Monday, October 02, 2006

UK Bishops to BBC: Crimen Prejuditionis

Over the past week there's been a rising tide of tumult coming from across the Pond in anticipation of a BBC program on abuse and the church, which aired last night on Panorama.

As Holy See refused to cooperate from the outset, the "in-house" component is made up of the victim advocate Fr Tom Doyle and a former cleric, both with less-than-laudatory views and experience of the handling of cases. Throw into the mix deposition footage of a serial-predator priest, but a couple of the many harrowing survivor accounts out there and a slant in search of something to stick to "Cardinal Ratzinger," whose name (and now-former dicastery) get taken on an excessive drag through the mud, and you have a highly incendiary, emotionally devastating product, albeit one built on lapses of detail and context.

Notably, the most significant sign of the changing climate -- i.e. Maciel -- is nowhere mentioned. And that's something the elsewhere-omnipresent "Cardinal Ratzinger" actually had quite a bit to do with.

Then again, the elision should underscore anew (as if it was news to anyone?) that to slam the door shut to the media, especially with a high-profile exploration which could prove extremely damaging, serves no purpose but to reinforce the initial preconceptions of the press and give the church side even less of a quarter with which to speak credibly, or speak at all....

And this restores trust, how?

As you would guess, the bishops of England and Wales are incandescent at the portrayal.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is to protest to Mark Thompson, the corporation's director general, about last night's "unwarranted" and "deeply prejudiced" BBC1 Panorama programme....

The English and Welsh bishops were denied a preview film by the BBC because the Vatican had refused to co-operate in the making of it.

But a leaked copy was sent to the bishops in Spain, where they were on retreat last week, and they watched it together on Saturday evening and decided that the cardinal should protest vigorously. A statement issued yesterday by the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, revealed the extent of their anger.

He said that as a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be "ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict XVI".

The archbishop said that viewers would recognise "only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the programme, which uses old footage and undated interviews.

They will know that aspects of the programme amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader."

Archbishop Nichols, the chairman of the Catholic office for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, described the evil of child abuse depicted in the documentary as "horrific and deeply distressing".

But he said that the thrust of the programme was "false and entirely misleading" because it misrepresented two Vatican documents.
Repeat: When the church doesn't cooperate, refusing to offer even a cup of tea and some background, a "culture of secrecy" looks even more like... a culture of secrecy.

If you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention.

It's not as if by putting fingers in ears, the media's going to go away. If anything, it's multiplying. And constructively engaging it, using its interest and seizing the opportunity to: 1. win back some shred of credibility, tough interview by tough interview and 2. shock everyone with the effectiveness of real openness -- one that counters the notions and the inexcusably low expectations much of the hierarchy has earned for its press strategies -- is the first building block of not just a fuller story, but a purer, safer, holier (i.e. better and, ergo, more alluring) church, one which shows that it's learned its lessons and seeks to be worthy again of the public trust.

Anything less just amplifies the belief that it's business as usual in Catholicism... and is it?

It isn't news, people: When you've got a lemon, make lemonade. The lemon might just be one of its own device but, indeed, there is a point where the church can stop digging its hole.... And that starts by opening the door.