Dave Pierre is a
journalist who operates TheMediaReport.com
which examines anti-Catholicism and bias in today’s media, and the author of
two books, Double Standard: Abuse
Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church
and Catholic Priests
Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories
. Dave is also a
contributing writer to NewsBusters.org
blog of the Media Research Center covering media bias. In this Catholic World Report
he discusses his new book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused,
his thoughts about the media's coverage of the Catholic Church abuse narrative.
Catholic World Report: When and how did you first become
interested in the Catholic clergy abuse scandals and the dominant media
coverage of those scandals?
Dave Pierre: When I was living in Los Angeles, I
became a contributing writer to NewsBusters.org, the popular media-bias blog of
the Media Research Center. I would frequently look at the Los Angeles Times. A number of years ago, I noticed that the paper
published a very large, 3,800-word piece on the front page about decades-old
abuses that were alleged to have been committed by Catholic clergy in remote
villages of Alaska. Indeed, many of the stories were heart-wrenching, painful,
and tragic. However, months later, the shocking story of a Southern California
teacher who may have molested as many as 200 children was buried on page B3.
I soon began to
notice a trend: the Times was often
giving front-page coverage to stories about Catholic priests alleged to have
committed abuse decades ago. Meanwhile, arrests of public school teachers for
abuse happening today were often not reported or buried in the “news briefs”
standard was glaring.
Catholic World Report: Some Catholics are very upset about the
way the mainstream media has covered the scandals since the 1990s; others say
the media has done the Church a great service in exposing cases of abuse and
attempts to cover up those cases. What would you say about those two positions?
What do you think of the media coverage, especially by the major newspapers and
Pierre: Actually, I believe both positions are correct. Indeed, the
inordinate amount of media coverage has enabled the Church to shine a light on
the “filth” (the term of Pope Benedict) that infected it and rid itself of an
atrocious problem. The harm to victims has been immeasurable, and we must not
On the other
hand, Catholics are justified in being upset with the media’s coverage of this
narrative. As my books have chronicled, the Church has worked tirelessly in the
past decade to establish itself as the safest environment possible for
children. Is every system perfect? Of course not. However, the Church’s
screening procedures, protocols, and “review panels” are unparalleled in the
United States for an organization of its size.
Far too many
media venues continue to portray the Catholic Church as an insensitive cabal
that is callous regarding the welfare of children. That is not only unfair, but
Catholic World Report: As the title suggests, your first book, Double Standard, analyzed the different
standards applied to the clergy scandals compared to other cases involving the
molestation and abuse of children. What are some examples of this double
Pierre: The most obvious example of this double standard is with the public
school system. Even the education establishment has acknowledged that it has a
serious problem in dealing with child molesters. Education Week, the leading education periodical, has reported that
the practice of “passing the trash”quietly shuffling an accused molester from
one school to anotheris “no secret” in education circles.
Just a few years
back, 13 administrators at the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)
received an office memo stating that police had arrested an assistant principal
and were “investigating allegations that he had an unlawful sexual relationship
with a minor.” Yet a few months later, the district reassigned this principal
to another schoolwhere he raped again. None
of the 13 administrators whose names were on that memo lost their jobs, and the
local media did not seem too interested in reporting this fact.
And in another
incident at the LAUSD, two administrators pleaded guilty and no contest,
respectively, in a court of law to the misdemeanor of failing to report the
suspected rape of a 13-year-old girl at their school. Where are they now? They
are still working at LAUSDwith promotions.
It is not hard
to imagine that if these episodes had involved the Catholic Church, the
national media would have had quite a field day. Instead, few people outside of
Los Angeles are even familiar these stories.
Indeed, there is
a double standard. Recently there have been a number of alarming news reports
indicating that the Hollywood community has a very serious child abuse problem
on its hands. Veteran actor Corey Feldman recently proclaimed, “The number-one
problem in Hollywood is pedophilia.”
Well, where are
the breathless cries in the media for accountability? Where is the outrage over
“cover-ups”? Where are the angry demands that Hollywood studios install tougher
screening policies? Where are the ultimatums that studios implement “abuse
Catholic World Report: There are many people who insist, often
with great anger, that any attempt to defend Catholic priests and bishops is an
offense against justice and a failure to take the scandal seriously. How would
you reply to that sort of criticism?
Pierre: Under no circumstances can we defend any wrongdoing by bishops and
priests. Criminal priests wreaked awful damage upon innocent minors, and
bishops failed to stop the harm.
We must continue
to demand justice and compassion to victims of clergy abuse.
This is not optional.
demand for honesty, fairness, and perspective in the reporting of the Catholic
Church abuse narrative is a separate matter. Catholics have every right to
defend the Church against wild, untrue, and unfair attacks against priests and
As my new book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused,
chronicles, the media is far too willing to adopt a tone of “guilty until
proven innocent”if not “guilty until proven guiltier”when reporting cases of individuals coming forward to
claim abuse by Catholic priests decades ago.
As my book
shows, in many instances these accusations later turn out to be false. Yet the
damage to the accused cleric’s reputation has already been done. His name
remains plastered on the Internet as a “credibly accused molester,” and enemies
of the Church have no fear in using these bogus accusations to attack the
Catholic World Report: The recent allegations of abuse within
the Penn State football program have garnered a tremendous amount of attention.
What do those allegations suggest about child abuse within educational
institutions? And why do you think the hard data about abuse in public schools
(elementary through high school) has not gotten much, if any, attention in the
Pierre: The Penn State episode simply has magnified what many have known for
a long time: child abuse is rampant within educational institutions.
A 2004 report
commissioned by the US Department of Education relayed the shocking finding
that “nearly 9.6 percent of [public school] students are targets of educator
sexual misconduct sometime during their school career.” Yet the report was
barely touched in the major media. The author of the report, Hofstra
University’s Charol Shakeshaft, later said, “Think the Catholic Church has a
problem? The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than
100 times the abuse by priests.”
of that report chronicled an early 1990s study that revealed that zero of 225 cases of teacher sex abuse
in New York were reported to police.
Two hundred and
twenty-five abusers. None of them
reported to police. By all measures, this would be defined as a cover-up. Yet
the media has never seemed too motivated to follow up on this.
Catholic World Report: Your new book, Catholic Priests False Accused, shares some shocking stories about
men wrongly accused and reputations destroyed. What are a couple of the most
distressing or surprising stories that you report on in the book? What are some
of the known statistics about false accusations?
Pierre: In 2005, four men in their late 40s and early 50s came forward to
accuse Msgr. Ray Hebert, a highly respected Louisiana cleric, of raping and
molesting them decades earlier at a Catholic home for troubled teens. One man claimed that the priest had brutally raped him more than 20 times. Up until the
accusations, the priest’s 53-year ministry was without blemish.
It was not until
nearly five years after the original
chargesand a tsunami of media coveragethat the accusers’ lawyers finally
acknowledged in court that “Msgr. Ray Hebert did not molest their clients.” In
truth, the veteran priest had barely spent any time in the group home with the
boys. As the head of Associated Catholic Charities, his occasional visits to
the home were merely administrative. Defenders of the accusers now claim that
the charges were a case of “mistaken identity.”
The case of
Father Roger Jacques, from the Archdiocese of Boston, bore many hallmarks of a
false accusation. The accuser only surfaced with her charges after undergoing
“hypnosis therapy” that claimed to have uncovered a “repressed memory.”
Meanwhile, as I show in my book, the theory of “repressed memory” has been
completely and unequivocally discredited by leading memory experts in the
psychological community. (“Hypnosis therapy” was also the culprit in the 1993
high-profile false accusation against the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of
Father Jacques was removed from ministry, the accuser radically changed her
story about the nature of the abuse. And out of the blue she accused a second priest of abuse as well.
Father Jacques never had any other allegations of impropriety against him in more
than two decades in the priesthood, he was out of ministry for more than four years, fighting to be
exonerated and have his name cleared.
As far as
statistics of false accusations, I have read credible estimates that as many as
one-half of all abuse accusations against Catholic priests are “completely
false” or “greatly exaggerated.”
most recent and reliable numbers in this matter come from the Archdiocese of
Boston. In August, the archdiocese released sweeping lists of all of its
diocesan priests who have been publicly accused of abuse in past decades.
One can examine
the number of Boston priests who were found to have committed abuse versus the
number of those whose cases were studied and found to be false. In the end, one
can demonstrate the sobering figure that one-third
of accused priests in the Archdiocese of Boston were accused falsely. (I
provide all of the supporting numbers in my book.)
Again, this is
an important matter that the media has not been eager to explore.
Catholic World Report: You have done a lot of work exposing the suspect
motivations and tactics employed by SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by
Priests). What is the apparent purpose of SNAP? What are some of the most
serious problems with the work of SNAP?
Pierre: Indeed, SNAP has given a voice to those who have been so grievously
harmed by clergy. We must continue to demand justice and compassion for victims
of clergy abuse. As I have said before,
I believe that ideally the Catholic
Church and SNAP would be working together to tackle the scourge of abuse.
public presentations make such a collaboration utterly impossible. The group is
mean-spirited, misleading, and dishonest, and I continue to provide examples to
support this at my site, TheMediaReport.com.
leader who once thought that it would be productive to reach out to SNAP is
Archbishop Timothy Dolan. When he was a prelate in Milwaukee years ago, he
believed that making himself available to the group would be a constructive
expression of support to abuse victims.
He soon learned
the hard way that such an overture would not be welcomed.
At a contentious
visit to a parish in Milwaukee, a member of SNAP actually spat in Archbishop
Dolan’s face. The member then roared that he would not be silent “until there
was a ‘going out of business’ sign in front of every Catholic parish, church,
school, and outreach center.”
“That’s when I
knew I should have listened to those who told me that working with them would
not be helpful,” recalled Archbishop Dolan.
such relentless mean-spiritedness is part of the fabric of SNAP. The group’s
tactics are rooted in the aggressive, in-your-face activism formulated by the
infamous and influential 1960s radical, Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s tactics are
inherently spiteful and anti-Christian. SNAP’s national director, David
Clohessy, worked for nearly a decade with the notorious community organization
ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), whose nasty
strategies were rooted in the theories of Alinsky.
downright hostile to acknowledging the efforts that the Church has made in the
past decade to protect children. It is also adamant in refusing to recognize
the prevalence of false accusations.
examines the activities of SNAP, it becomes apparent that the organization is
more about bludgeoning the Catholic Church than providing any concrete support
to clergy abuse victims.
SNAP’s 2007 tax
returns, for example, show that it garnered income of over $470,000. Yet these
same papers show that only a measly $593 was spent on “survivor support.”
speak for themselves. Although it may have started with the noble intention of
assisting abuse victims, SNAP has simply evolved into a Church-bashing
The media often
turns to leaders of SNAP to reliably provide quotes that [depict] the Catholic
Church as a “callous” and “insensitive” gang that deliberately harbors child
It is no secret
that the media harbors no love for the Catholic Church, and they love the
Church-bashing material that SNAP provides.
be aware of the nefarious operations of SNAP, if they are not already.
Catholic World Report: Where do you think the Church in the US
is today, compared to 10-15 years ago, regarding the scandals? What work
remains to be accomplished? And, finally, what can ordinary Catholics do to
both fight real abuse and defend those who are innocent?
Pierre: Recent data showed that in all of 2010, a total of seven Catholic
priests were accused of contemporaneously abusing a minor.
While any number
greater than zero is tragic, this low number is indicative of an organization
that has genuinely and tirelessly committed itself to the protection of
Catholics should not be afraid to voice a defense of the Church when it is
attacked and treated unfairly. While demanding justice and compassion for
victims, Catholics can also charitably point out all of the measures that the
Church has taken to establish safe environments for children.
The Church must
continue to offer justice and support to genuine victims of clergy abuse.
However, if work remains in the Church, it is in its handling of accused
I was recently
asked by a newspaper reporter about the Church’s policy of placing priests on
leave after they are accused of abuse [alleged to have occurred] decades ago. I
told him that I thought that priests should first have a right to reply to the
charges. If they acknowledge wrongdoing, then they should immediately be
removed. If they deny the charges, and there have never been any such
accusations before, then they should be afforded innocence until information
shows otherwise. (AgainI am referring to a previously unblemished priest
facing an accusation dating back decades.)
I also asked the
reporter, “What if someone anonymously telephoned the newspaper today and said,
'(I used the reporter’s own name) abused me 30 years ago?'
Would it be OK if the newspaper published this accusation and publicly
suspended you while it conducted a months-long investigation?”
seemed genuinely sobered by such a thought. He understood the point I was
trying to make. It’s easy for people to agree that a Catholic priest should be
publicly suspended when someone lodges a decades-old accusation against him.
But would people accept this same strict policy at their own workplaces and
apply it to themselves? Most people would not, especially if it meant that
their name was going to be plastered across the media landscape as a “credibly
accused child molester.”
Let us pray for
the victims of clergy abuse.
Let us pray for
And pray for our priests!