LONDON, OCT. 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The bishops of England and Wales are accusing the BBC of misrepresenting two Vatican documents that the news organization says Benedict XVI used to cover-up the sexual abuse of minors.
According to the prelates, the program “Sex Crimes and the Vatican,” broadcast Sunday by Panorama, the BBC’s investigative news show, is unwarranted and misleading.
The program claims to have uncovered secret Vatican documents that imposed silence regarding all claims of child abuse, and accused then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now Benedict XVI — of shielding priests from investigation in his previous role as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
One document mentioned is “Crimen sollicitationis,” (The Crime of
Solicitation, 1962) issued by the Congregation of the Holy Office — future Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — which was made public in 2003.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, sent a letter today to Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC “to express the enormous distress and alarm of the Catholic community” regarding the program.
“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,” the cardinal said.
The letter continues: “However, your program sets out to inflict grave damage on Benedict XVI, the leader of a billion Catholics throughout the world. It is quite clear to me that the main focus of the program is to seek to connect Benedict XVI with cover-up of child abuse in the Catholic Church. This is malicious and untrue and based on a false presentation of Church documents.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who is also president of the episcopal conference of England and Wales, said that he “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,” he said.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, and chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, also issued a statement today in which he states that “as a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Benedict XVI.”
“Viewers will recognize only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the program, which uses old footage and undated interviews. They will know that aspects of the program amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader. It will further undermine public confidence in ‘Panorama,'” he added.
According to Archbishop Nichols, the program’s attacks against Benedict XVI are “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,” he said.
The archbishop continued: “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 program 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 program persistently claims. In fact it is a measure of the seriousness with which the Vatican views these offences.”
“Since 2001,” added the prelate, “Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then 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.”
A BBC spokesman announced today that the corporation’s management will respond to Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s letter.