Truth offends those who do not welcome it, if not outrightly shun it. On the other hand, those who yearn for the truth after being hurt by it can start a process of healing.

The Catholic Church learnt this lesson the hard way. For decades, it was either in denial or in a state of total disregard for the truth regarding sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by members of the clergy and religious orders. The reputation of the ecclesiastical institution was deemed more important than the untold harm done to the victims of abuse. Reputation was considered to be more important than the truth, so much so that the Church was ready to scupper the advice of the Master that ‘truth sets us free’.

Lies were spun, cover-ups planned to the last detail, unending court cases were entrusted into the hands of handsomely paid lawyers, while omertà reigned supreme.

The Church burnt its fingers and learnt its lesson. Truth be told, it took the Church what felt like an eternity to adopt a zero policy to abuse. The belief that truth was the only legitimate starting point to face this monster was for many so bitter a medicine that they came up with all sort of excuses to abstain from it. Fortunately, these resistances have been defeated.

Tragic pages, painful stories

An example of this new attitude is the publication by the Vatican of a 450-page report trying to find out why a serial sexual abuser of seminarians and others could have become an archbishop and then a cardinal. I refer to Theodore McCarrick who was kicked out of the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis some two years ago.

The report presents a litany of cases of the abdication of duty by many, even bishops; the weaving of lies; the rewarding of arrogance; the tendering of bad advice to Pope St John Paul II; the assumption that priests and bishop do not lies … The shame goes on and on.

In an editorial on the Vatican news website, Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director of the Dicastery of Communication, rightly described the report as “a tragic page in the recent history of Catholicism, a painful story”.

Sadly enough, there were many such ‘tragic pages’.

I remember reading the comments of, if I am not mistaken, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, of Dublin who recounted the shame and anguish he experienced while reading still another report, this time about sexual abuse in Ireland. The anguish and shame experienced by those who were abused were immensely greater.

For decades, the Catholic Church was either in denial or in a state of total disregard for the truth regarding sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults- Fr Joe Borg

An Irish commentator said the scars of sex abuse were worse than the IRA!

The media played a very important role to push the Church in Ireland to face this reality. The same can be said about the US. The film Spotlight documents the courage, tenacity and professionalism of a group of journalists of the Boston Globe who, against all odds, outed the truth. The floodgates were then opened.

Can journalists be bribed?

The service of the truth, without fear or favour, remains one of most onerous but,at the same time, most important duties of the media, overseas and in Malta. This duty can also be dangerous to execute.

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia is a constant reminder of this stark truth. Trolls are constantly denigrating and trying to intimidate journalists.

Sometimes, besides the stick, some use the carrot to try to silence the truth. The offering of money to a journalist of Times of Malta was such a carrot. A despicable act which begs the questions: was this a one-off? If some politicians and some judges succumbed to the temptation and accepted bribes should one believe that journalists are immune to such a temptation? Only the naïve would believe such a thing.

Certain coverages in the local media and commentaries of Facebook – not just of but not excluding the Yorgen Fenech saga – give one the impression that they are not primarily pushed by a deep-seated desire for truth. Bribery can take many forms. The winning of contracts, a deluge of advertising, granting of jobs and myriad freebies locally and overseas are just a few examples.

So far, a lot has been discovered about the connections of businessmen and politicians. We are being promised that much more will be revealed when the cache of messages on Fenech’s mobile phone sees the light of day.

Who knows whether that cache will also have revelations of untoward connections between businessmen and media people, particularly ‘independent’ journalists? One hopes that if this happens, we, who work in the media, will show the same enthusiasm for the truth as we show when striving to lift off the lid off scandals committed by politicians or Church people.

What’s good for the political geese should be good for the journalistic gander.

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