Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Anti-church campaign seen in scandal stories, Vatican editor says

The editor of the Vatican newspaper said the continuing criticism of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican in handling the clerical sex abuse crisis is part of a media campaign to sell newspapers.

"To think there is a conspiracy is ridiculous," Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano, told members of the foreign press in Rome April 12.

But, he said, there obviously is a "media campaign" to continue the negative coverage.

Vian said part of the motivation is economic: "The media, not only in Italy, are in decline; their sales are less and less. This kind of news helps them sell."

Journalists always have known that stories about animals and stories about sex sell newspapers, he said.

The sex story becomes even easier to sell when it involves the Vatican, he said.

"The need to sell is the first key to understanding this campaign. Then there is the hostility" against the Catholic Church, he said. "Anti-Catholic hostility certainly exists. This has been documented," Vian said.

"The preaching of the Catholic Church bothers many people in many ways," particularly when it comes to moral issues, he said.

But, Vian said, for the pope and for the church "the first concern must be for the victims" of clerical sex abuse.

"Even one victim is too many," he said, but it is clear that the Catholic Church in many parts of the world is leading the way in establishing strong child protection programs.

"This campaign probably will continue. One can presume that eventually readers will get bored with these stories, many of which involve old cases. That which will not change is the church's concern for the victims," he said.

Vian, a historian and journalist before being named to direct the Vatican newspaper, also said a decline in the quality of news reporting has contributed to the attacks on the church and its leaders.

Fewer media outlets have dedicated religion reporters, and the pace of reporting in the Internet age means there is even less time for reporters to do the thorough research needed on complex stories, he said. Confusion and misunderstanding about Vatican norms for dealing with sexual abuse are an obvious sign of a lack of attention to detail, he said.

In addition, he said, "there is the important presence of blogs, which often are aggressive and extremist on one side or another, which end up influencing the media."

The content of the blogosphere is similar to the sometimes heated conversations people would have in a bar or on a commuter train, but because they are online, they end up having a much wider influence, he said.

Vian also admitted the Vatican communications apparatus has had trouble dealing with the onslaught of negative coverage, "but we are trying each day to do better."

"Obviously we can improve, but so can the media," he said.

The Vatican newspaper editor also said Pope Benedict is fully informed about what newspapers and television stations are reporting.

The pope receives two press summaries each day -- one prepared by the Vatican press office and another by the Vatican Secretariat of State, he said. In addition, the pope reads several newspapers each day.

"I can assure you that the pope is well informed and that nothing is hidden from him," Vian said. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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