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Media coverage of sex-abuse scandal rivals 2002 high, focus on Pope

Catholic World News - June 14, 2010

News coverage of the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has reached nearly the same saturation levels recorded in 2002, the Pew Research Center reports. But interest in the topic has not registered at nearly such high levels with the general public.

A Pew study found that European newspapers carried far more coverage of the scandal this year than their American counterparts—an understandable development, since the most significant revelations of this year have come in European countries. Yet even in the US the number of stories soared to levels not seen since 2002, when the American scandal peaked.

However, the Pew study noticed that the scandal commanded much less attention in the “new media,” as evidenced by a comparatively modest showing on blogs. The Pew findings suggest that newspaper reporters and editors may have a keener interest in the story than their readers.

The primary focus of this year’s coverage has been Pope Benedict XVI, the Pew study found, observing:

While Benedict is in many ways the public face of the Catholic Church, that alone does not explain why he suddenly came under intense scrutiny this spring. The reason may be a combination of direct accusations in Europe and the boomerang effect of what were widely perceived as clumsy Vatican efforts at damage control, which ranged from highly defensive to apologetic.

The report pointed to a few clumsy statements that issued from the Vatican at critical times, such as the statement by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, dismissing criticism of the Pontiff as “petty gossip.”

The Pew report did not address the inaccuracies of several reports that criticized Pope Benedict for decisions that were made by other prelates—thereby putting the Pope at the center of stories that actually did not involve him.

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