This spring must have felt like Long Lent II for the Catholic Church as it faced waves of new sex abuse claims worldwide and media scrutiny. Unlike many Catholic leaders, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan welcomed the scrutiny as one hard step in church reform. A devoted Catholic, Noonan believes the fire of journalistic inquiry revealed the worth of the institution—and its urgent need for change: "[T]he journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe has been the best friend of the Catholic Church … 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."
That thank you may be a while coming. No one, persons or institutions, likes public criticism, and many Catholic leaders naturally circled the wagons during the recent media blitz. They rightly noted many journalists' ignorance about church history and teaching and decried sloppy reporting.
"The facts seem to be of little interest to those whose primary concern is to nail down the narrative of global Catholic criminality," charged Catholic public intellectual George Weigel, in response to a New York Times report on a Wisconsin priest accused of abusing some 200 deaf children. "[The media's narrative] … is often less about the protection of the young … than it is about taking the Church down—and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate …." In other words, the secular press has no right to wag sanctimonious fingers when they have at times sensationalized horror stories involving children to sell copy. Surely Christians of all streams have at times felt besieged by reporters seemingly bent ...1