The Catholic Thing
Mudslinging Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 14 March 2010

A couple of years ago, I wrote a book called Smear Tactics and in the process developed a good nose for the ways by which certain members of the Fourth Estate mount spurious attacks against public figures. And here we go again . . .

The sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church took a wolfish turn for the worse this weekend when the media pounced on a story alleging that in 1979 the then Munich Archbishop, a great priest by the name of Joseph Ratzinger, transferred a sex-abusing priest to another assignment at which the priest in question subsequently abused more kids. This is breaking news, and we’ll need more time and more thorough reporting to sift through the facts. But the truth appears be rather different from the headlines, an example of which from the venerable London Times: Pope knew priest was paedophile but allowed him to continue with ministry

Yes, the future pope pulled the pedophile priest from his post, but he sent him into therapy, and it was the priest’s parochial vicar who later put the offender back into a pastoral setting. One Vatican official called the media’s association of Pope Benedict XVI with this case “false and calumnious.”

So, the story already has about it the characteristics of a classic smear campaign, and you can bet that for many readers of the Times – London or New York – there will never be any later correction of the facts, let alone a retraction, that will convince them that “God’s Rottweiler” wasn’t complicit in a cover-up. The media have a canine taste for what many have termed “the last acceptable prejudice,” which is to say: anti-Catholicism.

What’s peculiar in the instances in which this prejudice confronts the Church’s homosexual-abuse crisis is the way “gay activists” and their epigones in the media make much mischief simply by smearing public figures – alive or dead – as . . ., yes, gay. Take the example of New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman (1889-1967) and his accuser, Michelangelo Signorile, a founder of the now defunct magazine, OutWeek. Of Cardinal Spellman he wrote: “.the archconservative Spellman was the epitome of the self-loathing, closeted, evil queen, working with his good friend, the closeted gay [Joseph] McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn to undermine liberalism in America.”

As evidence of this nefarious plot, he cited an unpublished version of John Cooney’s biography of Spellman, The American Pope. Cooney’s draft included unsubstantiated rumors about the Cardinal’s sexuality. But when the book was actually published, Mr. Cooney “wisely abandoned his attempt to argue that Spellman was a homosexual,” as one reviewer noted. Cooney chose not to include in his book material he could not confirm and that, on reflection, he deemed specious. That didn’t stop Mr. Signorile from basing his smear of Spellman on that un-redacted material. He was content to employ whatever means he could to attack someone he considered the epitome of evil.

Whether any Churchman was or wasn’t (is or isn’t) homosexual may not matter very much, but, no matter what the case, any reasonable person must agree that, first, the facts have to support such a charge – facts not rumors –and, second, such facts as there are must not to be distorted in service to some political agenda, which is what appears to be happening in the story now roiling about the Holy Father. The recent revelations about homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood do not provide evidence in the case of Cardinal Spellman, although they do add a note of caution to any reflexive defense of him (or any other priest) against claims they could not possibly have been gay. But Mr. Signorile’s assertions are a smear because they serve only his narrow interests and not the interests of historical truth, which in this case – as Mr. Cooney acknowledged – demand caution.

Mr. Signorile would doubtless argue that his distortions serve a “larger truth.” Smear merchants almost always do. And I’ll tell you what else they know: once the mud is slung, it stains. It just doesn’t matter what revelations may come about the falsehood of their libel; smears stick.

The dictionary – the Shorter Oxford in this case – defines a smear as “a slanderous story . . . circulated to discredit a public figure,” but it can also be a libelous statement, the difference being between what is spoken and what is printed. It’s all the same to the person whose good name is being trashed. These days we seem not to appreciate the notion of a spotless reputation, but it was once thought to be essential – so important, in fact, that reasonably good men would fight duels over certain insults.

And if we imagine the somewhat antiquated idea of a “good name” or of a “faultless character” as literally a clean, white garment, we can understand the origin of the term “mud slinging.” And who wears a whiter garment than Pope Benedict XVI?

For those of us who love him, these latest libels are a cause for sorrow but not for anger at the pope or our Church. How we view the press is another matter.


Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing and author of The Compleat Gentleman.
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Comments (15)Add Comment
written by William H. Phelan, March 15, 2010
Interesting piece, Mr. Miner. "Whether any Churchman was or wasn't (is or isn't) homosexual may not matter very much,...."??? The Church states that homosexuals have "disordered personalities". It matters VERY MUCH if priests/bishops are homosexual as it affects other facets of their lives and the way they guide their flocks. After 2000 years the Church still cannot deal with this issue. Ratzinger is guilty because the diocese under his control had no in-place procedures to deal with this.
written by Brad Miner, March 15, 2010
Mr. Phelan: Thanks for what is an editorial catch. The sentence (now corrected with a strike-through) should have read: "Whether any Churchman was or wasn’t (is or isn’t) homosexual may matter very much . . ."

These errors occur when one attempts to submit a column from a Starbucks during a several-day power outtage.
written by Joseph, March 15, 2010
Drudge Report splashed its page with all the libelous stories. Drudge, being homosexual, is the last person in the world you would expect to retract. The mindless mass media, is particularly lazy these days, stealing stories from each other so they don't look like they got beat (the worst sin in modern journalism) rather than checking on the facts. The old International News Service had this rule: Get it first, but first get it right. Thanks, Brad, for setting record straight.
And still...
written by Dennis, March 15, 2010
Sine the Council, the Church has adopted the therapeutic steps of "counseling" abusers. Too much of this for too long. When prelates dance with the devil instead of calling evil "evil," the outcome cannot be healthy.
1979 v. 2009
written by Lauri Friesen, March 15, 2010
Mr. Phelan and many others insist that the Catholic Church always and still fails to protect children. My own recollection of 1979 is that society was only becoming aware of child sexual abuse and it wasn't until the late 1980's that we became far more vigilant about protecting children and prosecuting offenders. Whatever happened in 1979, it has to be judged according to the common practices of the time.
Screwtape at work
written by Willie, March 15, 2010
The Catholic Church has been the favorite whipping boy of many over the centuries. The elite in the media and in other positions do not like to be told they are wrong. They despise the moral direction of the Catholic Church. The only way to deal with truth is for them is to attempt to ruin the reputations of virtuous character. The Church has had its unsavory characters over the centuries, but Benedict XVI is not one of them. Shame on these harbingers of demonic lies.
Blame President Bush
written by Mack, March 15, 2010
It's all President Bush's fault.
Not a Lwyer....
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 16, 2010
I'm not a lawyer, but common sense seems to suggest that TCT should be cautious about printing the kind of assertion made below about the sexuality of a public figure. If the person making the allegation cannot cite a source, you should consider removing the post for both legal and ehtical reasons.
written by Reader, March 16, 2010
When you talk about unblemished reputations, you must be speaking of the previous pope. This one was a Nazi.
Not a Lawyer...
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 16, 2010
Please protect this wonderful site from a lawsuit that could shut it down! If the person who made the allegation about Drudge cannot provided evidence you NEED to take that down. Don't jeopardize this great benefit to the Catholic community!
The Confessor
written by William H. Phelan, March 16, 2010
Let us discuss John Geogan. It was discovered in seminary through confession that he was deviant. The rector of the seminary put him out. His uncle, who was a monsignor, intervened, and despite the rector's protestations, Geogan was reinstated and ordained. He sodomized over 138 boys/young men. If the rector of the seminary in Massachusetts knew the dimensions of this problem, why didn't the Abp of Munich know? These men NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN ORDAINED.
Protect yourself, TCT!
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 16, 2010
I am trying to caution you about a threat to your site. You have let stand an accusation without substansiation about well known person Matt Drudge, for whom contempt has become socially correct. In addition to the legal question, what about the moral question of facilitating the airing of baseless allegations?
About Matt Drudge
written by Brad Miner, March 16, 2010
Mr. Coleman has urged us to take down the comment of "Joseph" to the effect that journalist Matt Drudge is homosexual. It's tempting to do so, since the assertion about Mr. Drudge has been made by the likes of Michelangelo Signorile, to whom I refer in the column. No one at The Catholic Thing is making such an assertion about Mr. Drudge, who steadfastly denies that he is "gay." The comments of visitors to this site have no relation whatsoever to the opinions of TCT or its columnists.
written by Ron, March 16, 2010
While I was predisposed to take the wait and see position you mention, Mr. Miner, concerning the German abuse cases, the disclosure of then Card. Ratzinger's secrecy memorandum of 2001 (And Pope John XXIII's earlier orders) give me much more pause for concern.
To Ron
written by Brad Miner, March 16, 2010
As I wrote: "This is breaking news, and we’ll need more time and more thorough reporting to sift through the facts." One thing I'd like to know: Is the word "secret," as you and some news stories have it, more along the lines of "secret," as in the Vatican Secret Archives, which is probably better translated as "private" or "confidential": an internal matter . . . ?

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