The alternate reality of Fox News was front and center during this morning's Fox & Friends when Peter Johnson Jr. provided a glowing testimony to his recently deceased pal Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan. While Johnson stressed the highlights of Egan's career, he downplayed, if not outright obfuscated the lowlights.
In the middle of his praise of Egan's awesomeness, Johnson (Catholic Knight of Malta, Cardinal Dolan pal, Roger Ailes' consigliore, and Fox "friend") proclaimed that Egan "cracked down on the notion of the abuse and said to the priests and the archdiocese that there wasn't going to be internal investigation any more, he would report folks to the district attorney which, in fact, he did." In fact, his handling of priestly sexual abuse was not quite as sterling as Johnson claimed.
The NY Times, in its recent summation of Egan's life, tells a different story. According to its report, when Egan was bishop of Bridgeport CT, he "tried to protect the church from liability" incurred as a result of sexual abuse claims. He was "accused of withholding information about accused priests and moving some from parish to parish." It is also noted that while Egan condemned sexual abuse by priests, "he refused to divulge any cases and let priests who had undergone counseling continue to work. The bishop was accused in many lawsuits of shuffling accused priests from one parish to another." He even claimed that his diocese was not liable for damages because priests were self-employed. (The Hartford Courant has more details)
The Times article also states that Egan believed that his diocese never did anything wrong in its handling of complaints and that most priests were innocent. And in what appears to be a contradiction of Johnson's assertion that Egan reported abuse to the civil authorities, the Times writes that Egan said "the church had no obligation to report sexual-abuse accusations to the authorities, even though a law on the books since the 1970s dictates otherwise."
Johnson's claim gets sketchier with this gem. In 2002, three NY district attorneys said that they were not satisfied with then Cardinal Egan's "stance on reporting" sexual abuse. One of the attorneys was - ready for it - Jeanine Pirro (now a Fox host) who said, about Egan, that "no one is above the law when it comes to the abuse of children. All of us in our society have a moral obligation and a civic obligation to report instances of sexual abuse. No one has the power to absolve themselves of that responsibility."
In response, Egan said that "church leaders will forward molestation claims to police only if an internal investigation finds "reasonable cause" to believe abuse occurred - and the victims don't object." As of 2010, in seeming contradiction to Johnson's claim, Egan was still doing internal investigations.
Clearly, Egan provided leadership, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, to a troubled archdiocese. Beyond the sexual abuse, not all Catholics were happy with his business decisions. But for Peter Johnson Jr, everything was awesome. Is there any question as to why the Fox News audience is, uh, misinformed?
Addendum: Johnson also didn't mention that Egan was not happy about Catholic Rudy Giuliani's pro-choice position and, as such, reprimanded him for receiving communion during a papal visit.
Corrections: The Hartford Courant was misspelled. Also, Jeanine Pirro's description has been slightly modified for clarity.
David Clohessy, director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. 314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com