| | STEWARDSHIP is hardly a term some willassociate with the media in its coverage of sex abuses allegedlycommitted by members of the clergy.
During the third quarterly en banc meeting of the CebuCitizens-Press Council (CCPC) last September, Cebu Archdiocesanspokesperson Msgr. Achilles Dakay criticized the practice of localmedia to make public the name and photograph of priests accused ofabuses but whose guilt has still to be established by the courts orchurch authorities.
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As a community forum reviewing concerns raised about the media, theCCPC appointed during the same meeting its members, Mia Embalzado ofSt. Theresa’s College and Fr. Aloysius Cartagenas of the San CarlosSeminary, to consult members of the community, including the church andthe media, to draw up standards guiding coverage of priests andreligious officials.
The resulting guidelines, presented by the committee and commentedupon by media members and religious leaders, was adopted by the CCPCduring its fourth quarterly en banc meeting last Dec. 5, (storypublished last Dec. 6 in Sun.Star Cebu).
With these guidelines, the CCPC encourages journalists andreligious leaders to dialogue and interface to become better stewardsof truth and justice.
Of the three conditions proposed by the CCPC as preconditions forthe media identification of an erring religious official, it is thesecond on the press’ determination of probable cause that stirs debate.
During the Dec. 5 CCPC meeting, Cebu Daily News’ Connie Fernandezand GMA’s Bobby Nalzaro explained that the press investigatescomplaints of abuse when the victims don’t have the resources to file acase in court or the religious organization chooses not to comment onthe issue.
Citing the Nov. 13-14 case involving 19 Abellana National Schoolstudents allegedly harassed by a priest, Nalzaro asserted that thechurch’s “code of silence” trammels on the victims’ rights, as well asthose of the rest of the clergy on whom the public will impute guilt byassociation or due to the non-identification of the erring member.
The stance of these veteran journalists defends two guidingprinciples of media in covering religious officials like other publicfigures. To “seek truth and report it as fully as possible” enshrinesmedia’s responsibility to “give voice to the voiceless” and “hold thepowerful accountable.” (www.poynter.org)
But as Bob Steele, senior editor of The Poynter Institute,observes: “Good ethical decisions require individual responsibilityenriched by collaborative efforts.”
The stewardship role of a free press in an open society is notcompromised but even enhanced when journalists take precautions tominimize harm. Publishing unverified claims harms the good name of apriest who, because of his spiritual and communal responsibilities, iseven more vulnerable to public opinion. This was observed by Fr. FidelOrendain of Don Bosco.
Dr. Pureza Oñate, CCPC president, noted that, contrary tomisconceptions of inaction and cover-up, the church implements aprocess of probing, counseling and assisting erring priests. Sheexplained that the church’s timetable is different though from newsroomdeadlines.
Recognizing the differences in structures and processes, bothOrendain and Fr. Marnell Mejia of the Lungsoranon and Christ the KingParish suggest a continuing dialogue for media and religiousinstitutions.
This is in keeping with the CCPC’s guidelines recommendingreligious literacy for media workers and even mass communicationstudents, as well as for a corresponding communication literacy thatwill have religious institutions set in place “clear procedures ingiving information to media.”
Certainly, the importance of truth-telling for social justice cannot be compromised.
But as the CCPC and community stakeholders have shown last Dec. 5,there are many alternative but ethical paths to arrive at the truth.
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