Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wall Street Journal on Father O'Loghlen Story: "Priest Removed for Affair 40 Years Ago"

Several days ago, I posted a piece in which I cited Marci Hamilton talking about how the conservative media suppress and distort information about the abuse crisis in the Catholic church and other churches.  Hamilton singles out the Wall Street Journal, noting,

The Wall Street Journal, FOX News, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity, among others, routinely skew reporting on religious issues, and suppress stories that might put religious leaders in a bad light. As they read this, they are puffing themselves up and declaring that they do no such thing. That would be incorrect.

Because I think Hamilton is absolutely correct here, I'm interested to read that publication's headline today about the case of Father Martin O'Loghlen in Los Angeles, about which I blogged yesterday.  The headline: "L.A. Priest Removed for Affair 40 Years Ago."

When I taught theology, an exercise I frequently had my students do in introductory ethics classes was this: I had them gather as many headlines as possible about a particular story, bring them to class, and analyze the presuppositions and hidden messages encoded in these headlines.  Because much of my teaching career took place in historically black universities, many of these class exercises focused on the way in which the mainstream media routinely spin news about the African-American community and racial issues.

It would be instructive to take the Wall Street Journal's headline about the O'Loghlen story and take it apart, bit by bit, in a classroom setting, to uncover the several ways in which this headline seeks to spin the O'Loghlen story in a particularly disturbing way.  Here's what I note:

1. The person with whom Father O'Loghlen had "an affair" was a 16-year old girl.  

As Jennifer Medina's report in the New York Times, to which I linked yesterday, notes, "Father O'Loghlen admitted to molesting Ms. Malcolm," and admitted that he was the responsible (and, by implication, initiating) party in the situation with her.  Julie Malcolm was clearly scarred by this "affair," and sought legal recourse when she reached adulthood.

"Affairs" are what adults have.  Consenting adults.  Affairs are not what happens when a grown man wearing a clerical collar molests a teenaged girl.  

That's called abuse.  It's called molestation.  It's not called an affair.  To call what happened between Father O'Loghlen and Julie Malcolm "an affair" is obscene.

Wall Street Journal's slant here?  These things happen.  Men get pulled into affairs with seductive young girls.  Whacha gonna do?  Stop over-reacting and hounding men who have a moment of weakness and fall into an affair, for goodness's sake.

And stop the litigation and pursuit of men who have gotten entangled in such affairs by young seductresses.  Who knows where this will end up and who will eventually find himself in trouble if we go down that path?  The Wall Street Journal slant, per its headline about the O'Loghlen story, is squarely on the side of men--of  powerful men, of the kind of men who read this journal.  It's on the side of men in positions of power and authority, who overstep the boundaries of their positions and engage in relationships, even coercive ones, with women, even with girls.  

The headline excuses what O'Loghlen did and implies that he's being hounded unfairly now.  It adds another layer of excuse with the next bit of slant I'm going to discuss now.

2. By underscoring that Father O'Loghlen's "affair" happened 40 years ago, the WSJ headline implies that this "affair" is far in the past and that O'Loghlen is being unjustly hounded now.

But as my posting yesterday noted, Father O'Loghlen was placed back in ministry in 2009!  Where he remained in contact with minors, as a pastor.  

And in the late 1990s, he was placed on the review board of his archdiocese overseeing allegations of sexual abuse re: priests.  If you really want to deal with the fox's predation in the hen house, you don't set the fox to stand guard at the door of the hen house, do you?

And this--the fact that a priest with a proven track record of abusing a minor, who admitted that abuse, could be placed back in ministry less than two years ago, on the recommendation of his religious superiors and archdiocesan officials--proves that those now claiming the abuse situation has been cleaned up are not speaking truth.  The claim that no more known predators are placed in ministry, which we hear constantly from church officials and their apologists now, is flatly untrue.  The grand jury documents in Philadelphia provide more shocking evidence that this is not the case: priests known to have sexually molested minors remain in active ministry and are being put into active ministry with the knowing consent of diocesan officials.

The first link at the head of this posting points to a posting which reminds readers that after a national conversation began to develop in the American Catholic church last summer, re: questions about how gay and lesbian employees are received in Catholic universities, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece denying that gay and lesbian employees face discrimination in Catholic universities.  Without offering any evidence at all to corroborate its claim, this piece maintained that there are openly gay administrators in a number of Catholic universities in the U.S.

And so what do you imagine the headline of the Wall Street Journal report on the O'Loghlen story would have read, had the person with whom he had his "affair" been a 16-year old boy?  

Would the headline have read, do you think, "Los Angeles Priest Removed for Affair 40 Years Ago"?

If you think that's how WSJ would have slanted this story had O'Loghlen molested a teenaged boy, I suggest that you might be somewhat naive--naive about who is persistently slanting these stories about abusive priests in particular directions, and why they are spinning these stories as they're spinning them.

"Poor Father got sucked into an affair," if it's a teenaged girl.  "The gay mafia is at it again," if its a teenaged boy.  "Well, Father Euteneuer after all at least did the normal thing and had an affair with an adult woman" (though he himself says he abused his pastoral authority, since he was in a pastoral relationship with the woman as he exorcised her).  

Who wants to keep telling these stories this way, and why?  Whom are we exonerating, and whose power and authority over others are we upholding by trying to spin these stories in this particular way?

Who's propping up the Catholic hierarchy as it pays off and covers up cases of abuse, and why is that propping up taking place?  And who's funding the high-profile attacks of that same hierarchy on gay and lesbian citizens?

Until we become a little more savvy about these headlines and these questions, I fear we won't begin to get to the dark heart of the abuse story, and find some path to redemption out of that darkness.

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