May 20, 2006

What the media missed in the sexual-abuse scandal

The Tidings

By Patrick J. Schiltz

Twenty-third in a series; first of three parts.

I am often invited to present the "other side" of the clergy sexual-abuse "story." I receive these invitations because, as first a practicing attorney and then a law professor, I have advised every major Christian denomination in connection with more than 500 clergy sexual-abuse cases in almost all 50 states. My clients have included Catholic dioceses, orders, bishops and priests, and thus people assume that, if there is another side of this story to be told, I will be able to tell it.

There is, in fact, much about this story that has been ignored or distorted by the media. Before I elaborate, though, I must be clear about the following: Hundreds of pastors --- Catholic and non-Catholic --- did indeed sexually abuse thousands of children and vulnerable adults. Many bishops and other church leaders did indeed learn of abusive pastors, cover up abuse, and do little to protect children and vulnerable adults. The acts of these pastors and bishops did indeed cause incalculable harm.

All of this is true, and not one word of this article is meant to excuse any of it. I have spent hundreds of hours talking with victims of clergy sexual abuse --- some who were suing my clients, some who were helping my clients to rid themselves of abusive pastors, and some who just wanted to help me to advise my clients better. Listening to victims describe their pain can be unbearable. I cannot imagine how much worse it must be to experience that pain. I take a back seat to no one in my loathing of clergy sexual abuse.

That said, it also frustrates me that the media have distorted many aspects of the abuse crisis and left the public terribly misinformed. My purpose in this article is to examine the conduct of the media as carefully as the media have examined the conduct of bishops and priests. The most remarkable thing about the news coverage of the recent past is that almost nothing covered has been new.

Posted by kshaw at May 20, 2006 10:28 AM