Several media outlets on Sunday did their best to cast doubt on the legacy of Pope John Paul II as the Catholic Church beatified the late pontiff. NPR highlighted how the pope apparently "alienated many Catholics who began leaving the church in droves." CNN brought on a liberal theologian who claimed that John Paul II "led us backwards rather than forward." NBC played up the "avalanche of claims of sexual abuse by priests" during his papacy.
On Sunday's All Things Considered, Sylvia Poggioli, NPR's Rome-based senior European correspondent, turned to "investigative journalist" Jason Berry midway through her report, who blasted John Paul on his handling of the priestly sex abuse issue: "Someone who was so fearless in his confrontation with the communist empire, I for one do not understand how he could not have engaged in the same fearless introspection about the church internal." More than 3 years earlier, Berry, with the assistance of the Los Angeles Times, falsely claimed in a November 2007 opinion piece that the American bishops "had identified about 4,400 abusive U.S. priests," when that figure is actually the number of priests who faced allegations.
Near the end of the segment, Poggioli, acknowledged that the now-beatified pontiff was a "people's pope who became a spiritual superstar," but then touted how "other critics cite the crackdown on dissident theologians as one of the many contradictions in a complex papacy" and claimed that John Paul's "orthodoxy alienated many Catholics who began leaving the church in droves."
"Crackdown"? This ultra-exaggerated term conjures up an image of a dictatorial regime violently suppressing a peaceful demonstration, instead of a pastor trying to protect his flock. Also, it's not surprising that a liberal news organization would play up the dissent against the Catholic faith, which aides their promotion of secularism, instead of the many prominent converts the Church has gained for its unyielding stances on abortion and marriage, such as the recently deceased former abortionist Bernard Nathanson.
Earlier in the morning, as CNN offered live coverage of the beatification ceremony in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, anchor Jonathan Mann brought on Boston College professor Thomas Groome, a former priest and advocate of the ordination of women. Early in the segment, Mann contended that "there's so much still uncertain about how he led the Church and how he treated, frankly, some of its overlooked members, the victims of sexual abuse, the women who feel he was never entirely fair to them, many other Catholics who were never entirely comfortable with the doctrine that he proclaimed." Groome wholeheartedly agreed and launched his accusation against John Paul:
GROOME: ...I think it's a common perception that he was not as aggressive in addressing that issue, in encouraging bishops throughout the world to address that issue and not simply to respond to it, but actually to ask the questions why was it happening and why was it allowed to continue happening at such a rate that indeed it's so often the morning paper story about another sex abuse scandal, and they never quite got the seriousness of that.
There are responsible people that would say he never quite embraced the spirit of renewal and reform that was launched by the Second Vatican Council, that, in some ways, he launched a reform of the reforms and led us backwards rather than forward. So he's not without controversy, and in that sense, the Church is taking a risk, perhaps, in moving so quickly to beatify him. The Church is 2,000 years old and has learned lots of wisdom from its experience over those years.
Later, the CNN anchor hinted at his ignorance on Catholicism when he asked, "How many popes do end up ending- after their lives, end up at saints? Not to be glib about it, but is this, frankly, a final promotion that every pope could expect, and that Benedict XVI might on this day expect?" The theologian referenced his generally negative view of the papacy in his answer:
GROOME: Well, the pattern hasn't been to canonize every Pope. In fact, one of the popes that has been leapfrogged over by beatifying John Paul so quickly is Pope John XXIII, who'd be a much less controversial figure at this point in time. But there have been lots of popes that have not been canonized. It shouldn't simply be a pattern that if you're a pope, you are automatically going to be a saint. Indeed, the history of the papacy indicates that lots of the popes were far from sainthood and never would deserve that honor.
On NBC, correspondent Ann Thompson followed in the footsteps of her colleagues at NPR and CNN and twice played up the sex abuse scandal. During a report on NBC Nightly News, Thompson stated that "the priesthood still reels from the sex abuse scandal critics accuse John Paul of ignoring."
Earlier, during the 8 am Eastern hour of the Today show, the NBC reporter played a clip from George Weigel, author of a biography of John Paul II, who stated that "Europe's in a spiritual cultural funk right now. Maybe this [the beatification] will break people out of it." Thompson continued by claiming that the "funk [was] exacerbated by an avalanche of claims of sexual abuse by priests, the same scandal that rocked the American church almost ten years ago. It is why American survivors say the Church should slow the Pope's path to sainthood." She followed this by playing a clip from Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who stated that "At a bare minimum, we believe that all of this is just going too fast and we don't yet know all of the implications of his inaction."