For God's sake, let's tell the truth by Terry Mattingly
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Tue Dec 31 02:29:12 EST 2002
For God's sake, let's tell the truth
By Terry Mattingly
Archbishop Joseph Foley was speaking to an audience of Catholic
communications officers and editors, so he made sure that he didn't
bury his most important statement.
The first principle of dealing with the news media, he told a Vatican
conference in 2001, was simple: "Never, never, never tell a lie." Then
the president of the Pontifical Office for Social Communications
offered more advice that would prove to be prophetic.
"Truth will always come out," he said. "Failure to tell the truth is a
scandal, a betrayal of trust and a destroyer of credibility. ... So
sacred is the responsibility to tell the truth that one must be ready
to accept dismissal for refusal to tell a lie."
Principles of openness and honesty were tested as never before during
2002 as another wave of scandal hit the Catholic Church. In the end,
members of the Religion Newswriters Association selected the clergy
sexual abuse scandal as the year's most important news event. Four of
the poll's top five stories were linked to the scandal and Cardinal
Bernard Law of Boston was named newsmaker of the year.
The RNA occasionally offers a dubious prize -- its "Into the Darkness
Award" -- to the group that has done the most to hide information from
the media and the public. This year, it was awarded to the American
"The institutional church is slowly learning that evasion and
stonewalling and spin are not in its best interests," said Father
Donald Cozzens, author of "Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the
"After all that has happened during this year, isn't it obvious that
telling the truth is the best way to serve our people? It's the best
way to protect our children. It's the best way to restore trust and
regain our role as moral leaders. At some point we simply have to say,
'For God's sake, let's tell the truth.' "
Here are the top 10 stories in the RNA poll:
(1) For the third time in two decades, clergy sexual abuse shakes
Catholicism. At the heart of this scandal are new revelations that many
bishops have moved priests alleged to have abused minors from parish to
parish without warning legal authorities and the faithful. Some bishops
apparently have approved secret settlements to avoid disclosure.
(2) Cardinal Law resigns after rising protests by clergy and laity over
his handling of abusive priests. Reports increase that the Boston
archdiocese is considering bankruptcy, as the number of lawsuits climbs
over 400. Sexual scandals claim several other bishops, including the
liberal Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland.
(3) Controversy erupts as some evangelical s openly criticize Islamic
doctrine, often quoting the testimonies of Muslims who have converted
to Christianity. The Bush White House tries to keep its distance, as
Franklin Graham says Islam is an "evil and wicked religion" and
Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines calls Muhammad a "demon-possessed
(4) U.S. Catholic bishops listen to the stories of abuse victims and
then pass a "one strike and you're out policy" against any priest who
has abused a child. Five months later, the policy approved in Dallas is
changed -- on orders from the Vatican -- to include church tribunals to
hear the cases of priests who proclaim their innocence.
(5) The growing clergy sexual abuse scandal fuels the creation of new
networks of Catholic laity, including the Voice of the Faithful, which
draws 5,000 to a convention in Boston. The Vatican faces waves of
protests from outraged Catholic conservatives as well as liberals.
Support groups for victims surge with each new round of media coverage.
(6) In yet another church-state cliffhanger, the U.S. Supreme Court
upholds the constitutionality of programs that use government-funded
vouchers to allow children to attend religious schools.
(7) A Circuit Court of Appeals judge in San Francisco causes a
firestorm by ruling unconstitutional the words "under God" in the
Pledge of Allegiance. The judge soon stays his own ruling to allow for
(8) The National Council of Churches and other bodies on the religious
left express their opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq. American
Catholic bishops and a coalition of progressive evangelicals express
similar concerns, asking if "just war theory" allows a preemptive
(9) Palestinian gunmen take refuge in the Catholic and Orthodox
sanctuaries of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, leading to a 39-day
siege by Israeli forces. Suicide bombers and military actions continue
throughout Israel and the West Bank.
(10) Scholars announce the discovery of a stone burial box bearing the
words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Is this a 2,000-year-
old archaeological breakthrough or a hoax?
Terry Mattingly (www.tmatt.net) teaches at Palm Beach Atlantic
University and is senior fellow for journalism at the Council for
Christian Colleges & Universities. He writes this weekly column for the
Scripps Howard News Service.
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