Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, and sometimes you can judge a book by the author's radio interviews.
Appearing on a St. Louis radio program hawking a new book about the Catholic abuse scandals, writer Michael D'Antonio, author of Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, claimed that to this day "not a lot of effort to protect kids" has been exerted by the Catholic Church.
In truth, because of the aggressive, groundbreaking measures enacted by United States bishops years ago, the Catholic Church is likely the safest environment for children today. Contemporaneous accusations of abuse against Catholic priests are extremely rare, recently averaging only 8.5 allegations per year for the entire United States.
Compare such numbers in the Catholic Church with those of our nation's public schools. Just in New York City alone, there were "248 complaints of sexual misconduct involving school employees" reported just in the first three months of 2012.
And then there's the book
Unfortunately, D'Antonio's problems with the facts in his St. Louis interview only presage a deeper conflict with the facts in his book.
Mortal Sins is rife with misinformation, bias, and unfair characterizations. Predictably, D'Antonio lauds so-called "victim advocates" and bigoted contingency lawyers as heroic champions of the oppressed. Yet D'Antonio routinely ascribes the coldest, most sinister, and mean-spirited motives to Church officials in their response to abuse episodes, thus portraying them in an almost cartoonish style.
Facts bereft of contextThroughout the book, when D'Antonio recounts an incident with respect to actions of Church officials, he usually does so without providing the necessary context.
For instance, D'Antonio attacks Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whom he erroneously identifies as the Bishop of Oakland, for remarks the bishop made in 2010 decrying the "rush to judgment without an honest look at the facts" and the "absolute hatred" with which people have attacked the Catholic Church over the abuse issue.
What D'Antonio entirely fails to mention, however, is that within a year-and-a-half after airing his belief, Bishop Zubik himself was the target of a very highly publicized but ridiculous false accusation of abuse. (The local public prosecutor even opined about the bogus charge, "I can assure you, based on 30 years of experience, I have never heard of a more convoluted, extenuated series of stories in order to justify the recollection of the now-made allegations against the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.")
And there are several other examples in the book in which D'Antonio takes actions and comments by Church officials and places them out of context in order to render the Catholic Church in the ugliest likeness he can.
A hackneyed anti-Catholic attack
In essence, Mortal Sins covers no new ground in recounting the Church abuse scandals. Much of the book simply rehashes stories which have already been widely reported in the media over the past decades.
And, unfortunately, D'Antonio reveals his own deep personal animus for the Catholic Church. The author reinforced this in his St. Louis interview when he claimed that the Catholic Church has now become "synonymous with immorality."
Not surprisingly, the anti-Catholic hate group SNAP has heartily endorsed D'Antonio's book. SNAP even sponsored a promotional event for the book earlier this week in New York City. Appearing on the panel were a few of the book's favorably profiled subjects:
- Rev. Thomas Doyle, the so-called priest and canon lawyer who has essentially conceded that he is really not even Catholic, that he has "nothing to do with the Catholic Church," he has "nothing to do with the clerical life," and he is "not associated with the Church in any way";
- Barbara Blaine, the founder of SNAP, who has revealed that her group's real mission actually has nothing to do with abuse (she even wrote a passionate letter on behalf of a doctor arrested with kiddie porn) and everything to do with advancing a radical, secular agenda;
- Patrick Wall, the ex-priest who was asked to leave the Pontifical University in Rome after he forged a letter of recommendation and whose subsequent work in canon law has been roundly debunked;
- Jeff Anderson, the world's leading Church-suing lawyer, who, when he's not raising piles of cash for SNAP and getting his lawsuits tossed (1, 2), is misleading audiences everywhere with misinformation and spewing hatred.
(Apparently, SNAP's discredited lawyer, Marci Hamilton, whom D'Antonio laughably labels a "constitutional scholar" in his book, must not have been available.)
The missed opportunity
The Catholic Church has dealt with the problem of sex abuse more forcefully than any other institution in America. But despite decades of incessant and lurid media coverage, there still remains a great need for an honest, balanced, and clear-thinking treatment of this historical narrative.
Unfortunately, D'Antonio's Mortal Sins falls woefully short and widely misses the mark as such a treatment. The book qualifies as little more than another attack on the Catholic Church that adds nothing new to the public dialog about this very important issue.