A march toward the absurd

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With famed atheists Richard Dawkins and Christoper Hitchens planning on arresting the pope when Benedict goes to England later this year, I think it safe to say the coverage of the European sex abuse crisis in on a trajectory toward the absurd. Add the Italian bishop who this week blamed the coverage on an international conspiracy of Freemasons and Jews, and I think we've got a complete issue of the National Enquirer.

From Dawkins we might expect a stunt like this, but I would have thought Hitchens eschew such headline grabbing nonsense. Both are merely demonstrating that very smart people can still behave in incredibly stupid ways. As for (retired) Bishop Giacomo Babini, it is merely evidence that, as a canon lawyer once said to me off the record, ordination as a bishop may give one authority but not necessarily wisdom or prudence--also known as knowing when to keep one's mouth shut.

Having been tracking the media coverage, I must say that George Weigel at First Things has some fair points about the way this issue is being covered. Few in the media seem interested in learning about how the church's legal system works--which might actually help their readers make sense of what is going on. Far more are interested in finding a smoking gun to directly link Benedict to a pedophile.

Quite frankly, I find in this case the vaunted objectivity of the media to be compromised in the search for the sensational, while good reporting has been substituted for hearsay from scant documents and compromised sources. This obsession with whether a priest has been "defrocked"--a word that makes almost no sense except to headline writers--is completely beside the point. Any person who cares about the safety of children should not want a pedophile priest laicized, which would therefore allow the local bishop to wash his hands of the guy. Keeping them in the priesthood provides leverage--sanctions, secure living situations, and so forth--that could keep a pedophile confined if deployed correctly.

As I read these stories, the only case Benedict needs to answer directly is the one that occurred in his own Munich diocese. The blame for the rest of these cases--Oakland, Milwaukee, and so forth--rests squarely with the diocesan bishops in that place who failed to report crimes to the proper authorities in the first place and instead covered them up. That shockingly common response needs thorough attention from investigators because it was so consistently applied the world over.

As for this current storm, the Vatican has from the beginning handled the media poorly, especially in its failure to shut certain cardinals up and to have the pope speak directly to his personal involvement in these cases. Too bad, too, because B16 has, quite frankly, the very best record on sex abuse of any pope, despite whatever failures he may also have.