To the Editor:
On Friday, Feb. 1, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien reported a story about a Catholic cardinal who was removed from his post because of his role in child sex abuse. Ms. O’Brien then rhetorically asked why this Catholic sex scandal story keeps coming up in media reports, and she correctly called it “disturbing.”
What struck me as strange, though, was Ms. O’Brien asking why this story keeps coming up in the media. The answer is clear: because the media incessantly keep bringing it up!
Most media can’t get enough of this story, because it’s a juicy one; it contrasts something ancient and sacred with something as depraved and forbidden as child sex abuse. It inadvertently guides the audience to question the legitimacy and relevance of the Catholic Church in modern times. The intense media scrutiny has also led many to believe that child sex abuse is some kind of uniquely Catholic problem, leading a lot of people to think the celibacy of the priesthood is the real culprit of these tragedies. People love this stuff. If I ran a newsroom I would.
However, the facts run so contrary to this unyielding media bias that it’s exposed as nothing short of startling and unprofessional. Consider that the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a study completed in 2004 that found the sexual abuse problem in public schools to be far worse than it is in the Catholic Church. The study concluded that about 290,000 kids are sexually abused in American public schools each decade, compared with about 2,000 Catholic cases per decade. Charol Shakeshaft prepared the report, and she said the data led her to believe that the sex abuse problem in public schools is “likely 100 times worse” that it is in the Catholic Church. The U.S. Department of Education study was discussed in the newspaper Education Week shortly after it was released. It was also reported by CBS News, but interestingly enough, not many other media outlets picked up on it. The public school system was even found to have moved sexually abusive teachers around instead of firing them, doing this so often that nicknames such as “mobile molester” and “passing the trash” came into common usage, according to The Washington Post in 2007.
The Catholic Church certainly has had a gravely serious problem with child sex abuse. No one is saying that’s not the case. Also, our public schools are usually great places to send our kids to learn. I attended Caledonia Public High School, and I loved it. Both the public and Catholic school systems are to be commended for all the good that they do.
I’m simply making the point that it’s obvious that the news media report on inordinate amount of stories on Catholic sex abuse, and it struck me as ironic that a member of that profession asked herself why she and her colleagues continue to do so.
Sioux City, Iowa
Formerly of Caledonia