Action Alert!

Reading the news between the lines

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 07, 2017

For someone who covers the news every day, it’s frustrating to read a story and know that important information has been left out. In such cases, when I have no good way to dig out the missing details for myself, I’m left with the uneasy feeling that I don’t know the real truth; I only know that I haven’t seen it yet.

Let me give a few examples from this week’s news stories, and the questions they have left in my mind:

  • Why doesn’t Uppdrag Granskning want to see a rapprochement between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X? Uppdrag Granskning is a Swedish television program, which has popped up on my radar screen only twice. In 2009, it broadcast an interview with Bishop Richard Williamson, then of the SSPX, in which the bishop denied the severity of the Holocaust. This past week it broadcast a documentary program charging that the SSPX had covered up sexual abuse. The timing of these two broadcasts is interesting, to say the least. The 2009 program aired immediately after Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications of SSPX bishops; this week’s broadcast followed immediately after Pope Francis announced that SSPX priests could be authorized to preside at Catholic weddings. Clearly Uppdrag Granskning timed the broadcasts to do the maximum damage to the cause of regularization for the SSPX. Why? What does a Swedish television program have against a traditionalist Catholic group? Who is feeding information to Uppdrag Granskning to discredit the SSPX? If Pope Francis goes through with the reported plan to establish the SSPX as a personal prelature, will Uppdrag Granskning broadcast another bombshell?
  • What were the “inappropriate pastoral attitudes” that prompted the Holy See to demand the resignation of Bishop Herve Gaschignard, and why did the Vatican offer no comment whatsoever on that resignation? It was the French bishops’ conference that mentioned the “inappropriate pastoral attitudes.” Although we are assured that no acts of sexual aggression occurred, there was some inappropriate involvement with adolescents. No criminal charges were filed, either, but a public prosecutor was consulted. It’s an ugly story, and we don’t need to know the details. But if the Vatican’s goal is transparency in the handling of abuse complaints, shouldn’t the public be given something more than a bland announcement that a bishop has resigned? In this case it seems that the Vatican deserves credit for acting promptly and properly, removing a bishop for good reason. Yet that credit cannot be claimed without explaining—even in general, discreet terms—why the action was taken.
  • What reason does Cardinal Reinhard Marx have to “believe more than ever” in the European project, at a time when European citizens seem increasingly skeptical about the European Union? Insofar as he believes that Europe’s future lies on “a common path resting on shared values,” what are those values? Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI made it clear that Europe’s disparate societies are united only by their shared Christian heritage; the EU has moved further and further away from any association with that heritage.
  • Finally, why would a teenager in New Jersey want to kill the Pope? Santos Colon, charged with plotting the assassination during the Holy Father’s visit to Philadelphia in 2015, entered a guilty plea, leaving us wondering about his motivations. But wait, there just may be an answer to our questions in this follow-up story about “Colon, also known as Ahmad Shakoor…” [emphasis added] Suddenly I have a hypothesis—not only about the young man’s motives, but also about the reluctance of both prosecutors and journalists to explore the question.

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: grateful1 - Apr. 11, 2017 12:07 PM ET USA

    Sadly, the Catholic Church itself seems to be as reluctant as prosecutors and journalists are to explore the "motives" of Ahmad Shakoor.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Apr. 07, 2017 10:50 PM ET USA

    Bingo, especially on the last one, Phil. Thanks for filling in the blanks.