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Media Coverage of Ryan Report Not Objective, Priest Claims

The Irish Times - September 23, 2009 by Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent

THE MEDIA has been criticised for being “clearly not objective” in coverage of the Ryan report on child abuse and of being “not at all interested” in the religious congregations’ side of the story.

The criticisms, made and reported by author, commentator and Redemptorist priest, Fr Tony Flannery, appear in his introduction to the book Responding to the Ryan Report (Columba), which he edited.

He writes that, on publication of the Ryan report: “I found myself getting more and more irritated by the majority of the media coverage . . . Too many of the regular media commentators were clearly not objective, but rather had obvious agendas of their own.”

He continues: “In order to get a very necessary perspective on what had been revealed, I felt we needed some really independent, dispassionate voices, people who were genuinely knowledgeable and could help us get our minds around a situation which is deeply complex.”

Fr Flannery noted that “the other absent voice, of course, was that of the religious, who lost their nerve and were not willing to go public”.

Some of the religious told him “they were afraid they would not be listened to and that they would be savaged by more professional and media-savvy spokespeople. Some of them believed that the media were not at all interested in hearing their side of the story and that if they had gone on air to tell it, the response would have been ‘there they go again’.”

He says that “the effect of the shortage of genuinely knowledgeable and objective comment was that as the days went on the debate narrowed, and the problem was more and more laid at the door of the church and the religious, until eventually it got to the stage where it was being demanded that the Catholic Church and religious be removed from all involvement with the care of people”.

An “underlying assumption developed that abuse was a problem almost exclusively associated with priests and religious and that if they were removed from the scene it would be solved”.

The book, he says challenges such assumptions as “that a large proportion of priests and religious are child abusers . . . that Catholic Church teaching on sexuality is a true reflection of the teaching of Christ, and is adequate for the present age . . . that the Catholic Church’s zero tolerance policy of treating all errant priests and religious in the same fashion is either fair or just”.

Contributors to the book include theologians Fr Seán Fagan, Fr Donal Dorr, Mercy nun Sr Margaret Lee, academic Dáire Keogh, communications consultant Terry Prone and law lecturer Tom O’Malley.