The harm wrecked upon victims of sexual abuse is real and damaging. That is not an excuse, however, for reckless, false, and misleading reporting about Catholic Church officials. Take the egregiously wobbly op-ed from Monday's Los Angeles Times, "O.C.'s wayward bishop" (10/1/07). (For those of you outside California and unfamiliar with the TV show a couple of years back, "O.C." stands for Orange County.)
Contributing editor Gustavo Arellano goes after Bishop Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange in California. Arellano perceives a lack of openness by Brown in reporting about sexual abuse in the diocese. But Arellano's premise falls completely flat in light of a flagrant disregard for honest facts and fairness.
1. Wrote Arellano (emphasis mine):
In Orange County Superior Court, church lawyers tried to seal a deposition [Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod D.] Brown gave for a civil lawsuit against the Orange diocese and its scholastic jewel: Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. The plaintiff in the case, a former student, alleges that church officials ignored her abuse at the hands of a coach for Mater Dei's powerhouse boys' basketball program during the mid-1990s (the coach, Jeff Andrade, admitted to having sex with her).
Facts: Bishop Brown arrived to the Diocese of Orange in September of 1998. (Brown was previously Bishop of Boise, Idaho.) Mater Dei dismissed Andrade almost a year-and-a-half earlier, in April of 1997, after suspecting the assistant coach had a sexual relationship with the student. Police also investigated the case that same year. (The police did not file charges (source).)
In other words, Arellano implies that Bishop Brown "ignored [the] abuse" of a high school student in Southern California when, in fact, he was serving as a bishop several hundred miles away in another state!
2. There's more. Arellano misleads his audience again:
In Orange County Superior Court, church lawyers tried to seal a deposition Brown gave for a civil lawsuit ... (snip) ... Although [Los Angeles Cardinal Roger] Mahony fought being deposed for years, he didn't bother trying to seal his testimony like Brown did.
Arellano clearly implies that Bishop Brown wanted his deposition sealed in order to hide something about himself from the public. In fact, if one reads the actual deposition (pdf file), church lawyers were very clear that they were requesting a "temporary seal." They wanted time to review whether medical information about another church official (Monsignor John Urell, not accused of abuse) could be made public. (Church lawyers argued that they settled a case for $100,000 with Coach Andrade after he claimed "confidential information" about him was made public by the diocese. Lawyers didn't want a repeat of this from Urell.) (See pages 19-46 of the deposition.)
Even Times staffer Christine Hanley, in this article a couple of weeks back (9/14/07), reported that the temporary seal was directly related to Urell's private medical information and not anything to do with Brown himself. Arellano's implication is sunk by reporting from the very paper he's writing in! (By the way, the Diocese of Orange has also responded to this issue: "Clarification of Current Media Reports.")
Sadly, Arellano also has a record of taking cheap slaps at Christians.
For example, in an August 2004 article in the OC Weekly, Arellano bristled at Bible study groups in Orange County. A couple weeks later, a reader replied with a letter to Arellano that included, "Hey, lighten up—the Christians won’t hurt you!" Arellano snapped back:
[Y]our bit about "Christians won’t hurt you" must come as a comfort to the families of the reproductive-services workers murdered by fundamentalist Christians/snipers/bombers.
It goes without saying that even one such murder is unacceptable. But Arellano might want to know that there has been a grand total of ZERO murders of abortion clinic employees on the job in California. (Nationwide, the total is seven since Roe v. Wade passed 34 years ago.) I've addressed this kind of bogus reporting before, in this post.
In his weekly "¡Ask a Mexican!" column, Arellano is known to rightfully chide false stereotypes about Mexicans and Latinos. Yet when it comes to Christians, Arellano is not afraid to publicly spew an ugly, false, and mean-spirited stereotype.
Unfair reporting about Catholics at the LA Times? It wouldn't be the first time.