Headlines are supposed to highlight the news, but sometimes the news is uncomfortable. Like the sexual abuse cases for the Roman Catholic Church. Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference, played down the big news in its front-page headline on Saturday about an interview with the head of the Vatican office dealing with charges of sexual abuse against priests.
In the middle of the front page (at left), it ran the headline “Il ‘pm’ vaticano: in tutto il mondo trecento i preti accusati di pedofilia.” — Vatican public prosecutor: 300 priests accused of pedophilia in the whole world.” That actually doesn’t sound like that many, given all the cases we’ve heard about all these years.
It’s only in the interview on page 5 that the real picture emerges. There the reader finds a much larger figure of 3,000 accusations of sexual misdeeds of all kinds made against priests since 2001, concerning cases dating back up to 50 years ago. That sounds more like it, although it still must be lower than the real number of cases because so many don’t get reported.
Msgr. Charles Scicluna, the “promoter of justice” for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, broke down this large figure into three categories — cases of pedophile and same-sex ephebophile acts and cases of heterosexual acts. Some 60% of the cases were ephebophile (with adolescents), 30% were heterosexual (with adolescent and adult females) and 10% were pedophile (with prepubescent children).
So which figure got highlighted on the main page? The smallest, of course. This is all the more interesting because the the news shorthand for these cases tends to use words like pedophile or children. By ignoring the majority of cases that concern adolescents, the Avvenire headline makes it all seem less of a problem than it is.