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Shooting the messenger

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 Contents - Apr 2003AD2000 April 2003 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Good news on the liturgy - Peter Westmore
Dr Claudio Betti's inspiring visit to Australia - Peter Westmore
News: The Church Around the World
Documents: Church must be outspoken on moral issues: Australian Senator - Senator John Hogg
Documents: Archbishop Hickey on Catholics in politics - Archbishop Barry Hickey
Archbishop Hickey's pastoral letter on marriage - Archbishop Barry Hickey
Ecumenism: Christian unity: major obstacles still remain - David Schutz
Film Review: Why 'Gangs of New York' misses the boat as history - William J. Stern
Education: Chavagnes International Catholic college update - Br John Moylan
Our Lady of Peace: one American parish's successful formula - Arthur J. Brew
Letters: Authentic teaching (letter) - Aaron Wright
Letters: Vatican II (letter) - Denis O'Leary
Letters: Shooting the messenger - Alan Gill
Letters: Experiential catechesis (letter) - Fr. G.H. Duggan SM
Priestly Fraternity of St Peter - Holy Week 2003
Letters: Infallible? (letter) - Fr John Crothers PP
Letters: Life Walk (letter) - Brian Harris
Letters: Priorities (letter) - Jeanette Joseph
Letters: Stem cell research (letter) - W. Kline
Letters: Catholic hospitals? (letter) - Tom King
Letters: TV report (letter) - Kevin J. Kerr
Letters: Novena (letter) - Robert Anderson
Books: Newman, by Avery Dulles SJ - Peter Westmore (reviewer)
Books: The First Grace, by Russell Hittinger - Peter Westmore (reviewer)
Books: Marian Apparitions, The Bible, And The Modern World - Michael Gilchrist (reviewer)
Books: A Seat At The Supper, by Frank Colyer - Mark Posa (reviewer)
Books: A Long Way From Rome, edited by Chris McGillion - John Barich (reviewer)
Books: Our books are the cheapest!
Reflection: The road to Emmaus: coming to terms with the hard reality of loss - Fr Dennis Byrnes PP

Recent issues of AD2000 have contained trenchant criticism of media reporting (misreporting?) of clerical sex scandals, and the way Church authorities have handled - or mishandled - the problem.

Father M. Shadbolt (Letters, November 2002) has formed a Catholic Priests' Anti-Defamation League, while Bishop Luc Matthys (February 2003) says: "The relentless and continued reporting in news media of criminal behaviour by a few clergy has become more than an attack. It has become persecution."

While the examples quoted might be said to justify such an attitude, the wording, in particular of Bishop Matthys' article, seems to put the media - in reporting wrongdoing - virtually on a par with the perpetrators.

The Catholic Weekly of the Sydney Archdiocese published (16 February 2003) an interesting statement by Archbishop John P. Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Archbishop Foley says that some people are "upset" that the secular media has focused so intently on the Church's abuse scandal, when such abuse is as bad or worse in other segments of society. That viewpoint, he says, is irrelevant.

He goes on to state: "Priests, by their exalted vocation, are literally called upon to be holy. If they have literally betrayed their vocation by engaging in acts which are not only unspeakable but criminal, then the crime lies not in the revelation of those facts, but in their commission."

To be fair to Fr Shadbolt and Bishop Matthys, their complaints centre largely on the tactics employed rather than the actual reporting of abuse. However, as a former working journalist, my views are coloured by encounters with well-meaning but (in my view) misguided Catholics whose approach is that of "let sleeping dogs lie" ( if it's not reported it didn't happen or "let's shoot the messenger.")

Both Fr Shadbolt and Bishop Matthys raise the question of "anti-Catholicism" in the media. Speaking from experience (I was for 22 years the Sydney Morning Herald's religious writer) I believe there is some truth in this claim, which requires qualification.

Journalists, by and large, are fairly cynical people, suspicious of authority figures. Bishops (Catholic ones in particular) are seen as figures of power, in which case the "tall poppy" syndrome operates. Among less sophisticated journos there is a further view of clergy of all denominations (as cited by the late Anglican Dean Lance Shilton) as "interfering God-botherers out to stop people having a good time."

When "God-botherers" are seen, additionally, as hypocritical - i.e., blatantly betraying their vows - it is small wonder the more unthinking media types tend to have a field day.

Drummoyne, NSW

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 3 (April 2003), p. 14

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