When is too much too much?

WHITE_OVAL_LGEIf you've been following the coverage of allegations against Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey up in Canada, you know that things have not been getting any better for the former leader of the Diocese of Antigonish. This leads me to a news story that starts with one of those symbolic details that makes you stop and ponder this question: When is enough, enough? When is too much, too much?

I have not made up my mind in this case. Also, the lede on a recent story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald is based on documents from the investigation, which means it is based on a rock-solid form of attribution. When critics tell journalists to just "stick to the facts," they usually mean to avoid anonymous sources and to stay close to these kinds of documents and the public officials who produce them.

So here's the top of the story. You know it's going to be blunt when the double-deck headline proclaims: "Warrants detail images on bishop's computer -- Documents say some naked boys appear younger than 12."

An image of a naked boy wearing only rosary beads was among those found on Bishop Raymond Lahey’s laptop computer, a search warrant has revealed.

The RCMP's child exploitation unit obtained the warrant in order to search the bishop's home in Antigonish and his apartment in Sydney. The document sheds more light on what Canada Border Services Agency officers found on the bishop's computer after it was seized at the Ottawa airport on Sept. 15 as he was returning to Canada from overseas.

Bishop Lahey, 69, was charged Sept. 25 with possessing and importing child pornography. He resigned as bishop of the Antigonish diocese the next day.

Court papers state that the image of the "young, naked male" showed him wearing only "a set of black rosary and a set of white rosary beads around his neck." The boy appears to be nine to 12 years old, court papers say.

It gets worse, including details about a young, naked male who has "red welts and marks" on his body.

The bishop told police that, to the "best of his knowledge," that all of the people involved in his Internet activities -- including alleged IM chats -- were adults. There were 964 files in one computer downloads folder and 33 videos in another. All of these facts are from the warrents.

Testimony from a witness made references to the bishop possessing child pornography as early as the 1980s. But the story notes:

... (D)uring the bishop's conversation with a Canada Border Services Agency officer at the Ottawa airport, he indicated that "he had no time for child exploitation, no time for child pornography," the warrant states. He said he had a computer at home and that it had the LimeWire file-sharing system installed, the documents say. LimeWire was not on his laptop, however.

There is no need to go on, really.

These images are offensive, to say the least. On one level, the lede is offensive. I am sure that many readers, especially Catholic readers, were both offended and upset.

So here's the question for GetReligion readers. Should the rosary images have gone in the lede? Would it have been better, or at least less offensive, to have taken that powerful image and placed it a few paragraphs lower in this news report? This question leads to another: What is the journalistic reason for doing this?

The conservative Catholic writer Leon Podles' recently published a blunt, scathing, take-no-prisoners book entitled "Sacrilege" about the clergy sexual-abuse scandals of the past three decades. In it, he argues that it is impossible for Catholics to experience the fierce, holy kind of anger that leads to true reform without knowing the details of the acts that were committed against children and teens.

rosaryglassblacksh1250Many Catholics, liberals and conservatives, would agree. Many Catholics, liberals and conservatives, would disagree. This isn't a pure, left vs. right situation.

For example, the consider this piece of a commentary penned by the anonymous "Diogenes" over at the "Off the Record" blog at CatholicCulture.org:

All indications are that we're in for six or eight months of humiliation in the media following the now-familiar pattern: feeble ecclesiastical denial instantly crushed by a solidly documented revelation of moral squalor. ...

So why doesn't Lahey plead guilty now? It would spare the Canadian taxpayer the expense of a trial. It would spare all Catholics the death-of-a-thousand-cuts feeling as the media revisit the particulars of his sexual deviancy before, during, and after his weeks in court. It would spare Lahey the need to invent more falsehoods that dig him in even deeper. And perhaps, just perhaps, it might give a good example of a bishop who can act like a man and tell the truth about himself when it's difficult to do so. Even the heathen might interrupt their scoffing long enough to think, "Hey, this guy was a slimeball, but he fears Him who can cast both body and soul into hell."

If I were Lahey's defense attorney, I'd want no part of a guilty plea. But then a defense attorney is not responsible for the souls of the Christ's flock. Lahey's brother bishops are. If it mattered to them, they could certainly convince their exceptionally invertebrate brother -- they don't come any softer -- to do the right thing for the good of the Church.

If it mattered.

Left or right? Who is more angry, at this point? Should reports let the chips fall where they may, knowing that they will offend? Why or why not?

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