Archbishop Nichols may sue Times;

D Thomson

Archbishop Nichols may sue Times; Catholic Herald warns 'biased' paper that Catholics will not support its paywall.

Damian Thompson reviews a top news item in Catholic Herald (Curtsy – The Telegraph)

Damian Thompson is Editor of Telegraph Blogs and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He was once described by The Church Times as a "blood-crazed ferret". He is on Twitter as HolySmoke. His latest book is The Fix: How addiction is taking over your world. He also writes about classical music for The Spectator.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster is considering legal action against the Times newspaper over its allegation that he tried to protect a paedophile.

The story, published on the front page on Saturday, marked a new low in relations between the Church and the British media.

The paper alleged that the Archbishop "protected" a priest who abused children at a Benedictine school in west London – even though, as then Archbishop of Birmingham, he had no involvement in the case.

A Church spokesman said: "The attempt to saddle the Archbishop with responsibility for this tragic case is completely unfounded and is an unwarranted slur. His office is taking legal advice."

Sources close to Westminster have confirmed that one of the options being considered is a possible court action for defamation.

The story came amid what has been described as a "feeding frenzy" in the press over the Church's handling of clerical sex abuse.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton said the Times report showed "all sorts of misapprehensions" about the Church.

And here is the Herald's editorial. Note the reference to the paywall:

The extent of the abuse of children by Catholic priests and religious would never have been revealed without the media. One newspaper in particular exposed decades of paedophile crimes hushed up by American Church leaders: the Boston Globe, whose book-length investigation into abuse, lies and bribery led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. The Globe articles were devastating because they were so carefully researched. Unfortunately, other newspapers – eager to gain similar plaudits for revealing clerical conspiracies – do not appear to have taken such care.

In America, the New York Times and the Associated Press have tried to implicate Pope Benedict XVI in the cover-up of crimes during his period as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They have failed to do so, but their apparently slapdash research has helped fuel an atmosphere of anti-Catholic hysteria focused on the one person – the former Cardinal Ratzinger – who did more than any other to reform the Vatican's utterly inadequate procedures for dealing with abuse cases.

We believe this amounts to journalistic irresponsibility and, sadly, this has not been confined to the United States. In Britain, one newspaper has consistently published biased reports under inflammatory headlines: the Times. Until this week, Pope Benedict was the chief victim of what appeared to many Catholic readers to be a campaign not against paedophile priests but against the Church, backed by gruesomely insulting cartoons. On Saturday, however, these same tactics were applied to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster. A headline appeared in the Times implying that, while he was Archbishop of Birmingham, he helped cover up a sex scandal in a Benedictine monastery in Ealing, west London. The Archbishop did no such thing and, as we report today, he is consulting his lawyers about this slur.

Catholics are becoming more and more angered by the seemingly lazy reporting and cheap innuendos that the Times has been directing at the Church for well over a year, obscuring rather than illuminating the horror of abuse by priests; for, if the blameless Archbishop Nichols is attacked in this way, who will believe the paper if it identifies a truly guilty prelate? The newspaper's bias bodes ill for the Pope's visit – and, indeed, is causing alarm in British as well as Vatican diplomatic circles.

It is also self-destructive. This year, much of the online content of the Times will disappear behind a paywall. Has it not occurred to Rupert Murdoch that Britain's Catholics, who are as revolted by abuse as everyone else, cannot in good conscience pay money to read news stories, columns and headlines that blacken the names of innocent men?

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