Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The stalwart media guardians of this Pope’s legacy

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 25, 2023

“The Rupnik business will stain Pope Francis’s legacy, and possibly define it,” writes Christopher Altieri in Catholic World Report. The evidence is there—no doubt about that—and give Altieri due credit for making the case. But I question whether this scandal will damage the Pope’s standing with the mainstream media. Having overlooked one scandal after another throughout this pontificate, why would complacent reporters balk at this one?

In his bid to demonstrate the gravity of the latest scandal (and again, I will not argue the point), Altieri begins his essay thus:

How bad is this Rupnik business? It is very, very bad. The Rupnik business is worse—by orders of magnitude—than l’Affaire Barros, l’Affaire Insoli, worse even than l’Affaire Zanchetta. The disgraceful rehabilitation of Danneels is mere tasteless imprudence by contrast.

Each one of the scandals to which Altieri refers involves the protection and/or promotion of a prelate involved in sexual abuse. In each case the evidence of misconduct is compelling; in each case the papal protection is unmistakable. And Altieri’s list is not exhaustive. American Catholics will naturally think of “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, and the Vatican’s ham-handed intervention to shut down the American bishops’ bid to investigate how that disgraced prelate acquired and retained his outsized influence.

Yet to this day, the media credit Pope Francis for putting teeth in the Vatican’s campaign against abuse—even though it was Pope Benedict XVI who launched the campaign; even though Pope Francis has frequently defanged the procedures; even though the Pontifical Commission which he created to handle the abuse crisis has a history marred by inadequate support, thwarted plans, and the resignations of its frustrated members. On those infrequent occasions when a mainstream outlet questions the Vatican’s commitment to eradicating abuse, the questions for Pope Francis are gentle and respectful; the lack of progress is attributed to resistance that the Pope has encountered, from unnamed “conservatives” in the hierarchy.

But of course it has not been “conservatives” who championed the causes of Barros and Insoli and Zanchetta and McCarrick and now Rupnik. All these cases can be traced to the doorway of the St. Martha Residence. If reporters followed them there, they would undoubtedly change public perceptions of this pontificate. Will they? Not unless they radically alter their approach.

In his Catholic World Report column, Altieri cites two veteran Catholic journalists, representing opposite sides of the spectrum, who have remarked that Pope Francis appears to be the ultimate source of Vatican support for Rupnik. (Altieri adds that Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the vicar for Rome, has dropped a few very broad hints to the same effect.) But these voices do not reach far beyond the relatively small coterie of Vatican specialists. Most ordinary Catholics rely on secular outlets for their news about the Church, and those outlets have not dipped into the Rupnik affair.

Moreover, there is a reason for the disinterest of the secular media. Judging the Catholic Church by secular standards, the media assesses Vatican affairs in political terms. And they generally applaud the political stands that Pope Francis takes, they want to see him as a reformer. (Thus their assumption that the Pope’s opponents are “conservatives,” motivated by the same sort of political loyalties that drive the reporters.)

Five years ago, in my book The Lost Shepherd, I quoted a reporter for one prominent secular news outlet, who agreed with me that the coverage of Pope Francis had been remarkably favorable. “I can’t imagine what it would take” to turn the media against the Pontiff, he said. Since then the Barros, Zanchetta, and McCarrick scandals have tumbled out of the Vatican closets, testing the limits of the media’s disinterest. Will the Rupnik affair do the trick? I doubt it.

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: Lucius49 - Sep. 26, 2023 10:32 PM ET USA

    No the media doesn’t care because they see Francis and any bishop in sync with their political ideology rather than promoting Catholic teaching especially in the area of sexual morality weakening the Church. Benedict was dangerous to them because of his orthodox teaching, hence the false attacks on him allegedly regarding the abuse scandals, while they ignore real misfeasance in the case of Francis and his allies. But to quote Benedict: “The Lord wins in the end.”

  • Posted by: mclom - Sep. 26, 2023 7:31 PM ET USA

    Thank you for this. Why does he support these men? It is a very big why. I find it so disheartening to see how this Pontiff is able to pull the wool over the eyes of uninformed journalists... Yet he lambastes law-abiding Tradition-minded Catholics at every turn.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Sep. 26, 2023 6:24 PM ET USA

    The hierarchy talk about how the sexual scandal has taught it the importance of transparency, but time and again the hierarchy fail in practicing it. For example, I will return to giving to Peter's Pence and other of its causes as soon as I see an audit of its finances.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 26, 2023 1:56 AM ET USA

    Those who own the secular mainstream are not interested the least in reform or growth of the Catholic Church. Quite the opposite. Therefore, Francis with his many scandalous decisions and abysmal appointments is their hero. Similarly, McCarrick managed to slither under the radar, living double life and always enjoying favorable press. After the Daniel McCormack disaster in Chicago no one in the press (or Vatican) blamed his promoters: rector Kicanas or Bernardin but they went after Card. George.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Sep. 26, 2023 12:20 AM ET USA

    The core may be rotten.