I’m a survivor of clergy sexual abuse from the Diocese of Worcester. At one point in my life the objective reporting on the church and clergy sexual abuse scandal by the Boston Globe is what prompted me to turn my life around. A life filled with drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal ideation and worse.
This morning’s piece, Catholics in the Age of Francis Speak Out, brought me back to the days prior to 2002, when nothing could be said objectively about the church.
I am no longer Catholic so perhaps my view doesn’t fit the story you were trying to tell. It wouldn’t have been positive. Just the opposite. And clearly the point of the story was to find people who would discuss how positive Francis makes them feel. A nice PR piece.
And so far that’s all this is. In an opinion column for Al Jazeera America, Michael Tracey writes that the Vatican PR campaign is “…headed by former Fox News reporter Greg Burke. A member of the ascetic Opus Dei order, Burke is wedded to lifelong celibacy and professional communications services.”
Part of that campaign is the appearance that Francis lives a more humble life. Tracey writes. “Burke correctly surmised that in an era of austerity and continued economic misery, a leader who takes on austere appearances would win favor with the public — no major doctrinal alterations necessary. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book: former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance, stripped his office of fine Persian carpets to secure a few favorable headlines. Most important, it works.”
In a piece for vice.com Katie Engelhart quotes Burke saying he was hired “to formulate the message and try to make sure everyone remains on message”.
“I know what journalists are looking for and what they need,” Burke told reporters, “and I know how things will play out in the media.”
No coincidence that prior to his stint at Fox News Burke worked at Time Magazine.
Obviously it’s working. In a very Orwellian sense.
For instance when Pope Francis seems to speak kindly about the gay and lesbian community, he excommunicates a priest in Australia who is pro-gay marriage and pro-ordination of women. That is the harshest punishment the Vatican can hand down. Something they don’t even do for pedophile priests.
That punishment was specifically because of the ordination of women. Here the PR campaign uses the best usage of doublespeak. While declaring that the ordination of women is not open to discussion. Francis is quoted in an article in the Raw Story by Eric W. Dolan saying “Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded.”
It sounds wonderful. Until we take an objective look at the Holy See as a sovereign nation. Which is a theocracy run by a handful of men, who elect a leader for life, unless he resigns. The equal rights of women there are non-existent. They have no vote. They have no say. So much so that, according to a column in The Guardian by Jill Filipovac, the Vatican was against language put forth by the UN Commission on the Status of Women to prevent violence against women.
Which brings me to the U.N.’s Committee on the Rights of the Child’s investigation into the worldwide scandal of clergy sexual abuse. Pope Francis is deliberately stonewalling by saying that “concrete situations that fall outside the direct control of the Holy See, since they concern matters for which Catholic persons and institutions present in other countries are responsible,” as reported by Lizzy Davies in The Guardian.
The church is basically claiming to have no control over its Bishops in this matter. Hoping we all have very short memories as in 2001, then Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to every Bishop in the world telling them to investigate claims of sexual abuse of children in secrecy, and not reporting it to civil authorities as reported by Jamie Doward in the Guardian. Obviously the Vatican was in control of the cover up. And Pope Francis gets a pass for saying otherwise by the media.
Instead they report on his commission set up by Cardinal O’Malley that is going to study how to protect children, while leaving the judicial end out of that discussion. For obvious reasons, most would see lobbying against Statutes of Limitation Reform to be one of the best safeguards for children.
The Globe’s own Travis Andersen reports on this, yet we can’t seem to connect the dots to Francis.
Which is why when Francis didn’t reconfirm Cardinal Burke, a conservative, from his position on the Congregation of Bishops, the committee that decides on who becomes a bishop, the media took at as a sign that Francis is relaxing the church’s stance on conservative issues as it was reported by CBS News.
Yet no one took a close look at his replacement, Cardinal Wuerl. Notorious for his cover up of clergy sexual abuse in Pittsburgh.
With a record like that concerning the cover up, it makes one look more closely at how Pope Francis responded while a Bishop in Argentina. As reported in the Wall Street Journal by Shane Romig.
“The Argentine Church at the time backed Father Grassi. In a 2006 interview with Argentine magazine Veintitres, the current pope, who was then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, said “justice will determine” if Father Grassi is guilty or innocent. “But there is a media campaign against him, a condemnation in the media.” He said Father Grassi hadn’t been suspended from his priestly duties because his case was “different” from other cases of alleged sexual abuse that had emerged at the time.
After Father Grassi’s first conviction in 2009, the Argentine Bishops Conference, headed by Cardinal Bergoglio at the time, commissioned a legal study defending the priest. The introduction, written by an Argentine jurist, said Father Grassi was innocent and that many sexual abuse cases were part of a strategy to defame the church.”
All of the evidence above doesn’t lead me to believe that things are different now. In fact I think things are worse. And as along as we only follow the Pr campaign of Burke, then those of us who speak out about the abuse will once again be silenced because we will be portrayed as assaulting a humble and holy man. At least here in the USA.
Back in Australia Archbishop Paul Gallagher is claiming diplomatic immunity in the governments investigation of the clergy sexual abuse cover up as reported by Stephen Crittenden in The Guardian.
Because they aren’t taking the PR bait.