News Media: February 2009 Archives

Bishop Jenky's statement on abuse lawsuits

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Since various news outlets are castigating my bishop for "lashing out" against just about everybody in his recent letter, I thought I'd post the whole thing so you can see what a "blistering attack" it really is.

The background, as far as I can tell, is that an appellate court recently overturned a lower court ruling that dismissed several lawsuits due to the statute of limitations expiring. SNAP -- the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests -- then organized a demonstration after mass outside of Peoria's St. Mary's Cathedral asking Bishop Jenky not to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. This letter seems at least in part a response to that request.

So here's the full text of the bishop's letter,followed by my comments.

February 7-8, 2009


Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Peoria,

My greatest responsibility as your bishop is to preach the Gospel, celebrate the Sacraments, and to try my best to be a good shepherd for this local church. The saddest part of my ministry has been to deal with our part of the immense societal issue of sexual misconduct with minors. Where there have been credible accusations made against individuals and with the advice of my Review Commission, I have not hesitated to remove them from all active ministry. I have also tried to attentively follow the charter adopted by the American bishops that deals in a comprehensive manner with this painful subject. I have not discovered any evidence in this Diocese that priests guilty of misconduct were ever moved from assignment to assignment. Our Diocese normally offers counseling to victims rather than paying out large cash settlements. Not every allegation has been found to be credible by our Review Commission, and so our Diocese resists supporting those claims that simply cannot be sustained by the facts. I take very seriously my responsibility to protect all the children entrusted to our care, and I am absolutely convinced that today the programs of our Church now provide the safest possible environment in America for your children.

In these perilous economic times, I will work to be a prudent steward of the money you offer for the work of Christ. Attorneys representing some claimants and some "victims groups" obviously have a significant financial stake in trying to overturn our Diocesan policies. Recent decisions in the Illinois courts may make our legal situation even more difficult in the future. It should be noted that the sexual abuse of minors cuts across all socio-economic lines, ethnicities, ministries, and religions. It is important to remember that the State basically exempts its own institutions from civil litigation. Amid all the tensions of our nation's culture wars and in the face of the media's intense hatred for our Catholic Faith, I am increasingly concerned that our Church in effect no longer enjoys equal justice under the law. I will not be intimidated by choreographed demonstrations or the abuse that is sometimes personally directed against me. I remain immensely proud of the zealous and holy priesthood of our Diocese. May God guide and protect his Holy Church and bless us all in his service.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.
BISHOP OF PEORIA

Now, had anybody aked my opinion, I'd have strongly advised against referring to "the media's intense hatred for our Catholic Faith." That the media hate the Church is more or less true depending on individuals, but when you're dealing with a national scandal where many churchmen were not forthcoming about the abuse of children until and in many cases even after the press revealed their malfeasance, beating up on the media comes off as retaliatory, and in the context of this letter is unnecessary.

Be that as it may, Bishop Jenky's larger point, that the Church is being shaken down by victims' groups (enabled by courts and legislatures) in a way that no other institution could be, deserves attention. With one hand, the government exempts itself from being sued for abuse and with the other it breaks down legal barriers for the Church to be sued for the same wrongdoing (and remember, the statute of limitations exists for a reason). This unequal treatment affects the Church's spiritual mission and the related material goods it provides: schools, hospitals, family services and other social services. This is something that every Catholic and all people of good will should be very concened about.

Lastly, after reading the bishop's letter, is it not comical to read the characterization of it as an attack? I understand that journalists might bristle at being accused of hating the Catholic faith, but you would try in vain to see a journalist wrestle with Bishop Jenky's arguments about "equal treatment." That's not hatred of the Church -- it's just laziness.

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Twitter

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So, um, you may have noticed the decrease in activity on this blog. I've started a Twitter account and a lot of my snark has migrated over there. (You can see my updates over at the top of the right sidebar or follow me here if you're on Twitter.)

Anyway, most people I mention Twitter to say something like, "Oh yeah, Twitter, I've heard of that. What exactly is it?" This NY Mag article is a pretty good look at just what the heck Twitter is.

The first day I was in the Twitter office, I sat in the corner, playing with my own Twitter page, taking notes (it feels somewhat silly to write in a notebook there), and waiting to talk to Williams. For lunch, executives, including Stone, hosted programmers in the lounge to talk about some sort of open-source mumbo jumbo I didn't understand. Their HD television was tuned to a still photo of a fireplace. They were wrapped up in the meeting. I attended to my computer.


And then I noticed something on Twitter Search. The first person was "manolantern," who, at 12:33 local time, posted, "I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive (sic) in manhattan." After that, the updates were unceasing. Some fifteen minutes before the New York Times had a story on its website (and some fifteen hours before it had one in print), Twitter users who witnessed the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 were giving me updates in real time. One of them was a man named Janis Krums. Krums lives in Sarasota, Florida, and happened to be on a ferry navigating the Hudson when the plane hit the water. He immediately took a photo and posted it to TwitPic and sent a "tweet" with a link to the picture and "There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy." He then, perhaps coming to his senses, began to help passengers off the plane. (He ended up giving his phone to one of them and didn't get it back until that night.)

Now think about that for a second. In the midst of chaos--a plane just crashed right in front of him!--Krums's first instinct was to take a picture and load it to the web. There was nothing capitalistic or altruistic about it. Something amazing happened, and without thinking, he sent it out to the world. And let's say he hadn't. Let's say he took this incredible photo--a photo any journalist would send to the Pulitzer board--and decided to sell it, said he was hanging onto it for the highest bidder. He would have been vilified by bloggers and Twitterers alike. His is a culture of sharing information. This is the culture Twitter is counting on. Whatever your thoughts on its ability to exist outside the collapsing economy or its inability (so far) to put a price tag on its services, that's a real thing. That's the instinct Stone was talking about. If the nation has tens of millions of people like Krums, that's a phenomenon. That's what Twitter is waiting for.

Of course, no one at Twitter noticed any of this going on. This is the New Communication. There was no screaming and running through a newsroom, dispatching any reporter in the vicinity to the scene. For an hour, the boring open-source meeting droned on. No one in the room knew a plane had crashed. The next day, Stone would tell me that the site didn't even get a traffic spike. "That's only for huge shared experiences, like the inauguration, or Mumbai." Twitter had unleashed something ... and its executives were completely unaware, as its system worked on its own, without them. That might be what the future holds for Twitter. Or it might not be. It all depends on whether you're willing to wait for something that might not come. It all depends on whether you're willing to believe.

Well, I can't say I "believe" in Twitter, but it's combination of immediacy and simplicity is compelling.

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Almost as trendy as grunge

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To all the dumb schlups writing with condescencion and clever ironic distance about the "25 random things" Facebook meme, allow me to dump some cold water on your "journalism."

You might think that by "covering" social media such as Facebook, you're ingratiating yourself with the millenials who live and breathe the stuff (and who, by the way, will still never buy your newspapers). Let's leave aside the possibility that what your friends are doing on Facebook might not be newsworthy and concentrate on the fact that this new, apparently disturbing trend is not actually a new thing at all. The same exact "random crap about me" chain letters were filling up my email inbox 7-10 years ago. Your treatment of this "trend" as something new in any way except scale betrays real, actual ignorance.

Congratulations!

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the News Media category from February 2009.

News Media: September 2007 is the previous archive.

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