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A Time of Reckoning

NEW OXFORD NOTEBOOK

By Pieter Vree | January-February 2022
Pieter Vree is Editor of the NOR.

Warning: This column contains graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual abuse.

Fatigue. It’s a function of the relentless and repetitive news cycle. Once a big story breaks, it must be examined from every possible angle, and any developments — no matter how minute — updated by the minute. The news is, like most things modern, subject to the laws of supply and demand. So once the public tires of a topic, news “producers” must find a new “big story” to titillate consumers until, eventually, that story too gets overexposed, and the cycle resumes with the next big story. Think of any headline story from the past year and how utterly exhausting coverage became: the murder of George Floyd, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse (or Ghislaine Maxwell), the January 6 Capitol riots, the coronavirus and its variants, the Olympics, or anything to do with Meghan Markle.

Fatigue isn’t confined to followers of mainstream media; it can even set in among consumers of Catholic news. The Catholic media has been known to exhaust topics as well. Think of some of the much-discussed recent stories: the Pachamama scandal, the eucharistic “incoherence” of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, the endless parade of synods, or anything to do with Fr. James Martin.

Perhaps the most notorious example of an overexposed news topic is the clerical sex-abuse scandal that roared into our collective consciousness in 2002. Who among us hasn’t suffered sex-scandal fatigue at some point over the past 20 years? It’s a dreary topic to read about; and, believe me, it’s an even drearier topic to write about. But it is, alas, a necessary topic because child sexual abuse by priests is the most horrific crime ever to be perpetrated in the Catholic Church — or by the Catholic Church, if you believe that her official representatives (or employees, in today’s parlance) constitute the Church. Moreover, revelations of the disgusting depravities of predatory priests and the despicable behavior of their superiors haven’t ceased.

This particular brand of Satanic evil recaptured headlines in both the secular and Catholic press this past October when the French Church released a 2,500-page report detailing the extent of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests over the past seven decades. The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church’s exhaustive inquiry found that since 1950, priests in France had sexually abused some 216,000 children, an astronomical figure. The number of victims rises to around 330,000 when abuse committed by lay members of the Church, such as parish schoolteachers, is taken into account. Approximately 3,000 child-abusers — two-thirds of them priests — worked in the French Church over the past 70 years. And their abuse was covered by an institutional “veil of silence.”

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