Mother Angelica and Gerard Henderson on Spin Down Under
Australian Catholic writer Gerard Henderson and his Media Watch Dog blog channel the chutzpah of Mother Angelica to take on a topic shunned by most Catholic media.
The Wall Street Journal is by no stretch of the imagination a newspaper that should be considered “Catholic-friendly.” Nor does it exhibit any evidence of bias against the Catholic Church or Catholic faith. That is all, really, that anyone could ask or expect of a secular newspaper with a global readership. I have consistently found that the Journal covers Catholic news, and most other news, without the media bias that is so blatant in so many other venues. And it does so with respect, not only for the subjects of the news, but for its readers. No, I don’t get a subsidy, or even a discount, for making this claim. It’s just demonstrably true.
On the day I began typing this, for example, the Journal has a moving tribute to Mother Mary Angelica by James R. Hagerty (“Mother Angelica, 1923 – 2016,” April 2-3, 2016). It has a wonderful photograph of her that captured this great woman’s heart and spirit. It captured mine, too. The tribute isn’t pious or “churchy,” but it’s written and portrayed with a respect and courtesy not usually seen in a national secular newspaper (or even one particular national catholic reporter) for any Catholic figure known for fidelity except, perhaps, Pope Francis. Consider this introduction to the Journal piece (print version):
“Mother Mary Angelica grew up in a tough neighborhood and learned entrepreneurial skills before becoming a Catholic nun. She created a global religious television network and tangled with bishops over doctrine. Lesser souls loved her down-to-earth talk.”I don’t think I realized I was one of those “lesser souls” who much appreciated, and much missed, Mother Angelica’s hands-on presence at EWTN until 2012 when I wrote a post entitled “Father Benedict Groeschel at EWTN: Time for a Moment of Truth.”
The post was in response to the first hard evidence I had seen in many years that anti-Catholic bias was alive and well in the secular media, and its tentacles had compromised the backbones of many in the Catholic press as well. To refresh your memory, in 2012 the elderly Father Groeschel, having never fully recovered from a dreadful accident, made a vague statement in response to the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. After only one side of this story mercilessly bludgeoned the U.S. Catholic church in the media for a decade, Father Groeschel suggested that in some instances the real moral collapse may rest with the accuser and not the accused.
He committed what constitutes a sacrilege for the media of the left. He questioned the cause of victimhood, and called for a distinction between true and false claims, and he was attacked for it in secular venues. Some Catholic media recoiled in horror as well, and even scrubbed from their pages the very presence of Father Groeschel.
Was Father Groeschel entirely wrong? Not in hindsight, he wasn’t, and not if you have read recent posts such as “The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek,” or JoAnn Wypijewski’s courageous article, “Oscar Hangover Special: Why Spotlight Was a Terrible Film.” Her article is a landmark because Ms. Wypijewski is stirring consciences and calling journalists to be true to their calling on her own side of the media ideological fence.
An ironic truth made clear in my 2012 post about Fr. Groeschel was that most of those both in and outside the Church who took the opportunity to attack him on cue were entirely ignorant of his positions over the previous two decades on the matter of guilty abusers who are priests. There’s no point in repeating it as you can read it yourselves in “Father Benedict Groeschel at EWTN: Time for a Moment of Truth.” I believe Mother Angelica smiles upon that effort.
THE CARDINAL AND THE KANGAROO COURT
Now something similar is happening in Australia, and one Catholic writer there has demonstrated the courage to openly confront it. I actually wrote of the early stages of this story in a July 2015 post, “Peter Saunders and Cardinal Pell: A Trial By Media.”
Gerard Henderson is Executive Director of The Sydney Institute, where his blog, Media Watch Dog, can be found. Mr. Henderson has been tracking the work of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He credits the Commission for its good work in revealing what has come to be known as “historical” cases of abuse in both churches and secular institutions there. “Historical” in this context means that the cases surfaced decades after abuse is alleged to have taken place, and there is no evidentiary means to either support or dismiss them.
There are forces, however, including among journalists and activists with agendas of their own, who have stifled any distinction between victims and accusers, a trend that flies in the face of every system of law and model of justice in Western Culture. All evidence before the Commission indicates that ‘such ‘abuse is largely a thing of the distant past, but some use it to fuel anti-Catholic moral panic in the present.
But in “George Pell: A Scapegoat at the Altar of Progressivism,” his well-researched article revealing signs of a witch hunt against Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, Gerard Henderson unmasks another interesting reality that some want to suppress. These so-called “historical” abuses appear to have occurred with far less frequency in Australian dioceses that were considered theologically conservative and with bishops that were “less progressive” than others.
The Henderson article reveals troubling signs that the Royal Commission and the Australian news media want to keep that fact below the media radar while targeting Cardinal Pell, not for any complicity in abuse, but for his conservative theology of Church and priesthood. Gerard Henderson stands alone in raising this specter of bias in Australian media.
To its great credit, the influential Australian Catholic magazine, Annals Australasia has reprinted his article, “A Scapegoat at the Altar of Conservatism.” Under a subheading, “The Cardinal and the Kangaroo Court,” both Gerard Henderson and the magazine called the media and the Royal Commission to the same thing they demand of the Church: accountability and transparency:
“The lack of balance in the media’s reporting of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church reflects the fact that many journalists detest Pell’s conservatism. There are disturbing signs that a similar disposition is evident in the Royal Commission, which runs the risk of breaching the division between church and state.”THE REAL – AND REALLY SHALLOW – O’NEALS
Anyone who still doubts whether anti-Catholicism remains in American culture need look no further than what the ABC-TV network has been pushing for American audiences. “The Real O’Neals,” a sitcom about a modern Irish-American Catholic family celebrating the emergence of a gay 16-year-old son was summed up in unflattering terms by TV critic Robert Rorke:
“A witless collection of anti-Catholic cliches, the new ABC series takes a talented cast and saddles it with some of the worst material in ages… The first Jesus joke comes about one minute into the premier episode… There’s even a statue of the Virgin Mary above the O’Neal’s toilet bowl… Besides being heavy-handed, the humor is bitter… But Catholics are fair game.” (New York Post, March 1, 2016)But why are Catholics fair game? It isn’t because of the sexual abuse story in the Catholic Church because that story has been framed in the media with the same anti-Catholic bias
that seems entrenched in Western Culture and long preceded “The Scandal.” The media’s presentation and coverage of Catholic issues and of the Catholic Church continues to be a scandal in it own right. The failure of Catholic media to challenge it, and the caving-in of American Catholics to the “availability bias” built by the media, all add to the weight of scandal.
You can no longer trust the legitimacy or agenda of anything coming out of most of the secular press in the United States on the matter of Catholicism, nor should you accept at face value its coverage of the sexual abuse story as a presentation of truth. That trend to use scandal as a vehicle for attack has spread from America to Australia. Catholics have become “fair game” for entrenched prejudice in a news media that consistently slants left, and I have some hard evidence for that charge.
Commencing on February 15, 2016, USA Today ran a three-day front page “above the fold” account of gross failures in U.S. school systems to protect children from abuse. This had nothing to do with “historical” abuse, but takes place in the here and now. Consecutive daily editions of USA Today carried headlines such as “Teachers Flee Troubled Pasts,” “How Teachers Keep Damaged Careers Afloat,” “A Fragmented State System Puts Children at Risk,” “Teacher Background Checks Flawed,” “Schools Left in Dark on Staff Misdeeds.”
After the series ran, Steve Reilly at USA Today reported that a state-by-state audit is being conducted in the wake of the newspaper’s investigation, and that thousands of names of disciplined or removed teachers are missing from a national database. Massachusetts and New Hampshire – two states at the epicenter of the 2002 Catholic scandal about accused priests – were given “F” grades in USA Today’s 2016 “Dishonor Role” for teacher background checks. What was the point of the media’s moral panic if it didn’t change any culture but the Catholic one?
A PRECEDENT IN THE THIRD REICH
Then just days after that Front Page investigation went to print, USA Today editors published a jarring demonstration of media bias and hypocrisy. It made me wonder whether these editors were even reading their own newspaper when they had the sheer gall to publish an editorial entitled, “The Church drags its feet on sexual abuse accountability” (USA Today “Our View,” Feb. 26). Then on March 8, gearing up for Holy Week, the editors revisited that editorial with “Church must do more to address sex scandal.” Just three weeks after USA Today’s multi-day expose of rampant abuse and cover-up in the American education system, the paper published this collection of anti-Catholic rants on its Editorial Page:
Catholic writer Ryan MacDonald sent me a copy of a protest he fired off to USA Today’s “Standards Editor” Brett Jones at accuracyusatoday.com. It was, of course, entirely ignored. American Catholics who still subscribe to USA Today in light of such bias do more than lend tacit approval to it. They participate in it. They especially participate in it when there are other sources for national and global daily venues that report the news without blatant disregard and disrespect for fidelity among Catholics. Frankly, a daily subscription to The Wall Street Journal, now a national and global paper and no longer just a “business paper,” costs just a few cents a day more than USA Today.
The mob justice that USA Today invited in this exercise has a troubling precedent that I wrote of in “Catholic Scandal and the Third Reich: The Rise and Fall of a Moral Panic.” If you haven’t read that, you might be alarmed by the similarities between what some in the news media now present as “rings true,” and what Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, pulled off in 1939 Germany. It’s scary stuff.
You can help in this challenge to the media in other ways as well. One is to continue to share a link on social media and other venues to this post, and to JoAnn Wypijewski’s very important CounterPunch challenge to the field of journalism, “Oscar Hangover Special: Why ‘Spotlight’ Is a Terrible Film.”
Both justice and Divine Mercy require me to share with you anew that message I received from Servant of God Father John Hardon:
“Our duty as Catholics is to know the truth; to live the truth; to defend the truth; to share the truth with others; and to suffer for the truth.”This Divine Mandate was why Rita Antoinette Rizzo became Mother Angelica, and it’s why she walked into a Baptist TV studio in Chicago in 1978 and declared, “Lord, I’ve GOT to have one of these!”
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