The Witch-Hunt Against Catholic Priests

This isn’t so much a blog post as it is a public service announcement. I just want to give my readers another friendly reminder that the media hates the Catholic Church, hates Christ’s holy priesthood, and will do anything and everything in their power to destroy them.

Exhibit A: On June 4, NBC News ran an article about Fr. Brent Shelton, a priest from Tennessee. Fr. Shelton recently published an open letter admitting that, when he was 19 years old, he was attacked by an older priest named Fr. Jose Saldana. As it happens, this wasn’t the older priest’s first rodeo. Fr. Saldana has been the subject of sexual abuse claims going back to at least 1998.

In his open letter (which has since been scrubbed from the internet), Fr. Shelton wrote that he is “not a sexual abuse victim, as such, but I am a witness to priestly predation, which I was complicit in covering up.” He goes on:

I’ve thought about that hotel incident every single day since it happened over 30 years ago, but I cringe whenever any priest or bishop speaks of the need for “healing” in these situations.  In my case, I have this cross to carry, and I intend to continue doing so, offering it up for reform in Our Lord’s Church.

Now, any sane person would read that and say, Of course Fr. Shelton is a victim. Just because Fr. Saldana didn’t violently rape him doesn’t mean it wasn’t a traumatic experience. It doesn’t mean that he won’t carry feelings of violation, guilt, and shame for the rest of his life. And it’s by no means uncommon for abuse victims to blame themselves for their abuse.

Exhibit B: In 2017, when Heather Kerr came forward and admitted that Harvey Weinstein exposed himself to her, Ms. Kerr’s name was instantly added to the ranks of the #MeToo movement—and rightly so. Again, just because Mr. Weinstein didn’t force himself on her doesn’t mean she’s not going to carry feelings of violation, guilt, and shame for the rest of her life.

The media was deeply sympathetic to Ms. Kerr—again, rightly so. Obviously, they never accused her of “covering up” for Mr. Weinstein’s crimes. And yet here’s how NBC reported Fr. Shelton’s abuse:

Roman Catholic pastor in Tennessee confessed in an open letter that as a 19-year-old seminarian he was the target of sexual advances by an older priest later accused of abusing other teens, and admits he failed to forcefully sound the alarm about this “troublesome person.”

What’s the difference between Fr. Shelton and Ms. Kerr? Why, Fr. Shelton is a Catholic priest, of course. He can’t be the victim, even when… erm, he is. So, the media will paint him as being complicit in the abuses perpetrated by his own abuser.

Folks, never believe for a second that these reporters truly care about the victims of sexual abuse. They do not. They don’t care about Ms. Kerr. Mr. Weinstein’s predations were an open secret in Hollywood. And yet nobody talked about it, because he was a powerful and wealthy liberal. It wasn’t until the progressive elite took up the cause of #MeToo that their servants in the media were willing to go after Big Harv.

And they certainly don’t care about Fr. Saldana’s victims—or any other victims of clerical sex-abuse, for that matter. If they did, they’d have more compassion for Fr. Shelton. They also would have reported on Theodore McCarrick’s pervy behavior, which we now know was also an open secret, even among secular media. As Ross Douthat wrote in a 2018 column for The New York Times:

For reporters who pursued the story, it was a case where “everyone knew” but nobody would go on the record—so stories were pursued and then evaporated.  And the cardinal was protected, in part, because his targets were mostly younger men under his authority rather than teenagers (it was a teenage victim who finally made the story break), which didn’t fit the pedophile-priest narrative, and liberal journalists who didn’t want to appear somehow homophobic and conservatives who wanted to protect the church’s reputation had an excuse to keep his secrets safe.

Read that again: “liberal journalists… didn’t want to appear somehow homophobic” by outing an elderly gay prelate who was seducing beefy seminarians at his beach house on the Jersey Shore. They’d go after “conservatives” like Cardinal Bernard Law for shuffling abusers around, but they wouldn’t touch a prolific predator like Mr. McCarrick. They didn’t want to “out” a gay man trapped in a homophobic institution like the Catholic Church.

Folks, it’s all politics. It’s all politics. The press doesn’t care about bringing abusers to justice. They’re not interested in consoling the victims of sexual violence. They care about pushing a progressive agenda, which includes destroying the Catholic Church.

Now, I’m not saying we should turn a blind eye towards sexual abuse in the Catholic clergy—or Hollywood. That should go without saying. But when you read some report about predator-priests, it’s not a report. It’s a carefully constructed narrative designed to maximize damage to the Church. The reporter isn’t fighting for justice, or even truth. He’s fighting to damage the faith of ordinary Catholics, and to make us distrustful of ordinary priests and bishops.

I can hear some commbox-lurker saying, “We don’t need the Fake News media’s help to kill our faith in the clergy. The bishops are doing a pretty good job on their own!” Har har har. Actually, that’s not true. Only a “well-informed” Catholic could really believe that the Catholic Church is a hotbed of sexual abuse. We know that twice as many public school teachers abuse children than do Catholic priests, and that margin is widening. Even at the height of the Church’s abuse crisis in the early 2000s, there was still more sexual abuse in Protestant churches than in the Catholic Church.

Even then, abuse has declined sharply since the 1970s and 1980s:

Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, 2018

As many honest observers pointed out, by the time the sex abuse scandal “broke” in the early 2000s, the bishops had already worked quietly to protect the laity by removing abusers from public ministry.

Dear reader! I’m not saying the bishops have been unimpeachable in their handling of sexual abuse. No, I’m saying that our perception of the abuse crisis has been framed by the secular media, whether we realize it or not. Our view of the issue has been formed by anti-Catholic narratives woven by anti-Catholic journalists.

Those narratives have been amplified and adapted by scandal-mongers in the Romish gutter press. Meanwhile, “respectable” Catholic media is reluctant to challenge these lies, lest they be called a tankie or (gasp!) an apologist. Then, of course, they have to worry about some crypto-sede accusing them of aiding and abetting the St. Gallen Group/Lavender Mafia/Antipope Bergoglio homo-Marxist conspiracy.

And for what? For pointing out that vulnerable men, women, and children are objectively quite safe in the Catholic Church. At any rate, they’re safer than they would be in Protestant churches, or in public schools, or (Lord help us!) Hollywood.

Forgive the rant, dear reader. I’m just tired of all the sensationalism. I’m tired of the secular press and its unending siege of the Church. I’m tired of faithful Catholic journalists repackaging their anti-Catholic narratives and selling them to our unwitting co-religionists. I’m tired of the scandal, and I’m tired of the scandal-mongering.

Much good work has been done to purge the clergy of abusers, and there’s still much more work to be done. But those who seek justice for the victims of abuse—those who want to make our pews safe for vulnerable children, laymen, laywomen, seminarians, priests, and religious—are not being served by the media.

They’re not being served by secular reporters who use the abuse crisis to score points against the Church. They’re certainly not being served by Catholic journalists who use the abuse crisis to strike a blow against rival factions. This isn’t about conservatives vs. progressives or modernists vs. traditionalists. Every camp has its predators and its prey. Every camp has its whistle-blowers and its cover-upers.

What we lack is a heart for the victims. And when the media is more interested in partisan point-scoring than defending the abused, nothing will get better. Yes, we have to point out that the Church historically failed to protect the vulnerable. But if we also have to point out that it’s done a very good job of making our parishes safe. The Church has to learn from its successes as well as its failures. If instances of abuse are falling, we have to understand why and redouble our efforts in that direction.

Alas, that’s not what we’re doing.

Now, ask yourself: who stands to gain from this fiction—this shameless lie—that the Church is still crawling with John Geoghans and Ted McCarricks? Who benefits when Catholics frame their entire religious worldview around the problem of predator-priests?

Not the victims of sexual abuse, surely. And certainly not the ordinary Catholic in the pews. Not the innocent priests whose reputations are routinely destroyed by spurious accusations. And not the young men who feel they have a vocation to the priesthood but are afraid to enter the seminary, knowing (as they do) that one such accusation will destroy their ministry, their livelihoods, and their place in polite society.

I began reporting on the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church well before the rumors about Mr. McCarrick came to light. I’m proud of my small contribution towards exposing predators within the clerical ranks. But the veritable witch-hunt against Catholic priests is another kind of injustice.

I hope every right-thinking individual can see that when a man like Fr. Shelton is blamed for not coming forward about his abuse simply because he wears a Roman collar, we are no longer dealing with reporters. We’re dealing with propagandists and sensationalists. These purveyors of fake news are the enemies of truth.

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