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 CNS Story:

OSV-BENEDICT Aug-25-2010 (780 words) With book cover and photos. xxxn

Book examines stories behind secular news reporting on abuse crisis

Matthew Bunson and Greg Erlandson (CNS/OSV)

By Julie Asher
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Greg Erlandson decided to write a book on the clergy sex abuse crisis because the secular media kept raising questions about Pope Benedict XVI's handling of cases in their coverage of a new wave of clergy sex abuse in dioceses around the world.

For him, there was a "genuine curiosity about what's going on. ... It wasn't just a bishop in this diocese or a bishop in that diocese, but now it was about the pope and his credibility," said Erlandson, president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Co. in Huntington, Ind.

"As I dug into it, I felt there was a big chunk of the story that wasn't being reported and part of it was not getting the perspective" it deserved, he said.

Erlandson and Matthew Bunson co-wrote "Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal," published by Our Sunday Visitor.

The authors review the pope's work as a priest and theologian, his years heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and the "pivotal and personal role" he has played in the church's response to the abuse scandal.

They highlight the cases of some of the most notorious U.S. priest-abusers and cover the international scope of the scandal. They report on the pope's efforts "to help, heal and reconcile with those who have been hurt" through concrete measures, including his private meetings with victims, and spiritual ones, such as prayer and penance.

When a series of reports in The New York Times and other media criticized the pope for alleged inaction on sex abuse cases, Vatican authorities emphasized that it was the pope who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, pushed for harsher measures against abusers and made it easier for the church to defrock them.

News reports on Germany's unfolding abuse crisis implied that the pope, when he was archbishop of Munich, had allowed an abusing priest to be reassigned to ministry. Then-Archbishop Ratzinger allowed the priest, from a neighboring diocese, to come to Munich for treatment. But another church official reassigned him without the future pope's knowledge, archdiocesan and Vatican officials confirmed.

For Erlandson, the tipping point was media coverage that wrongly tried to link Pope Benedict to the mishandling of the case of a Wisconsin priest-abuser who victimized scores of deaf students in his care decades ago.

He wanted to know the truth about the case, and as he got deeper into the story, he saw that "it isn't that the journalists are all wrong, it isn't that they have made up the story out of whole cloth, but they were not giving the full context," he said.

"When we're reading the stories from earlier this year, it's easy to think that nothing had changed" in how the church deals with abuse, he said. The Milwaukee case, involving abuse perpetrated from the '50s to the '70s, "was getting front-page treatment and was linked to Benedict," he added.

The pope was accused of refusing to laicize the Milwaukee priest, but Vatican officials said by the time they became aware of the case, the priest was elderly and sick. He died before a church trial could be carried out.

"You lose a sense of perspective and attribute to the current church what was in the past," he continued. "Just under a third of all bishops in Dallas have retired or moved on -- there's enormous changeover that has taken place. ... Anger directed at the bishops, while completely understandable, is tarnishing the current bishops who have learned a lot from their mistakes."

In Dallas in 2002, the bishops adopted the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and its mandates for an annual audit and survey and also adopted the "Essential Norms" to assure that all dioceses adhere to the charter.

As a result, Erlandson said, 96 percent of all students in Catholic schools have gone through a child safety program, church workers are being vetted and new standards are in place for accepting seminarians.

"The church's zero-tolerance policy is in force in ways not obvious in a lot of other institutions," he said.

But ongoing efforts by the Catholic Church to address clergy sex abuse are "getting very little play" in the secular media, he said.

"The really grave damage being done is that in the popular imagination the Catholic Church is synonymous with pedophilia; to lazy journalists that's a stereotype -- the repercussions are far-reaching and long-range," Erlandson said.

He and Bunson have "tried to be fair and complete" about the clergy abuse crisis in their book, he said, but defending the church's progress in addressing the scandal "is not a popular opinion."


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