Posted in Behind the News

The power of journalism in clergy abuse crisis

, by Patrick Maks

The Catholic Church’s efforts to reckon with clergy sex abuse were examined during an AP panel discussion on Tuesday at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in New York.

Accountability in the church and the power of journalism in illuminating the scandal across the globe were two themes that emerged during the robust conversation led by David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture.

AP Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield, second from left, speaks during a panel discussion, “Reckoning with clergy abuse: Is the Catholic Church falling short on its commitments?” at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Zoeller)

“This is not a phenomenon specific to the United States as some people once said. This is not a phenomenon that’s specific to developed European countries as some people once said,” said AP investigative reporter Michael Rezendes. “We’ve learned this as the scandal erupts in country after country.”

“We are nowhere near the end of this, and I think the Vatican knows that,” AP Vatican Correspondent Nicole Winfield said. “The worst may still be yet to come.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of clergy sex abuse; Robert S. Bennett, former federal prosecutor; and Edward T. Mechmann, director of the Archdiocese of New York’s Safe Environment Program, also joined the discussion, which stemmed from AP’s investigative reporting series, “The Reckoning.”

“If it wasn’t for journalism, we would still be in the dark. You are saving lives," said Cruz, who has become an advocate for survivors of clergy sex abuse. "If it wasn’t for organizations like AP, we would still be in the dark."

Bennett added that journalism and the attention of law enforcement helped spark a response to the scourge of abuse. Reporting, he said, “brought this to the attention of people in the United States and indeed the world. People know about this crisis.”

AP Managing Editor Brian Carovillano looks at portraits of clergy sex abuse survivors by photographer Maye-E Wong, displayed at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Zoeller)

Asked to address the church’s accountability efforts, Mechmann cited complacency as a challenge and added the church has taken steps to change the corporate culture “so that child protection is a major priority at every level.”

“That takes a lot of persistence on every level,” Mechmann explained. “That takes a lot of energy. You have to be willing to break through inertia and you have to be consistent. There were a lot of people who used to say to us, ‘When is this going to go away?’ And the answer was ‘Never.’”

AP images of survivors of clergy sex abuse from Guam to Mississippi by AP photojournalists David Goldman and Maye-E Wong were displayed at the event. Wong’s photography, titled “Sundays After,” was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

AP’s reporting on accountability in the clergy abuse crisis is available online

Watch a replay of the discussion.