Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Sunday, October 01, 2006

Does the BBC enjoy being so far behind the fact curve?

Apparently the BBC thinks that if the Vatican publishes a document in 2001, (which the Catholic press reported on in early 2002), but the BBC only notices it five years later, the document must have been a deep dark Vatican secret till then. Quick, what's British English for "Get real"?

Britain's Evening Standard reports that the BBC just aired a "Panorama" story about how Pope Benedict XVI, as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a "secret Vatican edict" to bishops around the world (right, like that's a group that could keep a secret if it tried), an edict so secret "that bishops had to keep it locked in a safe at all times", which ordered a massive cover-up of clergy sexual misconduct. Besides narrating the usual litany of "worst-possible-interpretations" of various statements in the document, the Standard couldn't resist piling on with "The [BBC] investigation could not come at a worse time for Pope Benedict, who is desperately trying to mend the Church's relations with the Muslim world..." What the Standard thinks ecclesiastical relations with Muslims have to do with clergy sex abuse is anybody's guess. Maybe it's British humor, you know, like the Standard asserting that Ratzinger's first name is "Thomas". (I don't get it; I mean, the man is only the pope, for crying out loud. Can't the Standard get his name right?)

Anyway, more than a year ago, when another British press organ, The Observer, tried to hype the alleged cover-up angle of this very same story, I blogged on it (27 April 2005), pointing out that Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger's so-called secret document was published in the official journal of the Holy See, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 93 (2001) on pp. 785-788; for that matter, it was available on the Vatican website for at least several months before The Observer thought it broke the story in April of 2005. Now c'mon: it's bad enough the BBC and the Standard don't read the Acta Apostolicae Sedis; don't they even read The Observer?

Anyway, as I said back then, apparently Pope Benedict has a lot to learn about how to keep documents secret: like not publishing them in journals distributed around the world. What surprises me (though only mildly; this is main-line British journalism we're dealing with) is that I get to say it all again.

Discuss the CDF document, if you wish, O Media Elites; debate it even; but don't pretend that it was some sort of dark secret all this time, or portray yourself as valiant crusaders in search of the hidden truths, braving Vatican fury to inform the ignorant masses. Cuz it wasn't, and you're not.

Resources: John Paul II's enabling legislation (AAS 93: 737-739); Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger's implementing letter (English translations are widely available). Follow-up on British hierarchy replies.

Ah, the original "Panorama" segment is now on-line here (it runs a little under 40 minutes). It contains its own share of serious mistakes and misunderstandings (which I will address), but the sloppy Evening Standard report on the BBC program, critiqued above, has certainly compounded the confusion for everyone.

Updates, October 2-9: Good comments and links at AmyWelborn; Archdiocese of Birmingham; Cormac Cdl. Murphy-O'Connor's letter to the BBC.

Update, October 19: Fr. Thomas Doyle, the main on-camera expert in the Panorama hit-piece against Benedict XVI, is distancing himself from the Vatican-conspiracy claims he made, or came across as making, for the BBC. In a letter to NCRep writer John Allen posted Oct 13, Doyle writes "Although I was a consultant to the producers of the documentary I am afraid that some of the distinctions I have made about the 1962 document have been lost. I do not believe now nor have I ever believed it to be proof of an explicit conspiracy. . . ." Fascinating.

Update, October 23: The endemic bias of the BBC.