Buck stops with Benedict ... again (updated)

Here's the headline on The New York Times' latest story delving into Pope Benedict XVI and his handling of clergy sexual abuse:

Future Pope's Role in Abuse Case Was Complex

I didn't see the actual print version of the story, but I'm hoping the headline ran in about 72-point type. Because, man oh man, I don't know about the pope's role, but complex doesn't even begin to describe this piece. GetReligion readers, particularly those with concerns about recent coverage of the abuse scandal, may have adjectives of their own to characterize this piece.

Here's the top:

VIENNA -- As Pope Benedict XVI has come under scrutiny for his handling of sexual abuse cases, both his supporters and his critics have paid fresh attention to the way he responded to a sexual abuse scandal in Austria in the 1990s, one of the most damaging to confront the church in Europe.

Defenders of Benedict cite his role in dealing with Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer of Vienna as evidence that he moved assertively, if quietly, against abusers. They point to the fact that Cardinal Groer left office six months after accusations against him of molesting boys first appeared in the Austrian news media in 1995. The future pope, they say, favored a full canonical investigation, only to be blocked by other ranking officials in the Vatican.

A detailed look at the rise and fall of the clergyman, who died in 2003, and the involvement of Benedict, a Bavarian theologian with many connections to German-speaking Austria, paints a more complex picture.

In general, this whole scandal makes my head spin. I can't fathom priests abusing children. I can't understand how anyone can cover up such abuse and allow it to continue. Yet most of the recent reporting I've seen impresses me as overwrought and underwhelming on a "gotcha" scale.

As for the latest Times story, it's a 1,900-word story. It has a 51-word lead sentence. It goes 337 words before making it to the first named source. Up to that point, there are broad generalizations attributed to "defenders" and "critics." It's "they say" and "they point to the fact" and never any concrete accounting for who "they" are.

Perhaps even worse, there are entire sections that make bold claims with no attribution at all. Take these two paragraphs, for example:

There are indications that Benedict had a lower tolerance for sexual misconduct by elite clergy members than other top Vatican officials.

Unlike John Paul, his predecessor, Benedict has as pope apologized and met with sexual abuse victims. But while he often, as a cardinal, used his clout to enforce doctrine and sideline clergy members whose views diverged from his own, he seemed less willing at that time to aggressively pursue sexual abusers.

OK, so Benedict had a low tolerance for sexual misconduct? No, wait a minute, he was unwilling to aggressively pursue abusers? Am I the only one confused here? (Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the first time.)

As regular GetReligion reader Julia points out, the article demonstrates a lack of understanding of the structure of the Holy See and who has what jobs at the Vatican. At crucial points, the piece provides no context of when Benedict got the job of reviewing sex abuse cases. And it seems to assume that Benedict had total control of all situations at all times -- even when he was not pope:

Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had the ear of Pope John Paul II and was able to block a favored candidate for archbishop of Vienna, clearing the way for Father Groer to assume the post in 1986, say senior church officials and priests with knowledge of the process. His critics question how this influence failed him nine years later in seeking a fuller investigation into the case.

As Julia asked, is it reasonable to assume that sometimes you win arguments and sometimes you don't? Apparently not.

I could go on, but it seems obvious: This is another attempt to tie Benedict to a cover-up. Certainly, it's a legitimate journalistic exercise for the media to investigate what role, if any, that Benedict played. But this piece serves only to throw out a bunch of innuendo and "facts" attributed to sources such as "senior officials with knowledge of the process."


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