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The Pope’s enemies have, we can only hope, done their worst. As the visit begins, we must watch and pray

The media will not let up. Watch out for the innuendoes and smears

By on Thursday, 16 September 2010

This is my last post before the arrival of the Pope. By the time you read this, he will be here; as I write, he is in the air. In my last column, I wrote that I confidently expected all the media attempts to wreck the visit to be swept away by the visit itself. I still believe that: but it is clear that the media attempts to play up the paedophile scandals in the Church will continue.

So in these final hours I repeat yet again what I have already written more than once. The scandal is NOT that paedophilia is more rampant in the Catholic Church than anywhere else: it is that we are all too representative of modern society when we should be an example to it.

I have learned from bitter experience that you can produce the evidence of this until you are blue in the face: the Church’s enemies will still carry on screaming. Nevertheless, I quote once more just one telling survey among a growing number (for some of which see my last post on the subject): according to Dr Thomas Plante of Stanford University, “available research suggests that approximately two to five per cent of priests have had a sexual experience with a minor” which “is lower than the general adult male population” – in which the percentage of those who have interfered with minors “is best estimated to be closer to eight per cent”. This is shameful enough: but it does not make us actually worse than any other institution in modern society (and as for cover-ups, we are very far from being alone in that either. It is very bad: but we are not alone in our squalor).

How damaging will this misapprehension about the Church prove to be to the visit now in its early hours? The media onslaught has already begun. As Damian Thompson wrote a week or so ago, “We’ll know soon enough if certain media outlets have decided to go ahead with their planned dirty tricks. If those tricks work, “antagonism” could lead to a disaster. If they don’t…. then the papal visit could be an unexpected triumph.

Well, last night, Channel 4, in a broadcast prominently puffed in advance by The Guardian (of course), unleashed their own dirty trick by “revealing” that (in the Guardian’s words) “More than half of the Catholic clergy jailed for paedophile activity in England and Wales remain in the priesthood – with several receiving financial support from church authorities, raising serious questions about depth of church commitment to child protection and overshadowing the start of the papal visit”.

The implication is that they are still active in the priesthood, rather than being suspended from all priestly activity as they await laicisation, a lengthy legal process during which the Church has a continuing responsibility for them. They have no contact with the faithful or with their children. In due course, they will be out once and for all.

There is of course absolutely no question whatever about the present “depth of church commitment to child protection”: as for “overshadowing the start of the papal visit”, that is precisely what they hope it WILL do, that’s why they cooked up this smear in the first place, and why they delayed screening it until the very eve of the visit.

This story will be dealt with and discredited: but these things take time. But it will, I trust be ineffective, even in the short term: if that’s all they can cook up the visit is safe enough. Not many people watch Channel 4, and the Guardian’s readership is already substantially anti-Papist anyway; I doubt whether this story will make it into other papers.

But these hours of waiting are anxious and uncertain (just as, it should be remembered, they were before the arrival of Pope John Paul in 1982). As I write, the Duke of Edinburgh will be on his way to the airport; and the pilot of the Holy Father’s plane will be preparing for his final descent. Pope Benedict, I have no doubt, is quietly praying for the success of the visit; and as soon as I have sent this post winging through cyberspace to the Herald, so too shall I be, struggling to follow this great and holy man in this as in all else.

  • http://twitter.com/kilburnmat Mat M

    Actually the scandal is not that there are paedophile priests, though I question the Vatican's assertion that paedophilia is less prevalent in the RC church than in the general populace, the scandal is the the vatican has hidden priests who have raped or sexually abuse children from justice. The scandal is that priests, rather than being handed over to the proper authorities, have been moved on to other parishes where they have abused more children, making the roman catholic church directly responsible for children being raped, sodomised, and otherwise sexually assault. The scandal is that the roman catholic church is not only to blame for crimes against thousands of children, but through not delivering priests, who are now active priests, they continue to be the cause of suffering. The scandal is that you attack those who want an end to suffering as your enemies, that you belittle our demands for justice as anti-catholicism when you should be using your influence to bring about justice and to protect children. Why use this article to attack us when you could call for your church to co-operate with the police? Why use this article to attack us when you could attack people who abuse children?

    So rather than attack, why not tell us this. What are those priests now doing that were raised by Channel 4? ALso answer me this, are the any priests who the church know have abused children who have not been reported to the police?

  • Carol

    You wont get an answer from this guy. Iv emailed him personally and zilch. I would like a face to face with this guy with a bible in my hands and show what an utter disgrace the organisation he defends is.

  • W Oddie

    They are doing nothing. Nothing. Got it? And yes, they have OK?

  • JamesH

    You didn't really read the article, did you? It wasn't the Vatican that said paedophilia is less prevalent in the church than in the general population.

    Hidden priests from justice? Where? When?

    As has been made abundantly clear by sources other than the Times&Guardian, the priests were assumed 'cured' under professional advice, and moved because the psychologists said they were safe.

    Spiked Online has a good dissection of the media's bias:
    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/9548/

  • Disbloke

    Really? You don't think it is a scandal that paedophilia is more prevalent in the catholic church than in other sections of society? This is exactly why christianity should be cosigned to history along side worship of ra and odin.

  • David Armitage

    I heartily agree with Mat M. The scandal is not so much that there have been paedophiles. There always will be. The real scandal is the way the hierarchies tried to cover up cases, tried expensive litigation, sold off Church property, and paid out hundreds of millions of dollars of the faithful's money without so much as a by your leave. For me the greatest scandal today is that at the centre of the misnamed sacred congregation dealing with the matter is the arch poacher turned game-keeper, the American Cardinal William Levada, who spent millions in settlements and left angry abuse victims in every diocese in which he officiated, and who tried all kinds of legal wheezes to keep the lid on things. His predecessor was a certain Josef Ratzinger. Changing its name from the Holy Office has done nothing to change its secret inquisitorial ways, as instanced by the silencing and persecution of great and saintly theolgians for daring to scrutinise what the Vatican and hierarchies are getting up to. As for cooking up a smear, dear William Oddie, why is trying to get to the truth of the matter considered an attack on the Pope? Lèse majesté? Popes haven't had dissenters burned alive for quite a while, but dastardly deeds have been done in the name Christ without the slightest hint of criticism.

  • Chris

    I would love to see the source of the 8% of the population you have quoted in this article and whether it includes things such as a 16 year old sleeping with their 15 year old partner (very different to a 50 year old coercing a 15 year old).

    Regardless, the scandal I always felt, was that this issue only seems to affect the Catholic church. Even the vilified Muslims have not had this sort of accusation pointed at them. For all Catholics seem to feel they are the target of undue media abuse, they receive nothing like the bile and unfounded nonsense that is all too often dished out to all Islamic faiths.

  • W Oddie

    You obviously haven't even read my post. It isn't true that paedophilia is more evident in the catholic church. THAT'S THE WHOLE POINT you ignoramus.

  • Chris

    Can you provide the sources for the figures in your article?

    I write the odd article for publication and I like to check my facts and figures and keep a record of my sources.

    You may have read Private Eye who run a section called “Number Crunching”. For you and your readers here is my very own “Number Crunching” complete with my sources:

    “Not many people watch Channel 4…”

    Big Brother 2010 final (Channel 4) viewing figures: 5.1 million (http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/arts_entertainment/big+brother+final+gets+five+million+viewers/3752877)

    Number of Catholics in Britain (based on last census): 4.2 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_England_and_Wales)

  • GFFM

    It is not more prevalent amongst Catholic priests. There is a certain segment of the population where it is more prevalent, but that will get no air play especially in Britain. Read the social science. Philip Jenkins' book entitled Priests and Pedophiles is a necessary read for you. Then try some objectivity instead of the bigotry which clearly influences your thinking about all Catholics.

  • GFFM

    Are you kidding? Apparently “marrying” 12, 13 and 14 year old girls doesn't count as abuse. Some girls even younger. The political correctness of your post astounds. It occurs to me that the ant-Catholic, anti-clerical elite should read a bit about the abuse of women and young girls in many Muslim cultures. Astounding.

  • Lnewington

    Whether it is more rampant in the Catholic Church or not, is a poor is statement and to be truthful, we would take some beating.

    We are well represented in modern society thanks to our faith not only on a spiritual level but in faith in those who lead us, adding to the betrayal of trust.

    In your comfortable tower, no doubt untouched by the horrendous actions against our children, aged from as young as two years old, you do no favours playing it down.

    That includes for priest's carrying this yoke around their necks for decades out of obedience to their bishops and superiors to protect the church.

    How many commented later, they were glad when brought to account and at last free; and that my friend, through a Court of Law.

  • logos27

    All those people who go on about “cover-ups” strangely NEVER look into what has happened everywhere else bar the Catholic Church. Protestant Churches, Non-Christians. State schools in the US and the UK, state childrens homes, social services, approved schools – all hotbeds of abuse that make the Catholic cases look puny. But do you hear about them except in dribs and drabs? Have they ever asked for abuse victims to come forward and be counted as the Catholics have – and got pilloried for it? Have they ever come clean with a grand public enquiry? No. And why not? because they are a LOT better at covering things up than the Catholic Church.

  • Chris

    Sorry, you are totally miunderstanding my post. Yes, there is a problem in the Muslim faith of forced marriage of minors. Although I would argue that this is more of a problem of the developing and third world contries where Islam is more predominant. Certainly, history shows that many religions have had forced marriages of minors over the centuries before we have entered the modern age.

    However what I am referring to is, that particularly in the developed world, certainly in the UK, despite the reams of negative press surrounding Islamic preachers, I have yet to come across a single case of an Imam being so much as accused of abusing a minor.

    I repeat again, that in my eyes the scandal is that only the Catholic church is repeatedly dogged by claims of its preists have abused children.

    That is not to say that followers of Islam are entirely free of abuse of women and children. That would be a ridiculous statement. That is to say that of the 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, none of them have made allegations of abuse against a leader of their faith. Not just Muslims, other Christian groups, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddists, none make as many allegations of abuse against religious leaders as are made against the Catholic church. This is where the scandal arises. This is why, in the eyes of many, there is a problem in the Catholic church, this issue is furthered by the belief of many that these cases of abuse have not been reported to the proper authorities, ie the police.

    Now of course you will argue that this is because they are better at covering these scandals up. However this is purely a suposition on your behalf with no evidience to back up your claim. On the contary, I would say that the attention given by the media to Muslims and the infiltration of mosques by british reporters, often to show that Muslim clerics are preaching terrorist and hate, that if there was an issue of abuse within the Islamic faith, then this would be a claim repeated in the media in much the same way alegations are made about Catholics.