In September, when reporting for CWR on problems with The Boston Globe’s coverage of the Church’s clerical sexual abuse scandals, this time involving the fathering of children by priests, I took note of comments Charlie Rose made to the Globe’s Michael Rezendes regarding Cardinal George Pell of Australia.
At the time, Rose was one of the most prominent secular journalists in the country, given his co-anchoring of “CBS This Morning,” reporting for “60 Minutes,” and hosting “The Charlie Rose Show,” an interview program then carried by 94 percent of PBS member stations.
Toward of the end of Rezendes’ presentation, the pair had this exchange (5:03ff.):
Rose: All of this is happening at the same time a cardinal is in Australia.
Rose: Defending himself. Uh . . .
Rezendes: Yes, Cardinal Pell.
Rose: Exactly. A very powerful cardinal.
Rezendes (nodding in agreement): Cardinal Pell is the third-highest-ranking official at the Vatican. He has been criminally charged in Australia, as you said. And it’s a very, very significant development. I think it’s significant because after all these years of having to confront the problem, the Vatican has still not come up with a set of policies for dealing with the problem of clergy sexual abuse.
In my September CWR analysis, I refuted Rezendes erroneous claim regarding Vatican guidelines, noting universal norms the Church has historically issued encompassing clergy sexual abuse, as well as 2002 U.S. guidelines—approved by the Vatican—which Rezendes and his Globe colleagues had helped spur with their Pulitzer-Prize-winning coverage.
However, because of Rose and Rezendes’ brief and one-sided comments on Cardinal Pell, viewers were given the impression that the Cardinal was finally having to face clergy sexual abuse charges, whether regarding his negligent oversight as a bishop and/or misdeeds he may have personally committed. Never mind the pioneering sexual abuse reforms that Pell initiated as the Archbishop of Melbourne beginning in the mid-1990s. For these and other reasons, as both George Weigel and Carl Olson have noted in CWR, Pell has a number of enemies, including both secular and, sadly, within the Church.
Pell will have his day in court beginning in March 2018, and he has vehemently denied all charges against him.
Meanwhile, Rose will not be reporting on the Cardinal’s trial—at least not for CBS or PBS— and it’s because of his own sexual misbehavior. Late Monday afternoon November 20, The Washington Post reported that eight young women testified that Rose sexually harassed them, including groping their private areas, walking disrobed in their presence, and making lewd phone calls. In a statement given to the Post, Rose “deeply apologized for any inappropriate behavior,” yet his mea culpa was halfhearted: “I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.”
Within a couple of hours, CBS and PBS had suspended Rose, and Post reporter Amy Brittain tweeted that “sadly, my inbox is already flooded with women who have had similar, disturbing encounters with Charlie Rose.” Later that evening, I observed that “The Charlie Rose Show” was preempted by PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow.” By Tuesday morning, CBS and PBS had fired Rose.
Rose is the latest public figure to be negatively impacted since serious allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein last month. Those include Roy Moore, who remains the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate for Alabama, and former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who embarrassingly acknowledged groping women, with other allegations following. And many are now expressing that President Bill Clinton probably should’ve been pressured to resign for his own past sexual misbehavior, or impeached if he refused to resign.
While allegations against Weinstein opened the proverbial floodgates this fall, it was the firing of Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly last spring that prompted an Associated Press reporter to seek Rose’s reaction after a Time magazine gala. “All of the cases that raise the issue of sexual harassment, which is a terrible thing, [and] has probably been not exposed enough,” Rose said. “Not enough in the sense of the attention in the past, so that people were afraid to come forward. I think people are coming forward now.”
Rose’s words proved personally prophetic. We should pray for his conversion—and all other perpetrators—and the healing of all of their victims. Rose’s example and those of others are cautionary tales that prestige and power should be used for good, not wrongful personal pleasure. And that legal remedies are only part of the societal solution; they can never substitute for genuine virtue in restoring our cultural equilibrium.
Men in positions of authority over women should aspire to be father figures and/or true professional role models, including because women deserve nothing less. But the virtues of chastity and charity at their best require an interior life, a relationship with God, an understanding that there’s something much greater in this world than sinfully—and even criminally—satisfying one’s desires, and also having the power and peace to carry out that realization.
If men with authority began to do this more, then maybe many women will be inspired to expect more from the men with whom they actually give sexual consent. And that could go a long way toward renewing our culture.