The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is publicly voicing its strong objections to two recent columns in the Los Angeles Times regarding the priest abuse scandal. Both articles contained substantial falsehoods, according to the Archdiocese.
1. A March 26, 2007, article in the Times claimed that Church officials and employees, when questioned in legal proceedings, could invoke something called "'mental reservation' — a 700-year-old doctrine by which clerics may avoid telling the truth to protect the Catholic Church." The article quoted Irwin Zalkin, a lawyer for abuse victims, as saying of church officials under oath, "You're never going to know the truth, one way or the other."
The truth? There is no such doctrine, and the term "mental reservation" is found nowhere in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In fact, had the author of the article taken the time to pick up a Catechism (does he even own one?), he would have found the following:
2476 False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness. When it is under oath, it is perjury. Acts such as these contribute to condemnation of the innocent, exoneration of the guilty, or the increased punishment of the accused. They gravely compromise the exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial decisions. (emphasis mine)
In other words, the Times has thrown truth and honest reporting out the window.
What's (almost) even worse is that the Times issued a "correction" to the article. Yet the rambling and oddly worded paragraph hardly comes across as anything resembling a forthcoming and apologetic correction. In fact, the Times repeats the erroneous use of the word "doctrine"!
The article also contains a "gratuitous slap at the College of Cardinals" by horribly distorting a public oath that cardinals take at the time of their appointment.
The Archdiocese cited this article in particular as "insulting to all Catholics." Read the full statement from the Archdiocese here.
2. A top-of-the-front-page March 20, 2007, article in the Times claimed that Cardinal Roger Mahony wrote two different descriptions of a videotape discovered in 1992 related to a priest's misconduct. In fact, says the Archdiocese, "Cardinal Mahony did not write, edit or otherwise supervise the production of the 'proffer' on Lynn Caffoe [the ex-priest], as the Los Angeles Times has claimed. The Archdiocese's legal team wrote the proffer as part of a Court-ordered mediation process" (emphasis mine).
Again, the Times' (false) story of two different versions was placed on the top of its front page. Meanwhile, the central premise of the article appears completely false! So far, there has been no correction or apology from the Times, and almost all readers will only assume that what the paper printed was true. Shame on the Times.
There were also more problems with the article, so read the full statement from the Archdiocese here at The Tidings, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese.
Both fallacious articles were written by Times staffer John Spano. What is the policy at the Times when a writer commits such journalistic malfeasance in two articles on the same topic in one week? Maybe Spano should be replaced on this story by a more competent and honest writer?
The entire abuse scandal has certainly been a sad and tragic episode - most especially for the victims. However, the pervasive lack of honesty at the Times in reporting on this issue (see several more examples at LA-ClergyCases.com) only leads one to believe that there is an anti-Catholic and anti-Christian agenda at the paper. At NewsBusters, we have cited several examples of dubious reporting in this regard. See here, here, here, here, and here for just a few examples.
Maybe Spano and others at the Times should take a listen to this balanced presentation that aired on KCRW radio in December 2006. Kudos to host Warren Olney for orchestrating the interviews with fairness and decency.