The USCCB’s Office of Media Relations is scheduling a one-day seminar for members of the media to instruct them on the provisions of canon law and how that law relates, or doesn’t to civil laws. The seminar will focus specifically on how these laws relate to cases involving the sex abuse of minors by clergy. It is scheduled for May 25 and is being co-sponsored by the Canon Law Society of America.
If anyone wonders why we need that big office building on Fourth Street in Washington, here is a perfect example. For weeks now, the mainstream media has been filled with the kinds of simple mistakes that allow a storyline to develop but which betray a misunderstanding of the issues involved. The most obvious is the role of the Vatican in defrocking priests. I believe most secular reporters today do not understand that a local bishop has the authority to convoke a canonical trial to remove a priest from the clerical state and that recourse to the Holy See is only required to obtain a dispensation from the vow of celibacy for the defrocked priest. If they knew that one fact, I suspect the coverage of the incidents in Milwaukee and Oakland would have been different. Actually it would not have existed at all because it was only the prospect of finding a smoking gun in Pope Benedict’s hands that got the media to cover the stories in the first place. The fact that U.S. bishops failed to use the tools they possessed to deal with cases of sexual abuse is old news.
I do not imagine that a business reporter would be able to file stories if he or she did not understand what a derivative is. I do not think a political reporter would be long at his or her job if they did not understand that the Senate, not the House, confirmed judicial nominees. Yet religion reporters are allowed to file stories without the vaguest idea of how the Catholic Church operates. I encourage everyone to write or call the religion reporter at your newspapers and urge them to attend this seminar.