Top Religion Reporters Speak About Catholic Sex Abuse Scandals

Courtesy of The Institute for Human Ecology

By Duane Paul Murphy 

Five religion reporters spoke to more than 50 people in attendance on Monday night, November 19, at Father O’Connell Hall to discuss recent sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. The public discussion, hosted by the university’s Institute for Human Ecology, is the first of a series of planned events titled “Healing the Breach of Trust: Laity, Leadership, and the Crisis” that primarily focuses on sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church.

This first discussion session took a look at the role of media in investigating, reporting, and framing the scandals, including from the perspectives of Catholic journalists and religion reporters. Moderated by New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat, panelists included Catholic News Agency editor-in-chief J.D. Flynn, Crux and The Tablet correspondent Chris White, and Washington Post opinion columnist Elizabeth Bruenig.

Before the panel began their discussion, President John Garvey gave an opening statement on public distrust in bishops and other upper clergy from the laity. A recent grand jury report in August revealed internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, the cities of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, showed that more than 300 priests have been accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims going back more than 70 years. In the report, it was revealed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., covered up sexual abuse claims during his tenure in Pittsburgh as a bishop. As a result of this revelation, Wuerl resigned as a cardinal and as chancellor of the university.

Throughout the discussion, panelists such as White said that “its profoundly exciting and profoundly challenging” as a journalist who is Catholic covering these particular scandals due to their own personal faith.

“It’s messy, but it’s worth the mess,” said White.

Bruieng said that when whistleblowers or victims talk to a journalist who is Catholic about these issues, it is often a benefit to have that access and a relationship while reporting on the stories. However, Brueing said that it still remains difficult reporting on these cases and allegations.

Students in attendance were glad the panel discussed this particular issue.

“I thought it was extremely informative and unique to see these journalists who are also rooted in the Catholic faith, striving to achieve justice,” Christian McCarren, senior media studies major said.

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