So, how good was the news coverage of the very gentle fall of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in terms of the stories published in the two elite newspapers that have been driving this story?
Well, that depends.
It appears that the crucial issue — once again — is whether the most important scandal linked to Wuerl at the the moment is (a) his role in efforts to hide the abuse of children and teens, overwhelmingly male, by clergy, (b) his ties to the career and work of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick or (c) some combination of both, since they are often connected.
If you think the big story is still clergy sexual abuse — as suggested by everything Rome is saying these days — then reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post are just fine. However, if you think that Wuerl could/should be numbered among the cardinals who drew power from McCarrick and then protected him from public scandal, then you will see some very large and interesting holes in these reports.
But first, let’s back up. In addition to waves of coverage of the hellish 900-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report on sexual abuse, here is the lightning-strike Times headline that really kicked this summer’s Catholic chaos up several notches. I am referring to this: “He Preyed on Men Who Wanted to Be Priests. Then He Became a Cardinal.”
As I have mentioned several times here at GetReligion, the big word in this specific piece is “seminarians” — as in reports of McCarrick’s ongoing sexual harassment and abuse of seminarians under his authority.
The sex-with-trapped-men angle vanished, for the most part, in most news coverage. Then the Post came out with a story that I took a look at right here: “Washington Post sees big McCarrick picture: Why are broken celibacy vows no big deal?“ The story’s strong thesis statement said:
The McCarrick case reveals, among other things, the unspoken contradictions between the image of priests as completely celibate and the reality of men struggling at times with their sexuality. Some experts and clerics compared priests’ celibacy vows to those of married couples who become unfaithful. In other words, physical or sexual contact between priests happens. But it’s unclear how frequently it occurs and how often it is nonconsensual.