Monday, April 5, 2010

An Enemy is a Friend Who Wants to Kill You? Reflections on Noonan's Defense of the Media

Sources: Peggy Noonan: The Catholic Church's Catastrophe -

Anti-Benedict Media Sharks: Best Friends *and* Enemies? | Blogs |

Peggy Noonan is a Catholic, former Reagan speech writer and an author (she wrote a book on John Paul II) who generally seems to be loyal to the Church.  So when it comes to her criticisms, it is clearly a different case than the New York Times or the attacks of "Cafeteria Catholics."

Reading her article, The Catholic Church's Catastrophe I am inclined to think that she fundamentally misses the point regarding Catholic's anger over the recent attacks.

Her thesis seems to be essentially:

In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."

But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.

This is the fallacy known as Non causa pro causa. The reason I think she is wrong is that she makes an error over what the case is about.  It is not about denying any sort of abuse took place.  It is not about the fact that some bishops did horrible wrong in kicking it under the carpet instead of following the Church rules on the subject at the time the abuse was known.  It is not even about whether some cases were handled in a way slower than should have been.

The reason there is anger from Catholics over the media bias is that in the recent news stories of Milwaukee, Munich and Arizona, there was a concerted effort to attack the person of Pope Benedict XVI with no evidence in favor of, and in fact much evidence against, their claim.

Noonan, in attributing anger over the false attacks against the Pope as anger over reporting abuse at all is attributing a non-cause as a cause.

An Enemy Is A Friend Who Wants To Kill You

I also think Noonan errs over the claim that the media forced "the Church" to deal with the issues.  She says:

Without this pressure—without the famous 2002 Boston Globe Spotlight series with its monumental detailing of the sex abuse scandals in just one state, Massachusetts—the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.

However, the facts are against her.  In Milwaukee, the case was moving forward until the time of the death of the defendant.  In Arizona, the priests accused were suspended and barred from priestly ministry and had appealed the verdict, taking several years to resolve. In Munich, the vicar general made a decision on his own behalf without consulting then Archbishop Ratzinger.

Indeed, Noonan seems to be making a fallacy of equivocation here.  "The Church" was indeed working on this before the 2002 scandal of Cardinal Law.  She could perhaps say that the Church in America was forced to confront the issue, but this is a far different issue than the accusing of Pope Benedict.

The Principle of Subsidiarity

The thing is, the Church operates under the principle of Subsidiarity, which is described in the Catechism as:

1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

1884 God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature. This mode of governance ought to be followed in social life. The way God acts in governing the world, which bears witness to such great regard for human freedom, should inspire the wisdom of those who govern human communities. They should behave as ministers of divine providence.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

In the idea of subsidiarity, the higher gets involved in the affairs of the lower when there is a failure in the lower to police itself.  This is what the Church did, once reports of the abuse began crossing its desk.  It reformed its former rules on the subject.

One could make a case that certain media reports helped alert the Magisterium to a breakdown in subsidiarity in the lower levels in America, however, I suspect that the media did not have as big a role as Noonan thinks.

The media may have publicized it.  However, it does not follow that they caused the investigations to begin.  The issue of course is the objectivity of the media.  There were 3,000 cases dating back to 1950 which had to be investigated.  Much of the media had made it sound as if there were many more cases annually.

If The Media Is Alarmed Over Abuse, Why Does It Ignore the Largest Offender?

I think it is a valid charge that the public schools has a exponentially larger number of cases of sexual abuse of minors, and doesn't pick up a fraction of the coverage, even though the Church has put in place of protections the public schools still lack.  Such behavior speaks against concern for victims of sexual abuse and speaks more for bias in the media in an attempt to attack the whole Church.

This is not a tu quoque of course.  The evils in the Public schools do not make for a defense of abusers in the Church.  However, if the media is concerned about the children, why does it continue to report on old cases within the Church instead of reporting on the ongoing problems within the public schools and the utter lack of reform and the ongoing practices which the Church is in the process of eliminating.

The fact that the media continues to report on cases from the 1950-2000 era even though the Church has reformed itself and is clearing the backlog of cases, and ignores the schools utter lack of reform seems to indicate an agenda.

If the Church Makes a Policy Change and Nobody Reports it, is it still the fault of the Church?

That kind of coverage was not helpful, and in fact obscured the real issues to be dealt with.  The Church made a careful investigation at the time the media was making accusations of stonewalling, and policies were enacted.  People with homosexual tendencies were restricted based on the investigation into those most likely to be victimized.  Rules were made concerning the policies to be carried out in parishes and dioceses.

Much of the time, the media made much of the charges, but said almost nothing of the Church actions in response to the abuse.  Were it not for the Catholic media reporting, nobody would have been aware that the Church had acted.

The Media is Hardly a "Friend"

Mark Shea writes an article about the view that the media is the friend of the Church which brings home all the flaws of the defense of the media in the latest frenzy.  In it, he writes:

Look.  I can grant that *God*, who orders all things for the good of those in Christ Jesus, can use bitter enemies of the Church to bring about redemption and healing.  But please: let’s make up our mind.  Are journalists who do slipshod hatchet jobs on Benedict “the Church’s best friend” or are they “enemies of His people”?  I think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that, whatever God may have in mind, the authors of this war on Benedict do not regard themselves as “best friends of the Church” and that the self-congratulation of journalists for their shoddy reportage is as repulsive as the self-congratulation of abusers who lectured their victims to sit there, shut up and take it due to the abusers’ sanctity as priests and as mediators of Truth.  Spare me.

It is an excellent point.  The Holy Week attacks on the Pope were not done with the good of the Church in mind.  The attacks attempted to link the culpability of those who had in fact done evil (the abusers) with Pope Benedict XVI — without a shred of proof.

Shea goes on to write:

But please. This group of frenzied MSM sharks bent on destroying Benedict and engaging in their annual Holy Week Church Bash on the flimsiest charges are not the Church’s"friends”, nor do they give a tinker’s damn about the good of the Church or abused children who are not usefully Catholic.  You might as well tell me that Mehmet Ali Acga (whom these sharks did not fail to consult for his expert opinion) was just trying to help John Paul II grow closer to Christ Crucified when he shot him.  Jimmy Akin has methodically taken apart the NY Times crapalicious reporting.  Real “friends” at the Times (London and New York) would acknowledge they did a lousy job and apologize (as for instance, NBC did when they libeled the Pope as a child molester).  Enemies, however, admit nothing.  And enemies of the Church is just what these people act like.  God will, of course, bring life out of the sins of pervert priests, bad bishops *and* bad reporters.  But with the exception of a few journalists with actual integrity and knowledge of the facts like John Allen, the spectacle leading up to the annual MSM Bash Christianity for Holy Week Fest has been a depressingly ignorant and ideology-driven affair.  To be sure, what the MSM meant for evil, God means to turn to good.  But they do indeed, largely mean to do evil in this recent spate of hatchet jobs on Benedict.

This is the difference between enemies and friends.  If the attacks were made in good faith, those who made these reports would have acknowledged their errors and corrected them.  The media in these cases did not do this.

Conclusion: Why Noonan Erred

This is why Noonan has erred in her claims that the media is the friend of the Church, even though she seems to seriously believe it.  By falsely linking the justified investigations of actual abusers with the attempts to insinuate Pope Benedict XVI was guilty, she makes a false accusation that those of us who are angered at the attacks on the Pope are actually angry that abuse was reported at all.

The truth is, we would not be angered at objective reporting, and the admission of errors made in this reporting.  We do object to the smearing of our Pope and the attempts to push an ideology onto the Church using the abuse cases as an excuse [The inevitable calls for women priests and the end of celibacy among other things].

Shea is correct: God may use these attacks for good (it certainly woke up American Catholics to the problems within the American Church).  However, let's knock off the claim that the media did good because change happened.  That's a post hoc fallacy.  Change happened because the Church cared about what happened, and change was happening even before the 2003-2004 reporting of the abuse scandals.

[Edited to correct a typo which changed the meaning of one sentence from what I intended]

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