House, was also sexually abusing them. It was one of the first, big national priest sex abuse scandals to break in the country and I wrote a book about it titled "Broken Covenant".

I returned to the story in 2002 when I did reporting from the Vatican for The Boston Globe that augmented the Spotlight Team's investigation of priest sex abuse scandals. Through it all, I never lost my faith. Not yet, anyway. And I don't think I'm much different than a lot of reporters I know who happen to be Catholic and who've been part of a hard journey to bring the darkness of the Catholic Church's priest sex abuse scandal into the light.

Many of these reporters, like at least a half dozen or so of my colleagues from The Boston Globe, and others at National Catholic Reporter and ABC News and several different news organizations that have investigated these cases, are strong reporters who were born into and remain connected to their Catholic faith. I’m thinking of Kevin Cullen and Tom Farragher at the Globe and Jason Berry in New Orleans who has written powerfully on this issue as an author and correspondent for NCR longer than any one. For reporters like these, the mission to tell the truth is right up there along side the Sunday school catechism they learned growing up. In fact, digging at the truth might even be something you could say we happened to learn through our faith.

And so I found myself praying for the leadership of the church to wake up and take a clear look around them, and to abandon this insular, anti-media approach. I hope they might stop blaming those of us in the media and instead look more closely at the church and at their own failings. After years of reporting on this subject, my sense is that there are few who embody this rigidity against the media, or what he would call “the secular media,” more than the pope himself.

This rejection of the secular world is something of a pattern in the life of Joseph Ratzinger. This is the name with which he was born before he took the name Benedict XVI for his papacy. From what we know about his past, it seems Ratzinger has often turned away from the sweeping forces of history swirling around him and retreated back into his faith, into the scripture.

In fact, the day after his election in Rome, he explained that he chose the name Benedict for his papacy as a reflection of this deeply private relationship with God, and this characteristic intolerance for any forces of modernity that might challenge that relationship. It was the 5th century Saint Benedict who retreated from the chaos and decadence of the time to seek solitude in the countryside and establish what he called “a rule of life,” which would become the basis for the orderly life inside monasteries tucked away from the temptations and challenges of the secular world.