It took dozens of Church Fathers and more than three centuries for the Bible to take its final form, but it takes only 30 seconds of a viral video to set people’s opinions on the “facts” of an incident involving some high school kids who attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and make their lives a living hell.
Everybody got into the act. The mainstream media immediately determined this was a case of prejudice perpetrated by affluent white teenagers. Catholic bloggers of a certain political bent piled on.
Even the high school administration, seemingly under the influence of a PR manager urging them to “get in front” of a fast-moving story like this, told media it condemned what the students “did” and would follow that condemnation up with an investigation.
Call me old-fashioned, but shouldn’t an investigation precede a judgement? In the days that have followed this viral video, more facts have come to light and the situation is complex enough for even mainstream media to step away from it.
Still, the reputation of these boys and their school continues to take a beating with death threats and all manner of social media mayhem, and sadly, many Catholic bloggers continue to insist that the boys must have been part of some racist right-wing brigade.
If we want to be serious Catholics, we must work harder and not accept the first “take” of any issue that just happens to grab the public’s attention at any given moment. It is easier said than done, and I have not always followed my own advice. I fell into this same trap when the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on clerical abuse was made public.
Like a lot of Catholics, I find the sexual sin scandal of the Church gut-wrenching. I was primed to expect more anvils to drop from above and was willing and able to accept everything in the report at face value. I read about 13 pages and was fed up with the awfulness and did not think I needed to go any further.
But the report is more than 800-pages long and there are facts embedded within these pages that tell a different story. No, there is no magic bullet of exculpatory evidence where the clouds open and reveal the report to be riddled with lies and untruths.
Sadly, there are ample and provable instances of horrendous behavior and horrendous post-event behavior. So that’s the bad news … namely, there is still plenty of bad news within the Grand Jury Report.
Author Peter Steinfels, writing in Commonweal at the beginning of this year, has done some heavy lifting for us and dove deeply into the entire Pennsylvania report. He compared the findings within it to the descriptive language it uses in its summation, and finds things just don’t add up.
Steinfels may not turn the narrative of the report 180 degrees, but he does succeed in showing the report rife with loaded and biased language that paints a different picture than the full 800-plus pages of the report does.
The report says “all” victims were brushed aside. That just isn’t true, based on the evidence found in the same report. A grand jury is not a judge and jury, but Steinfels found the PA Grand Jury acting like one.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them only did nothing; they hid it all.” There’s that definitive “all” word again.
Yes, there are myriad examples of authenticated sexual sin and corruptive cover-ups by priests and bishops in this report. But there are also multiple documentations where priests and bishops acted the way priests and bishops are supposed to.
This same report also shows much improvement in the way the Church handled these horrible crimes post the 2002 Dallas Charter, when the Church installed mandatory reporting, full cooperation with investigative bodies, and more focus on victims’ rights.
Steinfel, no apologist for the Church when it comes to this horrible scandal, comes to this report as an honest and hardworking journalist, and thus, with questions like: “Virtually no one has raised questions about a grand jury, an attorney general, or a diocese authoritatively pronouncing so many priests and bishops guilty of awful crimes, many without any hearing or opportunity for defending themselves.”
Justice delayed is justice denied, but justice must always be the servant of the truth.
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the director of communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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