Disheartening. Upsetting. Shameful. These are some of the words that came to mind as I read The Chronicle’s April 15 coverage of the scandal roiling the Catholic Church. But let me be clear. My pained reaction was not in response to the Church. It was in response to The Chronicle’s unbecoming coverage of the Church.
The scandal currently plaguing the Catholic Church is a story of understandable interest — legal, prurient and otherwise. Many are the mainstream news outlets covering the unfolding drama. Some in the media are doing so admirably; in other cases, the treatment the Church is receiving is less than objective. But it is not my intention to address issues of journalistic ethics, but rather matters of propriety. Simply, this scandal, whatever its veracity or implications, is not a Jewish story.
If there is a Jewish angle to news reporting, such as when reference was made by a papal preacher to authorities’ search for legal truth being akin to anti-Semitism, then appropriately I would expect this paper to describe and rebut the charges. Or if, by turns, there is a Jewish perspective to share wherein we can learn from what is happening within the Church to better understand our own community, then that too, would be worthy of attention.
But as distasteful as news of this religiously rooted scandal is — and it is awful if true, which appears in some particulars to be the case — the story is not one to which a Jewish paper ought devote newsprint. Thus my upset is with the unfortunate and offensive decision to run an unseemly editorial cartoon caricaturing all Catholic priests as pedophiles.
Clearly, some priests, perhaps even some as high as within the Vatican, have done wrong. I do not seek to minimize the significance of their actions; nor do I seek to whitewash the hurt visited upon their victims. The accused deserve their day in court, and they ought have it. But insofar as the vast majority of the Catholic community’s religious leadership is good, honest and caring — and is in distress over what is being revealed daily, The Chronicle’s decision to run this ugly cartoon was inappropriate, unjustified and irresponsible.
Imagine the shoe were on the other foot. Imagine the Jewish community were today dealing with our own scandal (regrettably, we have had our share of legal troubles and must shame-facedly concede that we have even had rabbinic abuse scandals) and the Diocese’s newspaper The Pittsburgh Catholic were to caricature and opine about the most egregious behavior of implicated Jewish leaders, thereby insinuating that all rabbis as well as our community’s most dedicated lay and professional leaders were co-conspirators or complicit in the abuses and crimes at hand.
I dare say we would be incensed, and rightly so. Where is the outrage here?
The questionable decision by The Chronicle to editorialize repeatedly on matters that have no direct relevance to the Jewish community is something for this paper’s Board of Trustees to take up. The decision to depict religious leaders of another faith tradition in defamatory ways, however, is beyond the pale and must be accounted for.
Further, as I have written in these pages in recent weeks, for The Chronicle’s editors to paint the Church with as broad a brush as they have seen fit to use of late is to misrepresent the good works, ready collaboration and faithful partnership that, I am proud to boast, defines the relationship Pittsburgh’s Jewish and Catholic communities have long enjoyed and continue to share meaningfully to this day.
The City of Pittsburgh deserves better than scurrilous smears of the Catholic faithful in a paper dedicated to covering news of interest to the Jewish community.
(Rabbi Aaron B. Bisno is the senior rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation.)