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Saturday, November 12, 2011
MRC's Graham Declares Catholic Abuse Scandal Off Limits, Attacks Critic
Topic: NewsBusters

The Media Research Center's Tim Graham uses a Nov. 10 NewsBusters post to concede that there has been a problem with sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church -- but followed that up by attacking the leader of a group that has criticized the abuse.

What set Graham off was a writer at CNN's website, Dan Gilgoff, who likened the sexual abuse scandal involving a former Penn State football coach to problems within the Catholic Church. Complaining that Gilgoff didn't quote anyone defending the church, Graham offered himself up as a spouter of pro-Catholic talking points:

Memo to Dan Gilgoff: You may call me and other Catholics at (703)683-9733 for comment when officials won't talk.  But you didn't want anyone to defend the church, or you might have made another phone call. I would tell you the Catholic priest scandal was much worse than a football coach scandal, because a football coach doesn't make solemn vows to God to shepherd souls with the deepest love and integrity. But to drag the church through the mud now is a gratuitous cheap shot.

So the church abuse scandal was horrible, but we're not allowed to talk about it anymore because it's old news? Odd for someone who works for an organization that has no problem bringing up decades-old political scandals, like Chappaquiddick or Bill Clinton's peccadilloes, at the drop of a hat.

Graham then went on a blame-the-victim tear, attacking Gilgoff as a "lazy anti-Catholic reporter" for quoting David Clohessy, head of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. That's reductio ad absurdum -- quoting a critic of the Catholic Church does not make one "anti-Catholic."

Graham turned this into an personal attack on Clohessy and "his own priest coverups within his own family," portraying Clohessy as a hypocrite by claiming that Clohessy "covered up for his own brother, Father Kevin Clohessy," who had been suspected of abuse.

In fact, Clohessy did not "cover up" for his brother; he merely gave his brother a heads-up when he learned that the allegations were about to go public. Clohessy had not previously discussed his brother's situation publicly because no public allegation had been made against him. Clohessy's situation was also much more complicated than Graham tells it. From a 2002 New York Times article on Clohessy:

''From early on,'' David says, ''the raging debate within me was: he's my brother; he's an abuser. Do I treat him like my brother? Do I treat him like an abuser?'' Those conflicting loyalties never settled into any easy balance.

On one hand, he wanted to help Kevin, to tend to him. Like him, Kevin had once been vulnerable, and Kevin had also been scarred, maybe even more so, for all David knew. ''I knew the power a priest would have had over him -- a kid who single-mindedly wanted to be a priest from the time he was 7 or 8,'' David says, remembering that all during Kevin's childhood, ''he never traded those vestments for a toy gun.''

He understood that Kevin's actions might well be a manifestation -- a tortured echo -- of what had happened to him. By some estimates, perhaps half of adults who sexually abuse children were themselves molested, a figure that David says he believes is on the low end. In addition, Kevin's specific transgression, at least as Cox was informed of it and the diocese defined it, hovered at a murky intersection between a possibly repressed homosexuality, which was being channeled inappropriately, and outright molestation.

But to David, that was a distinction without a difference. ''My position,'' David says, ''is that clergy involved in sexual activity with parishioners is inherently abusive,'' because the relationship is one of intimate trust and unequal power. And what if there had been other young men, or boys, as the complaints to Cox suggested? What if Kevin was a present and future danger to the children who crossed his path? David says he felt he could not stay entirely quiet and had to confront Kevin, for those reasons and for others that, he admits, were selfish. ''It would have eaten away at me,'' David says. ''It would have gnawed and gnawed.'' In his countless hours of psychotherapy, David had come to believe that nothing could be as damaging as running away from the truth, and he did not want to run anymore.

It was even more complicated than that. David was in the process of trying to rebuild his relationships with his parents and siblings, from whom he had drifted further and further since his lawsuit. They wondered about his involvement with SNAP and worried about its implications for Kevin. For his part, David wished they were better able to grasp his pain and passion, a desire expressed by one of his recurring nightmares, which also hinted at how haunted he still was by the feeling that no one had been able to protect him in the first place. ''It was so transparent it was almost laughable,'' David says. ''I was walking through my family's old house, and my mom was ironing while my dad was watching TV or something. And Whiteley was walking right behind me. He had a big, long kitchen knife, and he was stabbing me. And each time it would hurt, but I wasn't saying anything, and he wasn't saying anything, and there was no blood, so no one would hear or see.''

David knew there would be less tension between him and his parents if he persuaded Kevin to divulge the details of his situation, and so he tried, over many months and many long phone conversations. ''I want to have a relationship with our parents and the rest of the family,'' he recalls telling Kevin, ''but here's my quandary: I can't do that and pretend I don't know what you've done. I can't sit across from you at Thanksgiving dinner and laugh and joke and pretend everything's hunky-dory.'' David says that Kevin begged for some time, and then for more time, while David kept pestering him.

Apparently, in Kevin's eyes, David was something of a zealot. Msgr. Mike Flanagan, a priest in the diocese who was friendly with Kevin, says that Kevin could not understand why David ''kept beating it into the ground, the whole thing. And his parents wanted to get over it.''

Graham quoted NewsBusters writer Dave Pierre for his attack on Clohessy. As we've noted, Pierre exhibits the same confusion that Graham does, admitting that abuse by Catholic priests was bad but also attacking Clohessy and SNAP for discussing it. Pierre has also declared that the media are no longer allowed to talk about the scandal, at least not without equivocating it by mentioning the "massive child abuse" in public schools or "by Orthodox rabbis in New York City."

Graham concluded by complaining that "Clohessy plainly told Time magazine their vision at SNAP is to get Pope Benedict in handcuffs and have him thrown in jail like an international war criminal." But isn't that roughly the MRC's vision, except for President Obama instead of the pope?

Posted by Terry K. at 9:41 AM EST

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