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Belgian archbishop says media twisted his public statements

Catholic World News - November 04, 2010

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels has charged a firestorm of criticism has been provoked by distorted reporting on his public statements.

Two days after his public spokesman resigned, describing Archbishop Leonard as a “loose cannon,” the embattled prelate said that he had been “misrepresented by the press.”

In a 5-page letter to the people of his archdiocese, Archbishop Leonard acknowledged that his recent public remarks—as they had been relayed through the media—had given rise to controversy. But he insisted that the reports were inaccurate, adding that he too would have been dismayed if he heard the statements “as they have been presented to you.”

The archbishop told his people that he felt he owed them an explanation, since the statements that have been attributed to him have caused “so much criticism, misunderstanding, and incomprehension.”

He explained that in one instance, a reporter asked him repeatedly whether AIDS should be seen as God’s vengeance. The archbishop said that he twice dismissed that idea, but finally remarked that just as pollution harms the environment and excessive alcohol use damages the brain and liver, so too dangerous sexual activities can lead to diseases like AIDS.

In another case, Archbishop Leonard wrote, he had never intended to suggest that elderly priests who have been accused of abuse should escape punishment. All abuse cases should be reported to prosecutors, he said. In some cases, he continued, when the accused priest is already retired and prosecution is impractical, the best solution might be for the priest to “confess his crime” in the presence of the victim. Such a priest should no longer be allowed to administer the sacraments, the archbishop said.

Archbishop Leonard did not respond directly to the harsh criticism that his departed spokesman, Juergen Mettepenningen, had made in a press conference earlier this week. But the complaint of misrepresentation implied that the press spokesman had not done an adequate job of explaining the archbishop’s statements to reporters.

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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 04, 2010 6:55 PM ET USA

    Business and certainly politicians regularly pay for "media training"---lessons, given by public relations experts---to learn to deal with the press. A few euros and a day or two invested in such might have helped the archbishop. (Full disclosure: I have done such training, though I am retired now.) Of course, he also made a very bad hire when he picked his flack.

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