Wednesday, October 04, 2006

BBC Panorama 'Sex Crimes and the Vatican'

Update: text of responses from bishops - see end of post.

Current status:
official and unofficial protests are continuing; see end of post. For some BBC responses, see here.

Protest at BBC 'attack' on Pope

By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 02/10/2006)

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales is to make a formal complaint to the BBC over a documentary which accused the Pope of covering up child abuse by priests.



Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is to protest to Mark Thompson, the corporation's director general, about last night's "unwarranted" and "deeply prejudiced" BBC1 Panorama programme.

The documentary, called Sex Crimes and the Vatican, purported to reveal how in 2001 the future pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued "a secret Vatican edict" to instruct the world's Catholic bishops to put the interests of the Church before the safety of children.
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The programme said that by issuing the document the cardinal was advising bishops to encourage alleged victims, the accused and any witnesses to talk to them about the allegations rather than report them to the civil authorities.

It described the document as an updated version of the "notorious" 1962 Vatican instruction Crimen Sollicitationis – the Crime of Solicitation – which, it claimed, laid down the rules for covering up sexual scandal.

The English and Welsh bishops were denied a preview film by the BBC because the Vatican had refused to co-operate in the making of it.

But a leaked copy was sent to the bishops in Spain, where they were on retreat last week, and they watched it together on Saturday evening and decided that the cardinal should protest vigorously. A statement issued yesterday by the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, revealed the extent of their anger.

He said that as a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be "ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict XVI".

The archbishop said that viewers would recognise "only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the programme, which uses old footage and undated interviews.

They will know that aspects of the programme amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader."

Archbishop Nichols, the chairman of the Catholic office for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, described the evil of child abuse depicted in the documentary as "horrific and deeply distressing".

But he said that the thrust of the programme was "false and entirely misleading" because it misrepresented two Vatican documents.

"The first document, issued in 1962, is not directly concerned with child abuse at all but with the misuse of the confessional," he said.

"The programme confuses the misuse of the confessional and the immoral attempts by a priest to silence his victim.

"The second document, issued in 2001, clarified the law of the Church, ensuring that the Vatican is informed of every case of child abuse and that each case is dealt with properly."

He continued: "This document does not hinder the investigation by civil authorities of allegations of child abuse, nor is it a method of cover-up, as the programme persistently claims. In fact it is a measure of the seriousness with which the Vatican views these offences."

The row is the latest in a series of clashes between the Catholic Church and the BBC.

In October 2003 the bishops made a similar high-level complaint when the BBC attacked Pope John Paul II in a Panorama special called Sex and the Holy City.

A BBC spokesman said the corporation stood by the Panorama programme and invited viewers to make up their own minds about it. [Telegraph]

Bishops' protest to BBC In a press statement issued on Monday, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, chair of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, says in response to the BBC's broadcast of Panorama's programme Sex crimes and the Vatican on Sunday, 1 October, 'There are two strands to the Panorama programme ´Sex crimes and the Vatican.` The first is a graphic and explicit account of the evil of child abuse and the personal damage it causes to its victims. This is horrific and deeply distressing. Those abused as children have been grievously offended. This is especially so when the abuser is a priest. The film is a reminder to everyone of the need to work ceaselessly in the protection of children and in response to the needs of victims. The Catholic Church in England and Wales is doing so, with transparency and care, and, in every case, cooperating fully and immediately with public authorities. The second strand of the programme is an attack on the Vatican and specifically on Pope Benedict. This aspect of the programme is false and entirely misleading. It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope. The first document, issued in 1962, is not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional. This has always been a most serious crime in Church law. The programme confuses the misuse of the confessional and the immoral attempts by a priest to silence his victim. The second document, issued in 2001, clarified the law of the Church, ensuring that the Vatican is informed of every case of child abuse and that each case is dealt with properly. This document does not hinder the investigation by civil authorities of allegations of child abuse, nor is it a method of cover-up, as the programme persistently claims. In fact it is a measure of the seriousness with which the Vatican views these offences. Since 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger, when Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took many steps to apply the law of the Church to allegations and offences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple. The Panorama programme makes clear the suffering of those abused in their childhood. But as a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict. Viewers will recognise only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the programme, which uses old footage and undated interviews. They will know that aspects of the programme amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader. It will further undermine public confidence in ´Panorama´. This statement is endorsed by the Bishops of England and Wales, and Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, as President of the Bishops´ Conference, is writing to the Director General of the BBC to protest about this programme. This is the text of the letter sent by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and President, Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, to the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson.

'Dear Mr Thompson, In May 2005 I wrote to congratulate the BBC on its coverage of the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

It is with deep disappointment that I now write to express the enormous distress and alarm of the Catholic community at your decision to broadcast Sex crimes and the Vatican. No-one can deny the devastating effects of child abuse in our society and the damage inflicted on the victims and their families. This is particularly shameful if such abuse is committed by a priest and it is of course legitimate to portray heart-rending elements of this evil.

However, your programme sets out to inflict grave damage on Pope Benedict, the leader of a billion Catholics throughout the world. It is quite clear to me that the main focus of the programme is to seek to connect Pope Benedict with cover-up of child abuse in the Catholic Church. This is malicious and untrue and based on a false presentation of church documents.

I cannot understand why no-one from your Corporation made any attempt to contact the Catholic Church in this country for assistance in seeking accurate information about this matter. I must ask if within the BBC there is a persistent bias against the Catholic Church. There will be many, not only Catholics, who will wonder if the BBC is any longer willing to be truly objective in some of its presentations. What a pity if the respect in which the BBC is held worldwide were to be seriously undermined by the bias and lack of integrity shown in the decision to broadcast a programme such as this'. [RCDOW]

Anyone who has seen the programme should complain:

The email address is:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/

Anyone can complain about what is on the BBC website, such as this, and there is a lively discussion going on which can be viewed by the public, here.

1 comment:

Johannes A.M.A. Renders said...

this is revealing..

it's a pity this kind of informations is to be found only in the 6th page of google search under keywords "sex crimes vatican" it shoud be the first site!

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Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen