From the current (December, 2009) edition of our newsletter Civil Rights:
Much of the media overkill and anti-Catholic bias that we have seen in print and on message boards in the past few months was focused on the charges against Raymond Lahey, former bishop of Antigonish, of possession of child pornography. The League does not comment on current charges that have yet to be heard in court. However, we do as much as we can to insist on a facts-based approach to news and particularly headline writing in the reporting of this case. Several headlines have been changed as a result of this effort, including on At the height of the reporting, some message boards were closed down, but this was mainly for legal reasons.

Macleans article draws response

As Civil Rights was being prepared, Macleans Magazine (Dec. 7/09) ran a cover feature entitled “The Truth About Priests” which, while it mentioned the Lahey case, focused more generally on the fact that, according to all statistics, priests are no more likely to be charged with sex offenses than any other group, and that no more than two to four per cent have ever faced charges. One expert quoted even ventured that children “are probably safer in a Catholic Church environment than they are anywhere else.” This may be the first time that such context has been provided in a prominent way in any major Canadian media report, though admittedly it has sometimes been buried in other articles.

Nevertheless, there was one contextual problem that we felt deserved a response, namely, that the article’s discussion of past mistakes tended to single out the Church for a pattern that was general. In a letter from Joanne McGarry, League executive director, we thanked them for a perspective that was generally balanced, but we pointed this out: “As you acknowledge, these tragedies happen in every institution that has much to do with children. What you haven’t mentioned is that until the past few decades, none of them handled it well. The cover-ups, the transferring of suspected offenders, and lack of support for victims and families, are disgraceful, but pretty much summarize how the problem was dealt with everywhere until fairly recently. I suspect you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of it in press releases or h.r. policy manuals much before the 70s. Whatever the mistakes of the past, it is very sad to have any clergyman (or anyone else) associated with such charges, and it is important that priority be given to the needs of the victims in their pain.” A shorter version of the letter was printed in the magazine’s Dec. 28 edition.

A better way to help the poor

In a profanity-laced monologue which made the rounds on YouTube in time for UN World Food Day in the latter part of October, comedian Sarah Silverman suggested it’s time for the Pope to “move out of your house that is a city” and use the proceeds to feed the world’s poor.
By all accounts Ms. Silverman’s diatribe was more vulgar than most. However, her tired old viewpoint is not uncommon among people who think the Church has vast riches that could and should be easily sold to help the poor.
A few points are worth remembering: The Vatican’s riches don’t belong to the Pope, any more than the crown jewels belong to Queen Elizabeth. Both are part of an historic trust. In the Church’s case, most of the Vatican’s artwork was donated to the Church to inspire people to prayer and good works, not because it could one day be used to turn a profit.  
And to their credit, Reuters, which carried most of the reports about the Silverman rant, helped put things in to context: While the Vatican’s artistic holdings would easily be worth millions, the institution itself doesn’t have a great deal of money. In 2008, it ran a $1.28-million deficit, the second year of losses.

According to published figures, Reuters added, in 2004 the Vatican disclosed that the Holy See’s real estate was worth 700 million euros, or about $908 million at the time. That doesn’t include St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, which the Vatican termed priceless and valued at a symbolic 1 euro. The League contacted the reporter to thank her for providing context.

Every single one of us could do more to help the needy. But through its agencies, the Church continues to feed the poor and perform other charitable works more than any other private institution on earth. If comedians and other pundits would like to help out, perhaps they should go to their local food bank and do a few shifts.    

Child pornography Bill introduced

On Nov. 24, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson introduced Bill C-58, a third piece of legislation that would make it mandatory for Internet Service Providers to alert police to sites that link to child pornography and any tips they receive about sites they host. In June, he introduced two related bills: Bill C-46 that would require providers to give police the e-mail addresses and provider addresses of child porn viewers; and Bill C-27, which would require providers to create the technical ability for police to obtain information about clients.

“The creation and distribution of child pornography are appalling crimes in which children are brutally victimized over and over again,” said Mr. Nicholson in a release. “A mandatory reporter regime across Canada will strengthen our ability to protect our children from sexual predators and help police rescue these young victims and prosecute the criminals responsible.”

In an interview with Canadian Catholic News, we welcomed the news that efforts are being made to eliminate the scourge of child pornography, and protect children both in Canada and around the world. We also expressed the belief that privacy concerns raised by the legislation could be worked out at the committee stage.

House motion against Internet suicide counselling

The House of Commons voted unanimously Nov. 18 in favour of a motion that could change how the Criminal Code deals with people who counsel others over the Internet to commit suicide. The motion put forward by Harold Albrecht, Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Kitchener-Conestoga, was a response to the death of Nadia Kajouji, an 18-year-old Carleton University student who threw herself into the Rideau River in March 2008.

During the investigation into Kajouji’s death, police discovered that a 47-year-old male nurse from Minnesota — who was posing as a 28-year-old woman online — might have encouraged Kajouji via an Internet chat room to commit suicide. No charges have been laid in the case, under either U.S. or Canadian law, though the nurse has lost his Minnesota nursing license.

Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code says “everyone who … counsels a person to commit suicide, or aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.”

According to CBC News, Mr. Albrecht would like to see the definition of aiding and abetting clarified to include the use of technologies like Internet chat rooms. Wednesday’s motion isn’t legally binding, but he plans to work with the federal Justice Department to draft a formal bill.

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