The Catholic Church
The oldest institution in the western world, the Catholic Church, tracing its history almost 2000 years, carries their teachings on the backs of multiple values. Life and dignity of the human person, solidarity, and rights and responsibilities, are some that the church prides themselves on.
With 414,313 priests currently practicing worldwide, the Catholic population has grown to about 1.229 billion people. In the last two years of those 2000 years the Catholic Church has been around, 1,000 people of the 1.229 billion Catholic population were identified as victims.
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Roughly 301 priests out of the 414,313 priests in the parish today are identified as “predator priests.” A Priest is an ordained minister of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church having the authority to perform certain rites and administer certain sacraments. A priest in a position of power. A victim is a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action. Sexual assault to a victim is a gendered crime which results in 85% of sexual assaults never coming to the attention of the criminal justice system. A crime, which can be
sexual assault, is an action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law. Knowing a priest is in a position of power, has turned someone into a victim through sexual assault, which is a known crime, why are their names being redacted from records.
If a journalist want to, can a still write an article, and report their names? The same questions goes for victims not wanting to be identified but wanting to share their stories. Is a newspaper article still legit if there aren’t any names but just stories in it?
Majority of the sexual assault accusations were never reported to the police by the victims. The victims were silenced by the intimidation tactics of the people in charge within the church. The victims were meant to believe that the situation were to be handled within the Catholic Church doors, and that authorities didn’t need to be notified. Many victims were guilted and intimidated. Some weren’t right out told to not speak about the assault, but they were told they were doing more harm than good.
It was part of the church’s playbook to cover up decades of crimes against children. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called it part of the weaponizing of the Catholic faith that permitted priests to prey upon children for decades with few consequences. To further that power the Pennsylvania Supreme court has ordered that the names of 11 priests accused of sexual abuse in a grand jury report remain permanently redacted. While the victims have been wrongfully suppressed, the predators are being protected. The ruling was said to be protecting the priest due to the statute of limitations being up, and them not being able to be prosecuted.
The only people who had knowledge of these events were the victims, the priests, and the bishops who helped cover up the incidents. Pope Francis has accepted 4 of 36 resignations for Bishops in Australia due to the coverup of these accusations. All of the other bishops are still being investigated. The names of these bishops were also not released. This is due to the Catholic church still investigating them.
With such an internalized cover up, the importance of notifying society is crucial. The question is how much is too much. Journalists have been taken to court over and over again due to releasing sensitive material that public and private institutions would prefer to not be known.
Freedom of press, a very important part of the First Amendment, allows for journalists and reporters to report as they wish, without the government from interfering with the distribution of information and opinions.
The court siding with the redactions of 11 priests names in the Pennsylvania abuse report was seen as wrong to many, more importantly wrong to the victims. None of the names will be mentioned in court, or in any written documents. As a journalists if a victim were to come to them with the names of these priests, would it be ethically and legally wrong is they reported them?
Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart was a widely publicized murder trial. The state trial judge kept the reporters from publishing any of the confessions by the the accused officers. This was to insure a fair trial so that people wouldn’t know the events while they were happening. The Supreme Court later found that the judge had violated the First Amendment. The judge censoring the names of these priests was solely for them to not be seen in a negative light by the public while the trial was going on. By censoring the priests names, similar to the officers confessions, the public is neglected crucial information, and leaves the reporters at a disadvantage for reporting all of the facts. This can also go to same for the victims as well.
Although some victims are mentioned in reports, some can share their stories while not wanting to be named. Without the names of the victims, a report is potentially less legitimate than one who has victims names in it. If a victim were to have their name printed after not giving permission, and specifically being promised it wouldn’t be, is this a violation of their rights?
In Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., a campaign associate obtained and sent in court records of an opposing candidate to various newspapers in St.Paul and Minneapolis. In doing so, the newspapers promised him complete confidentiality. When the articles were published they had identified him as the source. The associate lost his job, and he sued the newspaper for breach of contract. Cohen, the associate, won compensatory damages, and the state appellate courts upheld the award. Cohen’s claim relied solely on the state’s promissory estoppel law. The law prevents someone from breaking a promise. The Minnesota Supreme Court later reversed this decision saying that the First Amendment’s freedom of the press guarantee had prevented the promissory estoppel from being applied to news outlets.
Although the promise was broken, the newspapers Freedom of Press Amendment still stood intact. The newspapers are allowed to report any information, including victims names even if they has promised they wouldn’t do so. It is at the journalist or reporters discretion to release the names or not. Releasing the names of victims is not the most ethically right situation, but it isn’t breaking any laws, and can happen without fault even though confidentiality was broken.
The question is whether or not it is right to release sensitive information for articles and reports to be deemed legitimate. The First Amendments freedom of the press allows for pretty much all reporting to be done. Journalists can report the names of anyone who they promised they wouldn’t to, and no legal actions would be able to be brought up against them.
Releasing the names of victims who thought their names were going to be confidential is ethically wrong. But, although it is ethically wrong doesn’t mean it is legally wrong. Many can oppose of the newspapers doing so, but ultimately they can, and do do this kind of thing with not legal ramifications.
The gray areas comes with reporting the priests names that the court ruled would be redacted from all report filings. The court ruled this to not cause conflict in the parishes that these priests still practice in today. If a journalist was to find these names through the victims or others sources, can a reporter still use the names, and do the newspaper outlets become liable for any damages that arise. Although the court censored the names of these priests, if a journalist was to write about them using their names there wouldn’t be any legal standing. The Fourth Amendment gives the newspapers full coverage on incidents like this, and if they are presented with the information, they are able to release it.
There are limitations with anything, and the same goes for the Freedom of Press. There are legal limits that prevent reporters from not providing their confidential source if that source violate a federal law when they leaked the information to the press. This decision was decided in the Branzburg v. Hayes court case. A reporter can be held in contempt if they don’t identify their confidential source. Reporter Judith Miller’s of the New York Times served 85 days in jail for not releasing the name of her source. Reporters serve jail time for other reasons as well. If the reporter is found guilty of libel when they report their information they can also face jail time.
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the court ruled that the press wasn’t found guilty of libel against public figures unless the injured party can prove malice. The press can still be found guilty of libel defamation with cases that involve private matters without proof of malice.
There could have potentially been a rightful lawsuit brought up to the press if they released the priests names, and had falsified facts from the victims. Confirmings facts when the priests names were censored could be potentially difficult to do, leading them to possible libel lawsuits.
Freedom of the press is apart of the First Amendment for a reason. It is the basic foundation of our nation. Knowing and reporting the facts regardless of who or what it can hurt is an important part of the country we are today. In the case of the Catholic Church having priests being accused of sexual crimes, reporting the facts and notifying the public is a crucialpart of press.
Whether or not confidential sources are identified is left up to the reporter. Although there isn’t any legal standing on identifying the victims, it can be viewed as ethically wrong to some. There is legal standing on the sources who break a federal law in order to provide information to the press. Ethically the reporters are in the right to not share their source, and they have the right to do so. But, that doesn’t mean they won’t face possible jail time in doing so.
Although it is an important part of the First Amendment, it can be difficult and tricky to work around at times. Ethically or legally, there are different cases that call for either ethical or legal issues to be called into play.
- DiGiacomo, Janet, and Susannah Cullinane. “Court Sides with 11 Priests in Abuse Report and Won’t Release Their Names.” CNN , Cable News Network, 5 Dec. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/12/04/us/pennsylvania-catholic-clergy-abuse/index.html.
- Kuruvilla, Carol. “These Are The Chilling Stories Of Abuse Covered Up By The Catholic Church.” The Huffington Post , TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Aug. 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/these-chilling-stories-of-clerical-sex-abuse-highlight-the-need-for-change_us_5b745954e4b0df9b093b7235.
- Willsey, Marie. “10 Most Important U.S. Supreme Court Cases for Journalists.” HowStuffWorks , HowStuffWorks, 18 Oct. 2010, money.howstuffworks.com/10-supreme-court-cases-journalists5.htm.