ROME – Throughout the Vatican abuse summit, the role of the media in exposing the misdeeds and cover-ups the Church has often discussed.
On Saturday, during the final presentation of the Feb. 21-24 event, a journalist told the gathering that bishops must “choose sides”: The side of the abuser or the side of the victim.
Valentina Alazraki has been the Vatican correspondent for Mexico’s Noticieros Televisa since 1974, covering five pontificates.
The reporter is one of three women, and the only non-bishops, to address the four-day gathering.
She said the press does not need to see the Church as an enemy.
“If you are against those who commit or cover up abuse, then we are on the same side. We can be allies, not enemies. We will help you to find the rotten apples and to overcome resistance in order to separate them from the healthy ones,” Alazraki said.
“But if you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists, who seek the common good, will be your worst enemies.”
Alazraki told the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences that she wasn’t only speaking to them as a journalist, but as a mother.
“I doubt that anyone in this hall does not think the Church is, first of all, mother. Many of us present here have or have had a brother or sister. Let us also remember that our mothers, while loving us all in the same way, were especially devoted to the frailest, weakest children, to those who perhaps did not know how to move ahead in life on their own feet and needed a little push,” she said.
“For a mother there are no first or second-class children; there are stronger children and more vulnerable ones. Nor are there first and second-class children for the Church.”
Alazraki said that as a journalist, woman and mother, she thinks covering up abuse is as contemptible as the abuse itself, and that she knows better than most that abuses have been covered up “from the ground up.”
“I think you should be aware that the more you cover up, the more you play the ostrich, fail to inform the mass media and thus, the faithful and public opinion, the greater the scandal will be. If someone has a tumor, it is not cured by hiding it from one’s family or friends; silence will not make it heal; in the end it will be the most highly recommended treatments that will prevent metastasis and lead to healing,” she said.
The Mexican journalist emphasized the importance of transparency, and said that not providing information can lead to further abuse, and that this will encourage a climate of suspicion and anger against the Church.
She mentioned the example of the disgraced founder of the Mexican religious order, the Legionnaires of Christ. Marcial Maciel dodged accusations of abuse and financial improprieties for decades before being removed from active ministry by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
“Marcial Maciel would not have been able, for decades, to abuse seminarians and to have three or four lives, wives and children, who came to accuse him of having abused his own children,” she said.
She gave the bishops three practical tips: Put the victims first, be willing to seek advice, and to professionalize their communications services.
“The figure of the spokesperson is fundamental. Not only must it be a highly-trained individual, but he or she must also be able to rely on the full trust of the bishop and have direct access to him 24 hours a day. This is not a 9 to 5 job,” Alazraki said.
She reminded the bishops that it is not the reporters who abused and covered up.
“Our mission is to assert and defend a right, which is a right to information based on truth in order to obtain justice. We journalists know that abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church, but you must understand that we have to be more rigorous with you than with others, by virtue of your moral role,” she said.
After Alazraki’s speech, the participants of the Vatican abuse summit were scheduled to attend a penitential liturgy in Sala Regia in the Apostolic Palace, and the event will end on Sunday at a Mass celebrated in the same place.