Hours Before John Paul II's Canonization, Networks Hype Priest Sex Abuse Scandal

ABC, CBS, and NBC spotlighted the issue of child sex abuse by priests on their Saturday morning and evening newscasts – twenty-four hours or less before the Catholic Church canonized Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. CBS and NBC both uncritically turned to the president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), but didn't mention her controversial affiliations with prominent anti-Catholics.

CBS and ABC also hyped how "some of the faithful have complained the canonization process was fast-tracked." ABC's Terry Moran even inserted some slanted labeling of the Catholic practice of venerating the relics of saints on Saturday's World News, and wondered if modern people could relate to the Church's examples of holiness: [MP3 audio from the networks' reporting available here; video below the jump]

TERRY MORAN (voice-over): ...Catholics believe the relics vividly bring the faithful closer to the saints. and they'll be in an essential part of this canonization ceremony – John Paul's blood taken in the final days of his life; John XXIII's flesh when his body was re-buried in St. Peter's in 2001. It might seem medieval to some – and it is – but to Catholics like Ana Navarro, this day matters.

MORAN (on-camera): Are saints still relevant in the modern world?

ANA NAVARRO, ABC NEWS CONSULTANT: You bet they are. This is a tough world. This is a tough life to get through. You got to have some faith. You got to have somebody – something to pray to.

NBC continued their biased coverage of the canonizations from Friday's Today on that day's NBC Nightly News. Correspondent Anne Thompson pointed out how "with the joy, there is anguish from people like Barbara Blaine, who was sexually abused by a priest." However, Thompson didn't identify her as the president of SNAP. Besides the clip from Blaine, the journalist also included a sound bite from Kathleen Sprows Cummings of the University of Notre Dame, who underlined that "one of the things that the devil's advocate would have focused on, in his [John Paul II's] case, was exactly that – the clergy sex abuse crisis."

Thompson did include a sound bite from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who spoke favorably of the canonizations. The NBC correspondent also revisited the sex abuse issue the following morning on Saturday's Today:

ANNE THOMPSON: ...The ceremony to make John Paul II and John XXIII saints will take place tomorrow morning. Those two popes are arguably the most influential popes of the 20th century. They – both men enjoyed great popularity, but they are not without controversy, as you said. John Paul II has many critics who say he did not do enough – or did very little – to stop the sex abuse crisis. And John XXIII – he's the pope who initiated the reforms of the Second Vatican council – still opposed by some conservative Catholics some 50 years later. But despite all the criticism, both men will be made saints tomorrow.

Correspondent Allen Pizzey featured Blaine during his reports on both CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News on Saturday, but also included pro-John Paul II sound bites from Catholic clerics:


ALLEN PIZZEY: The two new saints were proclaimed in what, in Church terms amounts to record time. The ceremony to formalize their status is going to take about three hours. Whether or not it should be happening at all depends very much on your point of view....

UNIDENTIFIED CATHOLIC PRIEST: What we see happening is Francis recognizing the great significance of John's dream and John's hope for the Church; and the boldness and courage of John Paul II's method of leading the Church.

PIZZEY (voice-over): But not everyone agrees on the saintliness of John Paul II – under whose reign the Church sex abuse scandal broke.

BARBARA BLAINE, PRES., SURVIVORS NETWORK OF THOSE ABUSED BY PRIESTS: He had the knowledge, information, the opportunity, and the authority to take action that would have protected children.

Pizzey also played up on CBS Evening News how "even some of the faithful have complained the canonization process was fast-tracked."

On Saturday's Good Morning America on ABC, Moran first brought up the speed of the sainthood declarations before turning to the sex abuse scandal:

MORAN (voice-over): On the eve of the big day, there are questions about how fast these two men became saints. John Paul II was fast-tracked almost from the moment of his death, when crowds chanted 'santo subito' – 'sainthood now' at his funeral....

It's all too fast, say critics of the Church – especially for John Paul II, whose papacy was shadowed by the sexual abuse scandal. But for the people here, the faithful, it's about something else. It's about the way these two men – imperfectly, perhaps – tried to live out this ancient faith with courage – the courage of the saints.

Later that day, on World News, the correspondent underlined that "the fast track to sainthood for John Paul II has stirred controversy, because of the shadow of the sex abuse scandal during his papacy." He continued with his jab at the veneration of relics. Moments earlier, however, Moran played a clip from author John Thavis, who noted that "it is not the decisions that they necessarily made as popes. It's their spiritual lives; their holiness; their energy that they brought to evangelizing – to spreading the Gospel."

When John Paul II was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2011, NBC, along with several other liberal media outlets, did their best to cast doubt on the Polish pontiff's legacy. Thompson played up the crisis and turned to Blaine during her reporting at the time.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center