Study Shows Media Pin Scandal to Benedict XVI

Research Center Looks at Priestly Sex Abuse in the News

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 11, 2010 ( Benedict XVI again took a leading role in dealing with the scandal of sexual abuse of minors today, affirming that a priest who abuses «little ones» turns the priesthood into the opposite of what it is.

Today’s comments — made at the closing Mass for the Year for Priests, in the presence of some 15,000 priests from around the globe who are in Rome for the celebration — is the latest in a long series of this Pope’s declarations on the subject.

Nevertheless, today’s affirmation, like previous ones (including a whole letter on the issue to Irish Catholics) might do little to change a negative perception about this Pontiff’s handling of the crisis.

That’s due in part to the fact that Benedict XVI has been made the face of the scandal, according to a study released today by the Pew Research Center. The report reveals that the Holy Father was «featured in 51.6% of the stories about the scandal in the mainstream media during the six-week period studied. All other individual figures combined, including cardinals, bishops and priests, appeared as lead newsmakers in just 12% of the stories.»

The Pew study — an extensive and multifaceted look at media coverage of the scandal — compares 2010 reporting on the issue to that of 2002 (when it was big news in the United States and eventually led to the resignation of Boston’s archbishop). Interestingly, the reigning Pontiff during that scandal, Pope John Paul II, was mentioned in only 15.5% of stories about abuse in May-August 2002, the period when newspaper coverage of the crisis peaked, the Pew study noted.


Among other findings of the study: «The level of coverage this year came very close to that of 2002. […] A Nexis keyword search of 90 media outlets found 1,559 stories mentioning the scandal in the first four months of 2010, just 77 fewer articles than in a similar four-month period in mid-2002 (May 1-Aug. 31). No other developments in the scandal during the intervening eight years even came close to generating that level of coverage.»

The research also revealed that while the scandal was big news for newspapers and news Web sites, cable TV and talk radio were somewhat oblivious.

«On cable, the scandal filled about 1% of the news hole, and on talk radio, not a single story appeared during the six weeks of programming studied,» the study reported.

It further revealed that the scandal found «little traction» in new media: «Across the millions of blogs and Twitter posts tracked in PEJ’s weekly monitoring, the clergy abuse scandal registered as a leading topic in only one of the six weeks analyzed.»

In any case, Benedict XVI is likely to be undeterred by his adverse place in the limelight.

At today’s Mass, he reflected that the scandal hitting the headlines during the Year for Priests was anything but ruinous for the celebration.

«Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events,» the Pontiff said. «But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: We grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in ‘earthen vessels’ which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world.

«So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God. In this way, his gift becomes a commitment to respond to God’s courage and humility by our own courage and our own humility.»

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Full text of papal homily:

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On the Net:

Full report from Pew Research Center:–Media-Coverage-of-the-Clergy-Abuse-Scandal.aspx

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