It is an ugly American bigotry as old as the hills.
Know-Nothingism was a widespread bias against Catholicism in this country, stemming from the suspicion that Catholics were not sufficiently patriotic or trustworthy, as they were controlled by the Pope and a secret Vatican cabal.
Now courtesy of your tax dollars, Know-Nothingism has made a 21st century comeback on PBS's flagship Frontline investigative program.
Last week, in a documentary entitled "Secrets of the Vatican," Frontline managed a remarkable feat: to haul out every old anti-Catholic canard that would make a Klansman beam. It was a 90-minute orgy of bigotry indulging every stereotype about the Church: criminal cover-ups, monetary corruption, gay clergy, and, of course, the ever-favorite and never-ending sex abuse storyline.
Confusing the Church with its members
As one sharp criticism has already pointed out, PBS employed the old strategy of targeting the individual sins of specific members of the Church as a way to launch a broadside attack on the entire institution of the Catholic Church.
And in a Church of 1.2 billion members, it is not very hard to find a lot of individual sinners committing every imaginable type of sin, including sex abuse. And PBS has already beaten the sex abuse horse aplenty. By one estimate, PBS has addressed the issue of sex abuse in the Catholic Church a whopping 48 times.
And as we have repeatedly pointed out, child sex abuse has been committed in all organizations that deal with children. Yet only with respect to the Catholic Church does PBS use such acts to disparage an institution as a whole.
But one would never would one read a media report or editorial concluding that because sex abuse and cover-ups occur in public schools that public education itself must be called into question.
A new face at the party
And as if we haven't heard the same criticism many times before, Frontline trots out the usual rogues gallery of Church cranks, bigots, and tort lawyers to parrot the usual sex abuse attacks on the Church: malcontent Fr. Thomas Doyle; Church-suing contingency lawyer Jeff Anderson (aka "Stuntsuit Anderson"); supporter-of-a-child-pornography-collector Jason Berry; and the hysterical Peter Isely of the anti-Catholic group SNAP.
However, Frontline did introduce to the dialogue Harvard psychiatry professor Martin Kafka, who actually spoke at a 2003 conference in Vatican City about sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
While Kafka was far from missing the mark completely in his Frontline appearance, you knew where it was eventually going. For instance, the purported expert claimed that Catholic priests abuse at a rate far higher than that of Protestant clergy stating:
However, as we have repeatedly shown, there has never been any reliable data to support such an assertion.
"The number of Catholic clergy who are accused of or prosecuted for child and adolescent sexual abuse vastly outnumber the number of Protestant clergy."
(We emailed Dr. Kafka and asked him the sources for his claim. He kindly replied, but none of the studies which Kafka supplied to support his assertion actually set out to determine the rates of abuse among different denominations. In other words, Kafka's claim might make a nice sound bite for those at Frontline, but it is nonetheless simply untrue.)
And as if Frontline's rambling broadside against the Church were not enough, the PBS website also posted an article by writer Sarah Childress that included a graph claiming that hundreds of Catholic priests are accused of abuse every year in the United States. But Childress makes no mention of the fact that almost all of the accusations themselves allege abuse from many decades ago and that a significant half of all accused priests nowadays are long dead.
No other institution
While sex abuse is a grave societal problem, millions of our tax dollars are used to fund reporting about the issue almost exclusively about one single institution: the Catholic Church.
No other group, whether it be the Jewish community or the African-American community, would tolerate such relentless and one-sided reporting from a taxpayer-funded network.
But, rest assured, whether it is airing 90-minute Da Vinci Code-like specials about the "secret" Vatican or playing the sex abuse card yet again, the mainstream media have one standard for Catholics and another for all other groups.