Yet Another Fallacious Op-Ed on Church Abuse Scandal From the LA Times

As we've stated before, no one can challenge the awful harm wrecked upon youth at the hands of Catholic clergy. The harm is real, incredibly sad, and unspeakably damaging. But that is no excuse for the Los Angeles Times to continue its dishonest practice of false and misleading presentations on the narrative of Cardinal Roger Mahony and the Los Angeles Catholic Church abuse scandal.

The latest offense from the Times is a dishonest op-ed (Tue. 2/3/09) from William Lobdell, who just-so-happens to be a former reporter at the Times. He also is promoting a new book that is coming out in three weeks. Lobdell's piece is riddled with misleading and false information:

1. "Because only 2% of the 4,392 U.S. priests and deacons accused of molestation from 1950 through 2002 served time in prison, victims of clergy sexual abuse are used to the criminal justice system failing them."

Lobdell's "2%" figure is incredibly misleading – and false. In total, over 24% of accused priests were reported to police. 20%-25% of the accused are deceased. As for most of the others, allegations were brought forward long after statutes of limitation, so charges could never be filed. In the case of Los Angeles, over 90% of the accusations did not surface until the years 2002 and 2003, often decades after the alleged incidents. Finally, the 2004 John Jay Report, the most comprehensive study conducted on the nationwide scandal, put the number actually jailed at 3%. (And, again, the report is five years old. The actual number may be a bit higher now.) 9% of the total accused were eventually convicted of a crime. (And we should remember that there many accused priests have vehemently denied their allegations, and many have been falsely accused.)

2. "In the seven years since the scandal first broke, Mahony and his brother bishops have relied on news fatigue, parishioner apathy and propaganda to escape personal responsibility for their starring roles in putting children in the paths of known predators."

"News fatigue"? "Parishioner apathy"? "Propaganda"? Is he kidding? Even Lobdell's former colleague, Tim Rutten, a perpetual Church basher, acknowledged in a column last week,

"[E]very cleric who can be criminally prosecuted already has been by the county’s district attorney … All of the relevant information on [the L.A. archdiocese priest] cases has been in the hands of county prosecutors for years … The legal acrimony between the D.A.'s office and the archdiocese over all this has been corrosive enough to eat through titanium alloy. If any sort of criminal obstruction had occurred, does anybody really think L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley wouldn't have prosecuted?"

3. "[T]he cardinal has promoted himself — with the help of a high-priced public relations firm — as a leading reformer on the way the church handles clergy sexual abuse."

First of all, does this p.r. firm have a name by any chance, Bill? If so, they should be fired! Can anyone think of an organization that gets worse press in the media than Cardinal Mahony and the Catholic Church?

Meanwhile, Lobdell blasts the Cardinal for having a p.r. firm, Lobdell himself markets himself on his own web site as a "media consultant"! (H.t. to a commenter at the Times' web site) Check this out:

Lobdell will show you how to develop a realistic and effective media strategy to help achieve your company’s goals, how to stay ahead of a breaking and/or controversial story, how to create genuine relationships with journalists, how to effectively use off-the-record comments to shape the story in your favor, how to handle a 9 p.m. call from the New York Times (”No Comment” isn’t the answer), how to navigate the tricky world of New Media …

If this isn't hypocrisy, I don't know what is.

4. "To date, Mahony has skirted personal responsibility for [former priest Michael] Baker and other cases that happened on his watch."

Lobdell is dishonest here. Lobdell leaves out the fact that at the urging of Cardinal Mahony, Fr. Baker was laicized in 2000. Others found to have abused children were completely removed from ministry.

5. "[T]here is an almost universal sense among them that Mahony has never owned up to his role in the sex scandal … In his many public apologies to the victims, he's never acknowledged that his failure to act quickly and decisively resulted in unspeakable harm to Catholic children."

A flat-out lie by Lobdell. The Cardinal has apologized for his mistakes countless times. Here's an excerpt from a 2004 letter by Cardinal Mahony:

Once again I sincerely apologize to anyone who has suffered from sexual misconduct or abuse by a priest, deacon, lay minister, employee or volunteer of the Archdiocese. I acknowledge my own mistakes during my eighteen years as your Archbishop. Apologies are vitally necessary, but, of themselves, are insufficient. My goal as your Archbishop is to do all in my power to prevent sexual abuse by anyone serving our Archdiocese now and in the future. Moving the healing and reconciliation process forward requires the fullest possible disclosure of what happened over the years. The victims deserve nothing less.

In a 2006 radio interview on KCRW, Mahony stated,

"I have been able to meet with many, many dozens of victims, one by one, and I'll be doing that for probably for years to come … [I am] more committed to make sure we get all the help that we can to these victims and that the church be safe for the future."

6. "Mahony's 'great spiritual renewal' didn't stop him from waging a brutal legal battle against 508 victims of clergy sexual abuse. It took four bruising years — and countless attempts by the church to get the lawsuits dropped and evidence suppressed — before Mahony agreed to a settlement in 2007."

When California lifted the statute of limitation for civil charges of child abuse for a period the year 2003, the Archdiocese was flooded with accusations. Almost all of these accusations involved allegations that were surfacing for the first time. The vast majority involved accusations dating back decades.

What was the Archdiocese supposed to do? Simply open its wallet to anyone who walked in their door with an accusation? ("You were abused? I'm sorry. Whom should we make the check out to?") Could the Archdiocese at least investigate the validity and credibility of accusations? How about time for negotiations?

Lobdell's charge that the Archdiocese sought to "suppress evidence" is simply ignorant. The reason that the Diocese fought releasing some files was due to California's strict privacy laws. One false move, and the Archdiocese could have ended up paying an accused molester thousands or millions of dollars for "violation of privacy." Imagine the outrage if the Archdiocese had been forced to pay accused molesters of children millions of dollars because they had released personal files illegally!