That stained glass curtain you’re hiding behind never lets in the sun

Yesterday the Anchoress with something I partially agree with, today Peggy Noonan:

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.

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.

In fact, the press came late to the story. The mainstream media almost had to be dragged to it. It was there waiting to be told at least by the 1990s, but broadcast news shows and big newspapers weren’t keen to go after it. It would take months or years to report and consume huge amounts of labor, time and money—endless digging through court records, locating victims and victimizers, getting people who don’t want to talk to talk. And after all that, the payoff could be predicted: You’d get slammed by the church as biased, criticized by sincerely disbelieving churchgoers, and maybe get a boycott from a few million Catholics. No one wanted that.

This is 100% on the money. The problem isn’t that the New York Times is writing about priests molesting kids, it’s that priests were molesting kids. And it’s probably true that, to the extent, that the abuse has abated, it’s because of media attention, just as Noonan says.

There’s a general conservative trope that everything would be just fine — whether it’s Abu Ghraib or wiretapping or secret jails or mass child molestation — as long as the media would just up. I’m glad to see at least one conservative saying the opposite.

52 replies
  1. 1
    Ron Beasley says:

    the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century

    The last half century? Try the last 2,000 years.

  2. 2
    Anachronym says:

    Isn’t this the same Peggy Noonan of the ‘Sometimes, you just have to keep on walking.’ quote?

    edit — full quote:

    “Some things in life need to be mysterious,” Noonan said on Sunday about the release of the torture memos. “Sometimes you need to just keep walking. … It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, oh, much good will come of that.”

  3. 3
    TuiMel says:

    Rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints?

  4. 4
    Menzies says:

    @Anachronym:

    Is Nooners Catholic though?

  5. 5
    Undercover FBI Agent DougJ says:

    Isn’t this the same Peggy Noonan of the ‘Sometimes, you just have to keep on walking.’ quote?

    Yes.

  6. 6
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    You will notice that Teabaggers do not have these sorts of problems. This is because Teabaggers embrace nature, not nurture. We follow source documents, and earthly drives. This makes for a healthy mind, and healthy body.

    The Teabagger is amorous, and utilizes all five of his senses; sight, hearing, feeling, smell, and taste in his endeavors of the heart. He seeks not to please a woman, but to instead follow his instinct.

    His unbridled release of raw human passion, combined with stamina, necessarily causes her great joy. The Teabagger’s satisfaction becomes hers. So she calls back.

    If this female has been conditioned by a long period of exposure to White People, her pursuit can become violent.

    But the Teabagger resists and evades, except for maybe a couple times a week, as he knows that women make his knees weak, and that his strength must be reserved for his more important Teabagging activities.

    In this manner, we maintain our fidelity to what is good and true.

  7. 7

    it’s that priests were molesting kids.

    Yes, but for the church hierarchy of conservative bishops that were put in place by John Paul, that choose image and coverup over being law abiding citizens, this would likely not have become the epic decades long crime against humanity it became.

    Somebody high up needs to go to jail, maybe quite a few, and it sounds like the current Pope might qualify as an offering and godly example to rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, to start balancing the highly unbalanced books, as it were.

    I don’t blame the media all that much. This could have been contained early on by the Church, and the Bishops and others in church governance simply broke the law by not reporting it to authorities and nipping this cancer before it metasticized to the point where the deep stain will not wash off, no matter how much cash is offered as penance for this biblical sized sin.

    I have trouble commenting much on this topic. It makes me so mad I want to break things.

  8. 8
    henqiguai says:

    …The problem isn’t that the New York Times is writing about priests molesting kids…

    That would be The Boston Globe. Or has the NYT been putting out ongoing analyses on the issue since then (don’t know, don’t follow the NYT as a norm).

  9. 9
    PhoenixRising says:

    Yeah, for once Nooners is right on.

    In a just world, the Santa Fe New Mexican would have won a Pulitzer in the 90s for covering the story. In reality, its reporters were kicked out of church. Boneheaded move.

  10. 10
    Undercover FBI Agent DougJ says:

    That would be The Boston Globe. Or has the NYT been putting out ongoing analyses on the issue since then (don’t know, don’t follow the NYT as a norm).

    The latest round is the NYT and the Church has been attacking the NYT over it. I don’t know if they also attacked the Boston Globe at the time that well, because I wasn’t following it then.

  11. 11
    gbear says:

    Umm, is that first paragraph meant to be published somewhere in between 2012 and 2099? The church hasn’t really confessed yet and has barely started to confront what they’ve done. Yesterday they compared themselves to holocaust victims. They’re still very much in denial.

  12. 12
    pixelpusher says:

    Think of any other institution. Schools. The Boy Scouts. The police. Hospitals. Corporations. Public office.

    If the New York Times had written a story about any of them covering up a ring of child molesters, would we be questioning the journalists’ motive? I think not.

    Ok, well maybe not public office.

  13. 13
    Violet says:

    Maybe Peggy felt bad about the “just keep walking” comment and is trying to make amends. Glad to hear her say this.

    There’s a general conservative trope that everything would be just fine—whether it’s Abu Ghraib or wiretapping or secret jails or mass child molestation—as long as the media would just up. I’m glad to see at least one conservative saying the opposite.

    I don’t think Peggy is a conservative anymore.

  14. 14

    Menzies @ 4:
    Yes. She used to have the hots for JPII. In fact, she wrote a gushing book about him. She’s been to the Vatican a few times, too.

  15. 15
    gbear says:

    We’re all counting on his
    Divine Intervention

  16. 16
    JL says:

    The problem….[is] that priests were molesting kids.

    AND that the Catholic church as an institution enabled this crime and harbored the criminals.

    Yes Noonan is right that the press finally brought an end to the Church’s ability to do this. But she is wrong in saying that the press has been the “best friend” of the Catholic Church because the Church WANTS to continue to protect molesters. The press has been the “best friend” of Catholics and potential victims.

  17. 17
    ItAintEazy says:

    As a recovering Catholic, this is the time when I like to turn on and listen to right-wing Catholic radio (is there any other type?), so that if I start to grow nostalgic for the old institution that I grew up in and, the constant homo/feminist/abortion punching, reverse victimizations, sexual guiltmongering and just all around pettiness reminds me full well why I left in the first place.

  18. 18
    Martin says:

    Think of any other institution. Schools. The Boy Scouts. The police. Hospitals. Corporations. Public office.
    If the New York Times had written a story about any of them covering up a ring of child molesters, would we be questioning the journalists’ motive? I think not.

    Just in case nobody noticed:
    Files Logging Scout Abuse Are a Focus in Civil Trial

  19. 19
    Svensker says:

    Isn’t it odd to find Nooners coherent and sort of right? When she pulls her noggin out of her behind and puts on her glasses she’s actually fairly intelligent.

  20. 20
    geg6 says:

    Well, I never thought I’d say THIS, but good on Nooners. She is one of the few prominent Catholics of any political stripe and the only conservative Catholic who I have heard that is not defending and excusing the Vatican to the death. Now if she’d only turn that same logic on the war crimes she insists it is better to pretend didn’t happen, I’d admire her honesty more.

  21. 21
    Ash Can says:

    Yep, Noonan’s on target about the value of the press in getting these stories out. She overstates the effect it’s had on the heierarchy; as others have pointed out, bishops and cardinals are still playing shell games with abusive priests. But every news story is a clarion call to the laity, and makes parishioners especially in the affected areas aware of problems in their own back yards. Not fun for the parishioners, but they can’t take measures to deal with the issues if they don’t know they’re there.

  22. 22
    debbie says:

    I don’t know if [the Church] also attacked the Boston Globe at the time that well, because I wasn’t following it then.

    As I recall, the Vatican was insisting that since it was an American problem, it was up to the Americans to fix it.

  23. 23
    Little Dreamer says:

    Doug,

    Great title, but if you had substituted “son” for “sun” it would have been pure genius.

    The media isn’t the problem, the church is the problem and has been for years. The media isn’t to blame for the perversion in the church, just for being frightened into submission by supposedly all powerful (God’s BFF dontcha know!) religious leaders (who happen to have their own city sized nation state so that makes them world leaders too) “gods” who they thought could turn them into hellbound heathens (or welfare recipients!)

  24. 24
    JasonF says:

    My favorite Noonan quotation has to be this one, from an op-ed published the day after George Bush defeated John Kerry in the 2004 election. Nooners was in fine form, gloating over the Republican victory at the ballot-box (both in the presidential contest and in the down-ticket races) and just generally behaving like a spoiled brat when she let loose with this one:

    I do not know what the Democratic Party spent, in toto, on the 2004 election, but what they seem to have gotten for it is Barack Obama. Let us savor.

    Heh. Let us savor indeed, you smug #!&(^#.

  25. 25
    Gregory says:

    There’s a general conservative trope that everything would be just fine—whether it’s Abu Ghraib or wiretapping or secret jails or mass child molestation—as long as the media would just up. I’m glad to see at least one conservative saying the opposite.

    I agree, but did Noonan sing the same song about, say, the press uncovering George W. Bush’s illegal wiretaps, George W. Bush’s illegal torture or Ronald W. Reagan’s illegal Iran / Contra scheme?

    ETA: Anachronym at #2 provides one of the exact quotes I was thinking of.

  26. 26
    Eric U. says:

    I’m surprised that law enforcement hasn’t given leniency to some of the perpetrators to catch the ringleaders. I really don’t see how the higher-ups have escaped arrest or why they should.

  27. 27
    Mnemosyne says:

    But she is wrong in saying that the press has been the “best friend” of the Catholic Church because the Church WANTS to continue to protect molesters. The press has been the “best friend” of Catholics and potential victims.

    I think you missed the point. Her point is that your best friend is the person who tells you the things that you don’t want to hear but have to be told. Your best friend is the person who hosts an intervention to beg you to go to rehab for your drinking, not the person who hangs out in the bars with you and urges you to have just one more.

  28. 28
    Little Dreamer says:

    @ JL:

    Yes Noonan is right that the press finally brought an end to the Church’s ability to do this.

    What makes you so sure it’s going to end?

    There are still countless parishioners who are adamant that their church is the true church of God and it is being attacked by Satan (and they have pretty little sons who they send for teaching in the church, of course it could NEVER happen to them.)

    The behavior will not end, trust me, it will just go more underground than it already was.

  29. 29
    Little Dreamer says:

    Her point is that your best friend is the person who tells you the things that you don’t want to hear but have to be told.

    Really? I tried this approach on my sister once, thought I was being protective of her and needed to inform her of a situation that she was not aware (and which concerned her)- she hasn’t spoken to me in almost 15 years.

  30. 30

    Even partially agreeing with Noonan hurts so this is painful. Despite serious apprehension I clicked the link and for once I don’t feel the need of a brain bath.

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:

    Really? I tried this approach on my sister once, thought I was being protective of her and needed to inform her of a situation that she was not aware (and which concerned her)- she hasn’t spoken to me in almost 15 years.

    The way you make the approach is important, and even then, people may not listen to you. My sister-in-law has been involved with an abusive drug user who’s in and out of jail for almost 20 years now. My mother-in-law has always been afraid to confront her about it even after he hit my SIL so hard that he knocked her out and she’s now deaf in one ear. He’s just getting out of jail now because he was burglarizing her neighbors’ storage areas while he was living with her and almost got her evicted from her apartment, but she’ll take him back. She always does.

    Humans are weird and don’t always listen to what’s best for them, but that doesn’t mean that enabling destructive behaviors is the way to go.

  32. 32

    Little Dreamer,
    Being a good friend doesn’t bring any guarantees of popularity, in fact – “shoot the messenger” – springs to mind. Close family is even riskier, but then what – do nothing?

  33. 33
    Mike in NC says:

    The Teabagger is amorous, and utilizes all five of his senses; sight, hearing, feeling, smell, and taste in his endeavors of the heart. He seeks not to please a woman, but to instead follow his instinct.

    Teabagging stalkers and rapists? No surprise there. Glenn Beck is a trend setter.

  34. 34
    Roger Moore says:

    I’m surprised that law enforcement hasn’t given leniency to some of the perpetrators to catch the ringleaders.

    It’s not going to work. I think you’ll discover that the Catholic Church has a code of omerta that makes the mafia look soft. They just plain aren’t going to talk, no matter what you say.

  35. 35
    very reverend crimson fire of compassion says:

    I think you’ll discover that the Catholic Church has a code of omerta that makes the mafia look soft.

    Where do you suppose the mafia learned it? People forget that the Sicilian mafia formed largely as a resistance movement against the Inquisition (y’know, Ratzi’s old outfit, the “Holy Office”).

  36. 36
    WereBear says:

    But what about their recruiting problems, which continue to get worse? They look like a church of old men now. Give them twenty years.

  37. 37
    tc125231 says:

    Queen Noonan has just proven the old statistics metaphor about how monkeys, being given enough time, would eventually type Shakespeare.

  38. 38
    hamletta says:

    Oh, my. What will the Wonketeers do, now that Lady Peggington of Nooninghamshire has written something that isn’t bullshit?

    This scandal makes me so sad. And grateful to my grandparents for swimming the Tiber in the other direction. The first time I went to my (Lutheran) church, a guy asked me, since I was a cradle Lutheran, was my family German or Scandinavian? “Nope. Embittered Welsh Catholics.”

    I saw a comment on some story about this scandal, where a faithful Catholic was insisting the only reason it involved Catholics is that they’re the only ones with an organization that can be sued for damages. She thinks all non-RCC churches are single, congregational entities. What a moron. Catechesis fail. The biggest settlement in a church molestation case was paid out by my church, the ELCA. And the Southern Baptist Convention owns several blocks of downtown Nashville.

    Never mind the episcopalian structures of the Episcopalians, the Methodists, or the Presbyterians.

    It was this sort of institutional rot that pissed off Martin Luther. But 500 years ago, the Church really was all-powerful. From their statements, they sound like they still think they have that kind of power.

  39. 39
    Kyle says:

    I read Noonan’s column. It qualifies as modified limited hangout, I guess. Note how she twists around until she can blame the long public silence about the abuse … on anti-Catholic bigots in the press. Nice!

    She also says JPII isn’t to blame for allowing the abuse to go on. He was used to hearing the Communists talk shit about Catholics, and he figured that US newspapers were just like the Communists. Because they represent “modernity.” To her that’s a defense.

    Noonan has a gift for self-sanctified dumbness. It depresses me that anyone, even her, would think that column represented an honest attempt to come to grips with the scandal.

  40. 40
    hamletta says:

    WereBear, you’re wrong. An institution that has stood for 2000 years isn’t going away anytime soon.

  41. 41
    Ron Beasley says:

    There probably aren’t many around here who are old enough to have been madly on love with Emma Peel of the Avengers TV show of the 60s. Well Emma is still around, is a Catholic, has a blog and has some thoughts on the Catholic Church. Attention Vatican, you don’t want to mess with Mrs Peel.

  42. 42
    Pangloss says:

    But I thought we were supposed to ignore the liberal media.

    I’m so confused…

  43. 43
    Cat Lady says:

    The Globe Spotlight investigation of the Archdiocese of Boston was the tipping point to all of this. I commuted to Boston every day on the train during this whole unfolding, and no exaggeration, every person on the train had the Globe open to these articles which appeared almost every day, and the reporting filled whole sections of the paper. Walter Robinson was the editor, and time and time again Cardinal Law had to go further and further out there to defend himself, at one point calling down the wrath of god to smite the Globe, as each day the truth emerged. Finally, he was run out of town by the Boston Irish Triple Eagles (BC High, BC, BC Law) and others who had subsidized the church all through the abuse. This has been a long time coming, and now everyone knows the jig is up. The only question remaining is what Ratz does now. His authority is gone, and everyone remaining in the Church has a taint. This is like watching the Berlin Wall come down, but it’s time. A medieval institution cannot withstand the light.

  44. 44
    hamletta says:

    Cat Lady: Jesus. And they used to call Vatican II “Luther’s Revenge.”

  45. 45
    Delia says:

    Right now the Vatican is still reacting like these are nasty political leaders like Napoleon or Stalin, or sarcastic atheists like Hitch hitting at them. They don’t seem to comprehend yet that they’ve done this to themselves.

    This may be the biggest storm to hit the RC Church since Martin Luther got on their case over the indulgence thing. And they had a whole lot more secular power in the 16th Century. The church won’t go down, but they’re going to be forced to deal with things they really don’t want to deal with. Pope John 23 tried to set things on a course toward the future and these last two popes haven’t really liked that so much. I think this will crash Ratz and then they’re going to have to do some major renovating. They’ll eventually do that. There are enough people further on down in the ranks who are still committed who have ideas on how things should be fixed.

    And no, I’m not a Catholic, never have been. I’m Episcopalian. But I know some of those Catholics. (the ones who will have ideas on reform, that is.)

  46. 46
    Cat Lady says:

    hamletta: I’m not Catholic, but I’ve had a front row seat to this implosion. I’ve read several comments saying the church has been around for so many hundreds of years, this is just another deal they’ll overcome. Mark my words, when you lose the Irish, it’s O-V-A. There won’t be any more practicing Catholics in Ireland in five years. The remaining dioceses will be involved in litigation and settlements, and declaring bankruptcy left, right and center. Most of the properties that the Boston archdiocese owned had to be sold off. Without property, and without the ability to wield moral authority, it’s game over.

  47. 47
    goatchowder says:

    The “it’s good for the church” trope is the same bullshit as the “this is good news for McCain” trope that we love to make fun of.

    In the case of the catholic church, this particular trope goes back 500 years to Martin Luther. The bullshit I was taught in school was that the reformation was “good for the church” because it forced it to update its dogma and rites.

    Horseshit. The church was corrupt, and would have stayed that way if the princes of Germany hadn’t started revolting against it with Luther’s leadership, and the church almost got taken down because of it. Certainly got taken down a few pegs, politically, all right.

    Same as is happening now. They’re not eagerly embracing reform, out of the goodness of their hearts, they’re doing their best to try to stay corrupt, and it’s outsiders who are doing the investigative work, and the prosecutions (hopefully, lots of them).

  48. 48
    Nellcote says:

    Has Miss Peggy ever criticized the Church before or is she only now circling the wagons because the press was attacked?

  49. 49
    grumpy realist says:

    The Roman Catholic church holding itself above civil law is extremely traditional.

    Well, it only took them 400 years to apologize for what they did to Galileo. And they still haven’t apologized for what they did to Giordano Bruno.

    Methinks it’s going to be a long wait before they get around to being intelligent about sexual abuse. If they still exist, of course.

  50. 50
    ricky says:

    Gbear @ 11

    The church hasn’t really confessed yet and has barely started to confront what they’ve done. Yesterday they compared themselves to holocaust victims. They’re still very much in denial.

    The “church” did not compare themselves to holocaust victims. In fact, the press, including the NYT, took one statement from one rather elderly but high ranking priest
    made in the Vatican in the presence of the Pope out of context, got people to react to it, and allowed people to jump up and charge “they (the Catholic Church) compared themselves to holocaust victims.”

    In fact, Gbear, your statement helps prove the point the priest was trying to make. That point is this: In an effort to point criticism at the events we all deplore, be it the individual acts of abuse or the pattern of covering them up, people sometimes engage in stereotypes and collective blame casting, which the priest said a Jewish friend of his reminded him are the worst elements of anti-semitism.

    Check out the full articles written about this incident, not the lead, the heads, or the reactions. Note how often statments made are quoted out of order. Check out carefully what was said. The Catholic Church officially distanced itself from what the priest said, and the priest never compared the Ctholic church or its leaders to holocaust victims. He said some of the reactions to this controversy reminded his friend of elements of anti-semitism. The holocaust was never mentioned.

  51. 51
    Steeplejack says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I think my first exposure to Mrs. Peel accelerated the onset of puberty for me by about six months. Anecdotal evidence, not scientific, but I’m pretty sure.

  52. 52
    Bill Murray says:

    But, Ricky, Cantalamessa’s sermon was published in full on the front page of the Vatican’s newspaper and he is the Preacher of the Pontifical Household. So while it’s true the Church has distanced itself from the statement, it was not without some imprimatur of the church, but left some plausible deniability.

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