Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

No need for facts when criticizing the Church

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 01, 2023

The New York Post—which sometimes publishes stories that the mainstream media prefer to ignore (think Hunter Biden’s laptop)—has finally noticed. After two years of sensational stories about the hundreds of Indian children who were allegedly buried in unmarked graves at Canada’s “residential schools,” excavations at the sites have to date uncovered exactly zero human remains.

“Some academics and politicians says it’s further evidence that the stories are unproven,” the Post reports. Well, actually it’s conclusive evidence that the stories are unproven. Or to put it differently, it is evidence that there is no evidence to support the stories.

Now I admit that, as the saying goes, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It may be true that some children are buried in umarked graves on the sites of the residential schools. In fact it is not at all unlikely, since the Canadian government did not provide the schools with funding sufficient to ensure a proper burial—not only for the students, but also for the teachers and religious who administered the neglected institutions. But shouldn’t those who make the most sensational charges have the burden of proving them?

Those charges—dramatized with lurid tales of brutality by Catholic religious—have prompted a surge in anti-Catholic rhetoric in Canada during the last few years. The Canadian government still asserts, as a matter of fact, that more than 200 children were buried on the site of a residential school in Kamloops, although excavations there have failed to substantiate that claim. But it is a matter of fact that dozens of Catholic churches in Canada have been torched or vandalized, presumably by people reacting to those unproven stories.

Think about it: If I said that I had entertained a delegation of visitors from Mars in my back yard last night, and an inspection of the lawn yielded no signs of a spacecraft landing, would you say that my story was “unproven”? Far more likely, I think, you would say that I had produced no evidence to support my tale.

But then you are probably not disposed to believe that I entertain Martian ambassadors. Whereas apparently the Canadian media and the Canadian political establishment are disposed to believe that Catholic religious brutally mistreated the children consigned to their care. (And, by the way, to show only mild disappointment that their government handed the children over to these heartless monsters.) In the current climate, a charge of grotesque abuse by Catholic clerics and/or religious is considered true until proven false.

A recipe for fraud

The same presumption of guilt was criticized by a federal bankruptcy-court judge who refused to accept a proposed settlement of sex-abuse claims by the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. Judge Jerrold Poslusny said that the plan put forward by the diocese would allow unscrupulous lawyers “to file invalid and fraudulent claims without consequence” against the insurance companies that carried the diocesan coverage. Here again it seemed that the parties involved—including the diocese—were willing to assume the guilt of accused clerics, with or without supporting evidence.

In the Camden case it is revealing that lawyers for the sex-abuse victims and for the diocese expressed confidence that the judge’s concerns might quickly be satisfied; it was left to a spokesman for an insurance company—which would bear the financial costs of the settlement—to say that the defects of the proposal “can’t be cured by cosmetic changes.” The diocese, in its anxiety to be done with the scandal, was not willing to fight against unfounded claims.

In Boston, before an investigation by the Boston Globe blew the lid off the sex-abuse story, an informed source inside the chancery told me that the archdiocese had become “like an ATM,” handing out lucrative settlements to accusers before even weighing the evidence, in order to keep the complaints quiet. The non-disclosure agreements served to keep the scandal under wraps until one accused priest refused to cooperate. The case of that priest, Father John Geoghan, went to court, the Globe persuaded a judge to open the records, and the rest is history.

So too in Canada the hierarchy has backpedaled furiously in the face of the inflammatory rhetoric about the residential schools, and Pope Francis has flown across the Atlantic to apologize for their mistreatment of native children. The Pope was right to say that the entire system of the residential schools showed a gross disrespect for culture of the tribes and the integrity of their families. (And remember: it was the government that set up that system.) The apologies from the Canadian hierarchy did not specify exactly what wrongs the Church had committed; the bishops did not endorse the most sensational claims about mass graves. But by failing actively to contest the most damaging claims, Church leaders allowed the lurid stories to proliferate, and the anger against the Church to fester.

Maybe there were mass graves at residential schools. Show me the hard evidence. Thus far I see none.

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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  • Posted by: rameyersjr9828 - Sep. 15, 2023 8:26 AM ET USA

    Weak men.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Sep. 02, 2023 9:11 AM ET USA

    Someone once said “what is truth?“ If even the pope can dispense with what’s true or not when he attacks his own flock, then what should surprise us when the secular world dispenses with truth when attacking the Church? It’s forbidden to voice the facts about clerical misconduct at the highest levels. Somehow that means you are “not in Communion” if you criticize Papal toadies. Saying the truth means nothing. It’s kowtowing especially about things outside magisterial authority that matters!

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 01, 2023 7:55 PM ET USA

    Quote: "Dozens of Catholic churches in Canada have been torched or vandalized, by people reacting to those unproven stories." In a more and more heavily politicized system of Western "justice," spreading fake news has very different legal consequences for different persons. Canadian truckers who protested the official covid narrative had their lives destroyed. In the US, Alex Jones was ordered by court to pay $1.5 billion for doubting the official Sandy Hook story and causing emotional distress.