Just when you thought that the relationship between the Vatican and the mainstream press couldn't get any worse, the powers that be at MSNBC had to grit their teeth and issue a public apology for the fact that a headline -- somehow -- reached the network's live website that read, "Pope Describes Touching Boys: I Went Too Far." Actually, the story -- a sidebar in a package with the headline, "Losing Their Religion? Catholicism in Turmoil" --was about the confessions of a German priest who has left parish work and now lives, exiled, in a monastery. It ends like this:
"Only years later did it occur to me that I had crossed the line. Most of us work until we reach 75. Where will I live in the future? I cannot go back. I left all my friends," he added.
The priest concluded: "Today I just sit, every day I sit, in the monastery, where they received me very generously. I read, I pray and I worry about the future. And in between I cry often."
You just know that Catholic League patriarch Bill Donohue enjoyed writing this brief statement for the press:
NBC says the attributed quote was erroneous and they have corrected the error. An apology was also extended. The apology is accepted. We hope that whoever was responsible for this outrageous post is questioned about it and that appropriate measures are taken. We look forward to hearing the outcome.
And have a nice Holy Week. Don't forget to go to confession before Easter.
I'll be stunned if MSNBC executives come forth with any additional information, although it is often relatively easy to trace who did what in a computer network. I would say that it was an accident, with someone typing what they were daring to think. But if it was a prank? What would be the punishment for that?
(Cue: audible sigh) I am not enjoying the press bashing, of course, but I have to admit that a wide array of publications have -- largely chasing John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter -- been producing some solid commentary, reporting and even constructive dialogue on the facts of the Milwaukee case.
The Divine Mrs. MZ has been spotlighting some of that work, of course (click here and here for samples). In addition to that, I would like to say that I think some of the very best writing about this media storm has been produced -- no surprise -- by the brilliant Ross Douthat of the New York Times, mostly in his weblog. Note in particular this piece, with the headline, "Bishops Who Get It." We are talking about "get it," as in why they need to repent for the cover up of the crimes, a cover up that has been going on to one degree or another for three decades or so. Follow the URLs on this one.
Also, Damian Thompson of the Telegraph has produced an essay that shows why this multi-layered drama is so painful for the Vatican of the present. This piece points toward an important question: What is the endgame? After asking that question, think about this. If Pope Benedict XVI has, in recent years, worked hard to voice repentance and to right wrongs, that implies that something was delaying these actions before he reached the chair of St. Peter.
Thus, Thompson writes:
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tried to persuade Pope John Paul II to mount a full investigation into a cardinal who abused boys and young monks, one of the Church's most senior figures revealed yesterday. But Ratzinger's opponents in the Vatican managed to block the inquiry. As the future Benedict XVI put it: "The other side won."
The pervert cardinal was the late Hans Hermann Groer, removed as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 following sex allegations. The source for the story is Groer's successor in Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, an intellectual whom some commentators have tipped as a possible future Pope.
That's quite a revelation, in my book -- but it doesn't fit the script that the Benedict-hating media have written, so we're not hearing too much about it. Also, I suspect that former advisers to John Paul would rather not remind us that the late Pope didn't do enough to curb sex abuse and cover-ups. Safer to blame Benedict, eh?
Click on over to Thompson'e piece, which includes some interesting URLs to chase. Here is the final summary:
... (A)ccording to Cardinal Schoenborn -- who has some maverick views but is certainly not a liar -- the future Benedict XVI had lost his battle to mount a proper investigation of a sex abuser Cardinal, instead of the secretive and inconclusive one that apparently took place. No wonder he demanded full authority to investigate these cases and assumed greater responsibility for them in 2001.
He's facing a terrible situation, no doubt about it; and no doubt also he made mistakes himself: the fact that he was far more vigilant than other cardinals doesn't mean he was vigilant enough. But history will show that it was Benedict XVI, not John Paul II, who initiated the "purification" of the Church to remove its "filth" -- his words, and uttered long before this current crisis arose.
To further complicate matters, all of this is coming unglued while Vatican officials are investigating whether the late Pope John Paul II should eventually be acclaimed as a saint.
That's important. While many reporters keep asking if this scandal will wound Benedict XVI (Sally "On Faith" Quinn says this is Watergate and the pope is Nixon!), it appears that the big question is whether the campaign to canonize John Paul II could get thrown under the ecclesiastical bus.
Stay tuned. Tomorrow is Good Friday and Easter is coming.
Photo: Then Cardinal Ratzinger blesses the coffin of during the funeral of the late Pope John Paul II.