The Pope's Gag Order

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
April 25 2005 6:06 PM

The Pope's Gag Order

Bloggers criticize Pope Benedict XVI regarding his stance on investigations of sexual abuse by clergy. They also consider a compromise over the judicial filibuster and debate whether contemporary culture is good or bad for you.

The pope's gag order:In 2001, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger "issued an order ensuring the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret,"the Observer of London reported Sunday. The letter by the future pope, composed jointly with Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone and sent to every Catholic bishop, "asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood."

At Salon, religion blogger Richard Bartholomew predicts "the letter's defenders will say that the procedure it lays out is merely for the purposes of church discipline" and "is not meant to be a substitute for a secular criminal investigation and prosecution." But, Bartholomew pre-emptively responds, nothing in the letter requires the church to collaborate with law enforcement—and, as to how the clergy might have interpreted the ambiguity, "the facts of the church scandals speak for themselves."

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Private Intellectual Benjamin Dueholm agrees. "I'm trying to give Benedict a chance, but let's face it—what those of us who are concerned about this pontificate are doing is giving him a chance to not be the person he's been for his whole Vatican career," he writes.  "This makes your ordinary, document-shredding obstruction of justice look, well, venial….  So what, again, are these moral absolutes we're so bad about acknowledging?"

Bloggers find it difficult to give Benedict the benefit of the doubt. "It would be disingenuous to think that Ratzinger's main concern was the interest of the molested victims, and not a desire of secrecy to favour his clerics," writes Joe London at Human Too Human. "By what authority did RATzinger think that the Catholic Church had the right to conceal abuse from the proper US legal authorities?" asks Maria at 2 Political Junkies, a jocular liberal blog.  "Who died and made him pope?"

Read more about the Observer report here, and more about the pope here.

Pop culture of the mind: CNN and the Guardian reported Friday that a British study shows "Workers distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana." An essay in Sunday's New York Times Magazine argued that our biases against pop culture—television in particular—are wrong, and that "the most debased forms of mass diversion … turn out to be nutritional after all." So, which is it? Does contemporary culture—lightning fast, omnivorously expansive—make us smarter or dumber?

At Buzzmachine, critic Jeff Jarvis cheers the Times essay. "Ever since I was a TV critic," he writes, "I've argued that given a chance to watch good shows, we do; that the ratings prove Americans do have good taste; and that TV is only getting better. [The author] turns it around and adds one more notch: TV makes us better." Orrin Judd disagrees, arguing that you can't make conclusions about an audience based on the quality of programming. "[Y]oung men watch it for the violence and the jiggly daughter," he writes. "They could no more explain what's going on than tell you the plot of Middlemarch."

Most bloggers laugh off the e-mail story. "This explains so much," writes John M. Scalzi on his AOL Journal. "Especially why I enjoy listening to Phish and eating Doritos as I check my e-mail." At Articulatory Loop, Michael is unconvinced.  "The research sounds shakey," he writes. "[F]or starters, IQ tests are highly dependent on things like, well, mental state, which famously declines as the workday goes on. Email may well affect productivity more than pot—more people use it every day and while at work, certainly—but to say that it lowers your IQ is kinda stupid." Political Animal Kevin Drum asks the million-dollar question: "if email reduces your IQ by ten points, I wonder what blogging does?"

Read more about the e-mail study here and more about the television essay here.

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