June 29, 2017

The News Media and the Church

I was saddened to see that George Cardinal Pell was charged by the Australian police with multiple counts of historic sexual abuse. "Historic sexual abuse" meaning that the crimes of which he is accused occurred some time ago.

While I hope he will be cleared, I equally am aware that he has testified as follows:
Last year, Pell acknowledged during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had made "enormous mistakes" in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse.
However, at least some of the new allegations appear to flow from this:
[T]wo men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.
I wanted to take a moment, however, to note something about this "news" article, namely that it is another example of press bias, despite any claims of lack of bias. I would note, first, that this is an Associated Press reporter, Kristen Gelineau. The AP claims to be "always committed to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism."

In this news story, Ms. Gelineau states: "The charges are a new and serious blow to Pope Francis, who has already suffered several credibility setbacks in his promised "zero tolerance" policy about sex abuse."

Now, that these are a "new and serious blow" to the Pope's "zero tolerance" stance is ridiculous. They may be such, if the Pope knew of the occurrence of the claimed abuse, and did nothing, or refused to allow Cardinal Pell to return to Australia to face the charges. However, that these historic abuse allegations, apparently only now coming to light, could cause damage to a policy in some fashion, ipso facto their existence, defies reason and logic.

Many in journalism apparently do not see a conflict between "objectivity" and "issue advocacy" or "description." While to some, drawing conclusions as Ms. Gelineau did would be problematically nonobjective because it is based solely on assumptions and inferences that are not warranted under the situation, many journalists and their readers would see no conflict. To them, it is objectively true that the Catholic Church is riddled with sex abusers, and discovery of any such abusers must therefore belie the Church's commitment to no tolerance policies. For such, as the Church has not undertaken a full investigation of all clergy in its ranks, accused or otherwise, indicates a lack of commitment, I suspect.

Allegations against clergy must be taken seriously and investigated. However, they must also not be taken for an indictment of any policy the Church has of no-tolerance when there is no information currently in light that does so.

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