Monday, 13 September 2010

Two Pope documentaries tonight: spot the quality one

Two pope documentaries tonight include Catholic Voices and are broadcast at the same time -- but  it shouldn't be too hard to detect which one confirms to good journalistic standards and which is merely bad  propaganda.

Panorama, which goes out at 8.30pm on BBC1, examines what Pope Benedict knew or didn't know about abuse, and what he did or didn't do in response. In 'What the Pope knew', Fergal Keane (photo) travels to the US and Germany to examine the three cases which earlier this year were used by lawyers -- and some outrageously uncritical journalists -- to try to claim that Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and earlier as Archbishop of Munich, failed to act against abusive priests. This is a high-quality investigation, likely to conclude there is no smoking gun before 2001; and Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, pioneered the reforms after that date. But it will still be highly critical -- whether fairly, we should wait and see -- and leave the audience wondering at a certain "deafness" on the part of church officials to the voice of victims back in the 1970s-80s.  This lack of awareness, this deafness, is a constant in the clerical sex abuse crisis; it amazes us, with the perspective of today, when society has woken to the horror of abuse of minors, that leaders of institutions back then were so slow to act (but then, as Ann Widdecombe recently pointed out, the Samaritians in the 1980s treated child abuse no less confidentially than any other crime). Fergal Keane gives a sense of tonight's programme in this curtain-raiser, which quotes CV coordinator Austen Ivereigh, who appears in the programme.

The hour-long 'The Trouble with the Pope', made and presented by Peter Tatchell, which goes out on Channel 4 at 8pm, will also cause Catholics to squirm for a different reason. Monumentally biased, packed with schoolboy errors,  Tatchell's programme, we hear, not so much strangles the truth as knocks it unconscious. According to Damian Thompson, it is so crude that it swings wide of its target.  "A review copy viewed by the Scottish Catholic Media Office," says ICN, "has highlighted numerous basic factual errors in the script". The same press release quotes the Bishop of Paisley, Tartaglia:

“I find it disturbing that Channel 4 should give Peter Tatchell an hour-long prime-time programme in which to attack the Pope and the Catholic Church. The programme shows conclusively that Mr Tatchell knows next to nothing about the real nature and mission of the Catholic Church. And his statement in the past that "not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful" surely casts a huge doubt on his claim to be an expert on human sexuality or a credible critic of the Pope or of the Catholic Church.” 
Tatchell complains that he "made great efforts to seek the participation of leading Catholic figures" but was turned dow; tonight's programme may suggest why. CV Fiona O'Reilly is the only Catholic putting the case for the Pope; "alone among Tatchell’s interviewees", says Thompson, "she is not allowed to finish her sentences without being interrupted".