Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The 'media bias' argument is bound to lose

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 10, 2010

Writing for London’s Catholic Herald (which he once edited), William Oddie argues that the available evidence makes it abundantly clear that sexual abuse is a problem throughout society—not just in the Catholic Church. As he puts it:

This is a problem we share with everyone, though actually we are less guilty of it than society as a whole and are doing a lot better in acknowledging such child abuse as does exist. We need to get that, and the evidence for it, firmly into our heads.

That’s undeniably true. But it’s an awfully difficult argument to get across—and not only because the media harbors an active bias against the Church. So difficult, in fact, that I question whether it’s prudent to make the effort.

When an individual caught in wrongdoing claims that “everybody’s doing it,” we regard that as a lame excuse, and rightly so. Coming from the Catholic Church-- the Bride of Christ—the argument that we’re no worse than the rest of society sounds particularly hollow. We set higher standards for conduct in the Church. If society at large expects more virtue from Catholic priests, that’s a compliment, and we should welcome it.

We know, and we should certainly continue to point out, that child abuse occurs throughout society. We know and should point out that other institutions have failed to come to grips with the problem. We can and should lobby for the safety of children in all phases of life—in public schools, in urban subway systems, and in the womb. Indeed one of the more painful aspects of the scandal is the way that it has damaged the public standing of Church leaders, making it more difficult for them to speak out when they should come to the defense of innocent children.

Still, we cannot respond to the exposure of abuse within the Church by remarking that there is abuse elsewhere, too. That response may be an indictment of society—and society deserves the indictment—but it is not a defense of the Church.

Moreover, this line of defense lends credence to the mistaken impression that the abuse of children constitutes the whole of the scandal. Not so. The abominable behavior of abusive priests is only the first half of the scandal; the second half—the more damaging half—is the failure of bishops to curb the predators’ transgressions.

The remedy to the current scandal lies not merely in “acknowledging such child abuse as does exist,” but in holding people responsible. If William Oddie is arguing that society at large should hold people responsible for the abuse committed under their supervision—whether it is in the Church or in the school or in the home or in the hospital—then I wholeheartedly agree. If he is arguing that Catholics should lead the charge to make everyone accountable, I agree with that, too. But in order to be credible leaders in any such movement, we Catholics must first hold our own leaders—the bishops—accountable for their appalling mishandling of the sex-abuse scandal.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: nix898049 - Oct. 30, 2017 9:09 AM ET USA

    You can't give what you don't have. You can't put in what the Lord left out. I have an Irish background too! It's a crisis of Faith all around.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Oct. 29, 2017 4:26 PM ET USA

    Follow up. Priests & Bishops go to Seminary often spending years in post graduate work-Theology, Church matters and the spiritual life. Yet unity remains elusive! There is faction in ideas, & undermining belief. Sides go along critical of the other but winking "well we're right". So, who and what's right? We can't trust the Pope, Bishops, or Priests; very confusing. How do we know which Bishops and Priests are ok & which not so much? Don't mistake, I know the answer but this is painful.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Oct. 28, 2017 10:59 AM ET USA

    We struggle. Seems the question is: What (& Who) is real? We experience churchmen every Sunday w/ good intention, "turn to neighbor, introduce yourself promising to pray for them at this Mass". But relatively absent from Confirmation Sacramental prep & development. Do we have immortal souls and is eternal salvation a reality or not? Is Augustine right Massa Damnata? Are leaders just placating us because we're really lost anyway? Listen to Jorel! ..Lord knows we don't seem to be hearing "H"im.

  • Posted by: johnleocassidy3475 - Oct. 28, 2017 10:25 AM ET USA

    I grew up in 1960's Ireland in an amazing parish with very holy priests who really cared for the community. This experience left an indelible impression on my mind. After lapsing from the Church for many years, I returned to the fold in 2014. I was and still am stunned at the changes in our priests. Priests don't seem interested in feeding their lambs. This piece by Phil Lawler has hit the nail on the head. The priesthood is crying out for renewal & reform and the moment is upon us, please God!

  • Posted by: rosemariedoyle9560 - Oct. 28, 2017 12:39 AM ET USA

    You didn’t mention those who do go regularly to mass but hold opinions contrary to Catholic teaching such as abortion is not a sin if performed in the first three months or marriage should be allowed for people with same sex attraction.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Oct. 27, 2017 8:05 PM ET USA

    Two or three years ago the Bishop of Manchester in NH told his priests to have one Christmas Carol sung at each Sunday Mass during Advent. No, that is not a typo, it was Advent. Talk about playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Oct. 27, 2017 12:57 PM ET USA

    The bishop's all-important responsibility is to serve as a spiritual father for his people. Are you kidding? God is so merciful that we will all end up in heaven. Thus, there is no need for a spiritual life. The Church needs to adapt to the times, and the modern bishop's all-important responsibility is to preach about climate change, the need for open borders, and avoid being a rigid doctrinaire.

  • Posted by: damian.riggs8445 - Aug. 13, 2010 11:29 AM ET USA

    opraem: Yes, the Vatican must speak and make its pronouncements, but let us not forget "collegiality". The pope is first among equals; local bishops must stop waiting for Vatican to police the Church. Bishops must hold other bishops accountable, which in turn will return Christ to the marketplace.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 11, 2010 8:51 AM ET USA

    Your excellent comment refers to the "first half of the scandal." This is why we should properly refer to it not merely as the "abuse" scandal but as the "ABUSE-AND- COVER-UP" SCANDAL.

  • Posted by: opraem - Aug. 11, 2010 1:50 AM ET USA

    until such time the vatican enforces a zero tolerance policy for bishops, the public voice of the church will be muted in the market place for ideas.