Pope brings “soft” power to U.S.; press panders accordingly

Apologies to presidential campaign watchers.  A Pander Watch special addition had to be created to point out the lack of substance and perspective coming from virtually all media outlets re: the Pope’s visit. 

(Stop, the love you save may be your own)

When the pedophile priest scandal first broke the press did a pretty good job of reporting on and investigating the details of the abuse as new stories came to light.  Now that the heat of the child abuse scandal has cooled a bit among U.S. Catholics, the Pope has decided to make nice by meeting with some of the victims.  Sadly, reaction from the press has been to congratulate the pontiff for his bravery and compassion.  You heard few, if any, mentions of too little too late from the official U.S. press for fear of insulting American Catholics — the local news in NYC should get a special pander award for avoiding the topic altogether and focusing their coverage instead on the superlative utterances of jubilent crowds. I hate to be a cynic here, but the Pope’s gesture to meet with victims is as much about his political skill as it is his true compassion and love for “the flock.”  The press panders on.

The silence from the Vatican has been so deafening for so long on this issue that many are giving his holiness praise for simply acknowledging the elephant in the room.  The media couldn’t wait to jump on this tidbit from the coverage of his first day …

“It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the Church in general and for me personally that this could happen,” Benedict said aboard a special Alitalia airliner, nicknamed Shepherd 1. “It is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betray in this way their mission … to these children. I am deeply ashamed and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future,” the 81-year-old pope said, pledging to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.

What most reports failed to point out is that the Pope continues to blame the priests and take no culpability or responsibility himself (also note that he still finds it difficult to believe it even happened.  He’s still in the first stage of shock — denial — while the rest of the world has moved to the last stage: acceptance).  And, he makes a promise he obviously has no power to keep since there is no way the church could possibly know if it has a future pedophile in its ranks (“don’t ask, don’t tell”).  The farthest he went in taking responsibility was in a speech to bishops later in the day in which he said the scandal was “very badly handled,” as if it were simply a PR problem.

You have to look outside of the U.S. to get some perspective on this.  Here is a bit of from London’s The Guardian that provided at least some background to the trip …

While it is Benedict’s first visit to the US since he was elected in 2005, as the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he travelled to the US five times while he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As head of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, Benedict was in charge of investigating paedophilia allegations worldwide, which eroded its moral authority, cost billions of dollars in compensation and, in some cases, led to dioceses filing for bankruptcy.

Benedict was accused at the time of failing to investigate abuse claims. During the emerging news on the scandals in December 2002, he said the allegations were part of a “planned campaign” that was “intentional, manipulated” with the aim of discrediting the church.

(BTW, extra kudos to The Guardian for using the phrase “elected.”  That term itself may offend some Catholics who believe that the pontiff is “chosen” by God himself — not actually “elected” by a bunch of guys hand picked by his predecessors.  He may have even pulled a Dick Cheney by handpicking himself for the job.  Catholics should instead be offended that they had no say in his “election.”  So much for spreading democracy around the globe.)

When pressed by victims rights groups on the issue of the bishops’ culpability for the cover up , the official line from the Vatican continues to be that bishops did everything in their power to remove priests and console the victims.  In fact

Cardinal William Levada, an American cleric who runs the Vatican agency that enforces church doctrine, said Friday he does not know of any bishops guilty of “aiding and abetting” pedophiles, and would respond if he did.

Yet there is a pile of evidence to the contrary.  No mea culpa on the part of those in charge re: one of the biggest scandals against children in the late 20th/early 21st century .  No heads rolling.  No public flogging or even scapegoating of a few “bad” bishops.  Sorry, but being shocked and ashamed is not the same as saying, “we were wrong, we should have done more, we will rid ourselves of this cancer within — starting at the top.”  

And leave it to Fox News to really put the whole thing in perspective.  They made sure to repeat the Pope’s contention (he’s got to hang on to something) that it is our fault for the scandal …

Benedict addressed clerical molesters in the wider context of secularism and the over-sexualization of America. “What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?” he asked.

Two words the Pope uttered in his Yankee Stadium homily perhaps best sum up his reasons for not taking action: Authority. Obedience.  Any and all obligation, the Pope believes, is to the church and not the other way around.  Independent thinking is discouraged, even if it is in the defense of helpless children. As the guy holding a job that can be traced in an unbroken line back to the Apostle Peter, he doesn’t have to explain himself to anybody. 

Shame on the members of the U.S. press for not giving the American people greater perspective on the role that this Pope and his corrupt bishops have played in the continued mishandling and denials regarding this horrible scandal. 


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