Appalling Sin or Despicable Crime:
An Exploration of Media Frames Surrounding
the Catholic Church Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal
Lois A. Boynton
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Dulcie M. Straughan
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Submitted to the Religion and Media Interest Group
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Contact: Lois A. Boynton
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
CB #3365, 397 Carroll Hall
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3365
[log in to unmask]
Special thanks is given to Amanda Crowe and Kara Loftin, master's students
at UNC-Chapel Hill, for their invaluable assistance coding the newspaper
Appalling Sin or Despicable Crime:
An Exploration of Media Frames
Surrounding the Catholic Church Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal
This paper examines newspaper coverage of revelations about Father John
Geoghan's sexual abuse of boys and the Church's cover-up attempts. The
study employs quantitative and qualitative analysis of stories to examine
the scope of scandal coverage, sources used by reporters, and whether
stories provided an analysis of the crisis or focused on the events.
Furthermore, the paper identifies and analyzes frames used to describe the
scandal and the issue of assignment of blame for events.
"….They neither fear nor love God; they have no thought of the life to
come, preferring their fleshly lusts to the needs of the soul…..They scorn
the vow of poverty, know not that of chastity, revile that of
obedience….The smoke of their filth ascends all around." --Johannes
Trithemias of Sponheim, circa 1530, in a written report about the behavior
of monks at his abbey (Manchester, 1992:129).
On Dec.13, 2002, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the senior-most prelate in the
Roman Catholic Church in the United States, resigned as Archbishop of
Boston. His resignation, which was covered by media in the United States as
well as a host of media outlets internationally, was the result of nearly a
year of media coverage of a scandal that implicated Cardinal Law in the
cover-up of years of sexual abuse of young boys by John J. Geoghan, a Roman
Catholic priest in Boston. The Boston Globe had fought successfully to get
access to sealed court records from civil suits filed against Geoghan years
earlier (Cannon, 2002). The records showed that Cardinal Law had known
about Geoghan's sexual abuse of minors as early as 1984.
The Globe ran a story in July 2001 about the abuse suits and the
resulting cover-up of them by the Church, and a two-part piece in January
2002 detailing the abuse cases and the Church's complicity in covering them
up. An avalanche of media coverage followed the Boston Globe's
revelations. And, according to one Roman Catholic, "not since the
Protestant Reformation has the Church come under such criticism and veered
on the precipice of destruction" (Gumbleton, 2002).
Over the past 15 years, some media outlets have covered similar stories in
a variety of locales, from Los Angeles to New York to Louisiana. Carl
Cannon, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, was nominated for a
Pulitzer Prize for his 1987 investigative reports on sexual molestation of
young boys by priests in a number of parishes across the country and
Catholic Church officials' efforts to cover up the cases, in most instances
by settling cases privately. One of the most active periodicals to cover
priest sexual abuse of children has been the National Catholic Reporter, an
independent newsweekly not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. The
online version of the newsweekly has a special section devoted to the
current sex abuse scandals in the Church. According to the NCR web site,
the Reporter published its first story on clergy sex abuse in 1983
This paper examines newspaper coverage of the revelations about John
Geoghan's sexual abuse of young boys and the Church's attempts to cover up
the incidents by Geoghan, which ultimately led to Cardinal Law's
resignation. The study will employ both quantitative and qualitative
analysis of newspaper stories to examine the scope of the coverage of the
scandal, sources used by reporters in their stories and whether the stories
provided an analysis of the crisis or focused on the events of the crisis.
Furthermore, the paper will identify and analyze the frames that were used
to describe the Church sex scandal as well as the issue of assignment of
blame for the events.
Year after year, surveys such as Gallup and others report that Americans
are considered to be significantly more religious than people in other
Western industrialized nations, with nine out of 10 respondents reporting
that they believe in God and an afterlife (Stout and Buddenbaum, 1996). Yet
scholarly research on media coverage of religion as news is considered by
some researchers to be thin at best (Claussen, 2002). One reason for this
may be that religion news traditionally has made up a very small part of
the media news hole (Hoover, 1998). Furthermore, many media outlets may
treat religion news as local, covering only those stories that have a local
angle (Hoover, 1998).
Although the quantity of religion news has increased somewhat over the
past decade, Hoover states that many journalists may not be very
knowledgeable about religion in general, which may affect both the quantity
and quality of media coverage of stories with a religious component.
In a study that examined how religion editors of newspapers viewed both
their jobs and religion, Ranly (1979) surveyed 87 journalists who were
identified as church or religion editors. None of the survey's respondents
had majored in theology or religion in college; most had degrees in
journalism. All of the respondents saw their role of covering religion news
as "relevant and significant." Most of the respondents identified
themselves as Roman Catholic; the majority also expressed their belief in a
Some studies have examined the relationship between an individual's
religion or level of religiosity and their use of, and trust in, the media.
One study showed that people who attended religious services regularly were
more likely to read newspapers (Buddenbaum & Stout, 15). Westly and Severin
found in a 1964 study that two-fifths of all Catholics surveyed thought
that newspapers were the most accurate and truthful news source (1964, as
reported in Stout and Buddenbaum, 1996). Another more recent study (Stamm
and Weis, 1986) found that Roman Catholics who had close ties to their
church and who reported being actively involved in issues of importance to
the church were more likely than other, less active Catholics, to subscribe
to local newspapers and to read church newsletters as well.
Other studies have examined the content of religious stories published in
the print media. In a study that analyzed Time magazine's coverage of
American religion over a 30-year period, from 1947-1976, Hart, Turner and
Kapp (1981) found that four out of every five religion stories covered by
Time involved conflict. Additionally, Roman Catholics were featured in two
out of every five stories in the latter part of the period under study, and
most of those stories emphasized conflict within the Catholic Church.
Furthermore, in studies that featured Catholics, twice as many national
leaders in the Church were featured as sources, rather than representatives
of local parishes. The researchers argued for more studies to provide a
qualitative examination of coverage. "Time emphasizes Catholicism, for
example, because the Roman Catholic Church has within it all the ethnic
diversity, theological determinism, monolithic bureaucracy, and
socio-political intertwining necessary to fashion entertaining news
reports" (p. 67).
Although in recent years a number of books have been published that focus
on the issue of sex abuse by priests and the Church's attempts to deal with
it (Berry, 1994; Lull & Hineman, 1992; Plante, 1999; Rossetti, 1996), very
few studies have explored the topic from the perspective of how the media
cover such incidents. In a content analysis study that examined media
coverage of deviant acts by Roman Catholic priests, Breen (1997) found that
so-called triggering events such as accusations against Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin of Chicago for sexual abuse and the sentencing of James Porter, a
former Catholic priest, for sexual abuse of teenage boys, resulted in
reporters seeking out similar stories to report on. Furthermore, of those
stories done by reporters, the majority of them portrayed the clergy in a
A very recent study (Barrie, 2002) examined the Canadian Press wire
service's coverage of a sex abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic lay
brothers who operated a reform school near Ottawa, Canada. In a suit that
was filed against the Brothers of the Christian Schools by some victims of
the abuse, more than 25 Catholic lay brothers were charged with sexual and
physical abuse that had occurred over a thirty-year period between 1941 and
1971. The Canadian Press ran a total of 41 stories on the scandal between
1990 and 1997.
In his assessment of the coverage, Barrie noted that only two of the 41
stories were given a religion slug; the rest focused on the criminal angle
of sexual and physical abuse by the lay brothers. He contends that the
reason the press may have focused on the sexual abuse angle rather than the
religious angle is because the media have a tendency to treat the Church as
an elite organization that should be handled with deference. Additionally,
he said that many reporters might not be knowledgeable about the Church's
hierarchical structure and its internal politics (Barrie, 2002).
In a speech given by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton in May 2002 in Lexington,
Mass., he stated that media coverage of the Church scandals emphasized the
sexual aspects, rather than the religious or organizational aspects: "The
crisis is described in the media almost exclusively as a "sex" scandal, a
"sex" crisis….we have to see this crisis not just as a sex scandal, but as
a crisis of leadership within the Catholic Church…"
Based on a review of the literature, the following research question and
hypotheses were developed:
R1: How did the media present the scandal – as a sex story or a religious
crisis in the
R2: Will the media assign blame in their stories, and will that blame focus
individuals, or on institutions, such as the Church?
H1: The Washington Post, published outside an area where sexual abuse
prevalent, will run more analysis stories than will The Boston
Globe, The Chicago
Sun Times, or The Los Angeles Times, located in areas where
instances of abuse were
H2: Event stories will have more non-official sources (e.g. man on street,
victim, accused) than analysis stories.
H3: In analysis stories, the first source cited is more likely to be
affiliated with the
church; in event stories, the first source cited is more likely to
be a non-Church
A content analysis of four large, prominent newspapers was conducted for
the period of January 2002, when the news broke about the priest abuse
scandal, through December 2002, when Cardinal Law stepped down. Search
terms "Catholic church" and "child abuse" were used to search the
LexisNexis database for news stories appearing within the newspapers to be
Four newspapers were selected for this exploratory study: The Boston Globe,
The Chicago Sun Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. The
Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles newspapers were selected because they are
located in areas where the priest scandals erupted. Additionally,
California (second), Massachusetts (seventh) and Illinois (fourth) all fall
within the top 10 states with the most Catholics ("Top 10," 2000). The Post
was selected as a "neutral," national publication.
Quantitative content analysis was performed to identify the scope of
coverage, news source and affiliation with the Catholic Church, story
placement within the newspapers, and the extent to which stories were about
events or analysis of those events. Data were analyzed utilizing the SPSS
11.0 for Windows to identify frequencies, correlations, and
cross-tabulations. Additionally, qualitative content analysis was conducted
to begin the identification of thematic elements or frames used in media
stories about the scandal. These themes will be tested in subsequent
research to ascertain their usage in other print and broadcast media.
The theoretical concept of agenda setting was applied to this study to
ascertain how the media portrayed the Catholic church sex abuse scandal and
what frames or symbols of reality (Entman, 1993; Mabry, 2002) were selected
by media to tell the story of the crisis. To frame, according to Entman
(1993) is "to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more
salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular
problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or
treatment recommendation for the item described" (p. 53). Hence, frames
not only define problems but also serve to "diagnose causes," "make moral
judgments," and "offer and justify treatments for problems" (Entman, 1993,
p. 52; see also Gamson, 1992).
The concept of framing is closely linked to agenda setting (McCombs & Shaw,
1972), in which "media set the agenda for society and create the boundaries
within which debate can take place" (Andsager, 2000, p. 580). In framing,
news media typically focus on symbols that are familiar--or salient--to
receivers so as to have maximum effect (Entman, 1993; Fiske & Taylor,
1991). Media may select or exclude certain symbols to reinforce frames to
readers or viewers. As such, media framing carries with it a great deal of
power, particularly if the public is not broadly informed.
A total of 203 articles were found and analyzed that addressed the 2002
Catholic Church scandal surrounding priest abuse of children. The Los
Angeles Times had the most articles with 64, followed by The Boston Globe
with 59, The Washington Post with 49, and Chicago Sun Times with 31. The
most stories appeared in April (n=34, 16.7 percent), followed by November
(n=23, 11.3 percent), with the remaining stories spread rather evenly over
the 12-month period. More stories appeared on Sundays (n=45, 22.2 percent)
than any other day of the week, followed by Fridays (n=36, 17.7 percent)
and Thursdays (n=34, 16.7 percent), but no one day of the week saw a
preponderance of stories.
Overall, most of the stories were written by local staff (n=166, 81.8
percent) with only 12.3 percent (n=25) written by wire services and 5.9
percent (n=12) appearing with without a byline. A total of 56.7 percent
(n=115) of the stories garnered significant attention in the first section
of the newspaper, and 25.7 percent (n=52) appeared in the local news
section of the newspapers. The scandal news drew front-page attention in
22.7 percent of the stories (n=46) overall, and an additional 9.9 percent
of the stories (n=20) appeared on the first page of the local section. It
is important to note, however, that the LexisNexis database did not
indicate where many of The Boston Globe stories ran. Hence, further
analysis would be necessary to determine whether these stories appeared in
the national news or local news sections of the paper.
Overall, 43.8 percent of stories (n=89) were coded as relating to events;
that is, any incidents specifically identified as actual occurrences
regarding the progression of the sex abuse scandal. These events included
accusations of abuse, charges or arrests, resignations, settlements, or
trial proceedings. Additionally, 55.2 percent (n=112) were identified as
analysis stories that addressed aspects of the hows, whys, and what ifs of
the scandal. These analysis stories addressed such topics as the Catholic
Church climate, celibacy, prevalence of molestation, church seeing its own
salvation, impact of church hierarchy, seminary enrollment, or policy and
law analysis. The Boston Globe and The Washington Post wrote more analysis
stories (69.5 percent and 69.4 percent respectively, p=0.001) than event
stories. Conversely, The Chicago Sun Times and Los Angeles Times wrote more
event stories (71 percent and 56.3 percent, respectively, p=0.001) than
The first five sources referenced in each story were coded for
affiliation, whether with the Catholic Church, not Catholic, or no
indicated affiliation. For purpose of analysis, the non-Catholic and
non-affiliates were recoded into one category. In all instances, the five
sources selected for each story were predominantly affiliated with the
Catholic Church. A total of 64.6 percent of all sources coded were
affiliated with the Catholic Church, with the remaining 35.4 percent with
no Catholic affiliation or none noted in the stories (See Table 1).
Table 1: Source Affiliation
Catholic Non-Catholic/no affiliate No source
Source 1 125 (61.6%) 71 (35%) 4 (2%)
Source 2 117 (57.6%) 55 (27.1%) 30 (14.8%)
Source 3 97 (47.8%) 55 (27.1%) 50 (24.6%)
Source 4 89 (43.8%) 46 (22.7%) 66 (32.5%)
Source 5 69 (34%) 45 (22.2%) 88 (43.3%)
A cross-tabulation of the general topic (event or analysis) by the
affiliation of the first source cited indicated that stories were more
likely to cite a Catholic as the first source (69.7 percent) in analysis
stories than in event stories (56.5 percent). This finding, (See Table 2)
however, was not significant (p=0.087).
Table 2: Affiliation of First Source By Type of Story
Event stories Analysis stories
Catholic affiliation 48 (56.5%) 76 (69.7%)
No affiliation/none indicated 37 (43.5%) 33 (30.3%)
Total 85 (100%) 109 (100%)
Frames: Several media frames emerged from the qualitative content analysis
to tell the story of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal – a sexual
deviance frame, a church and state frame, a children frame, a blame frame,
and a health terminology frame. Each of these will be described in the
Sexual Deviance Frame: The newspapers studied often presented the scandal
as one that involved "deviant" actions by troubled or disturbed priests who
preyed on minors. Media employed weighty terms that evoke emotion or
reaction, such as the alliterative phrase "pedophile priests," as well as
similar references to "predatory priests," "sexual predators," "child
molesters," "diagnosed pedophile," "known pedophile," "homosexual
pedophile," "ephebophiles," and "moral monsters." Adjectives used to
describe the behavior by the priests involved in the scandal included
"tragic," "alarming," "shattering," "devastating," "shocking," and
The news stories often utilized portions of the definition of child sexual
abuse that was developed by the Catholic Church. Sexual abuse of children,
according to church leaders, included "contacts or interactions between a
child and an adult when the child is being used as an object of sexual
gratification for the adult. A child is abused whether or not this activity
involves explicit force . . . genital or physical contact . . . is
initiated by the child, and whether or not there is a discernible harmful
outcome" (Falsani and Newbart, 2002). In addition to this definition,
sexual abuse of minors by priests was also referred to in more descriptive
and graphic terms of specific allegations: molesting minors or molesting
children, oral copulation on a minor, intercourse, child rape, violent
rapes, sodomy, lewd acts, sexual or indecent touching, fondling, lurid
sexual affair, sex with a child, and boys told "to lower their pants."
However, sexual deviance also was represented with more euphemistic terms
that made the actions appear to have less of an impact. For example, sexual
abuse was synonymously referred to as "misconduct," "inappropriate
relationships, or "improper behavior."
Church and state frame: The news stories analyzed presented the priest sex
abuse scandal within a framework that addressed both moral sin and criminal
law. In most instances, sources representing the church spoke of the
allegations and instances of abuse as evil, sins, or moral crises that
required perpetrators to seek redemption and forgiveness and restore their
faith in God. The stories analyzed showed that the Catholic Church wanted
to handle the sex abuse scandal internally through canonical law rather
than externally in criminal or civil courts. References were made to church
officials' disdain for defrocking priests, because these individuals then
would be free to prey on youngsters in the community. They preferred to
sequester the offending priests away from contact with children or other
potential victims. The Church's Charter for the Protection of Children and
Young People, also referred to in many analyzed stories as the
"zero-tolerance policy," was designed to allow the church to discipline its
own offenders, "past, present, or future," (Stammer, 2002, p. 1) without
the involvement of secular courts.
The church and state frame also involves the aspect of the sexual abuse as
a secular crime to be addressed through traditional United States court
systems. Stories incorporated words such as "crime," "criminal trial,"
"arrests," "charges," "prosecution," "law," "legislation," and "civil
authority," when discussing the sexual abuse scandal. A large number of the
stories dealt with criminal accusations, arrests, charges being filed,
trials, and settlements. Many of these secular legal terms and discussions
were attributed to secular sources; however, the reporters tended to
discuss the scandal in secular terms related to laws being broken rather
than sins being committed.
Children frame: A third frame to emerge from the qualitative analysis
addressed the scandal as offenses against children regardless of the
timeframe of the alleged offenses, many of which were decades old. Victims
were referred to as boys, girls, teenagers, minors, children, and young
people. Most of the stories discussed the criminal allegations
predominantly of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, rather than the victims'
current circumstances as adults. Additionally, the Catholic Church position
presented in these stories addressed the protection of children and young
people from sexual abuse. Stories often included references of the "need to
protect children," "concern for children," "child-protection rules," and
"children come first." Some victim advocates also accused the Catholic
Church of trying to de-emphasize the past scandals in favor of preventive
measures by framing its messages as the need to protect children.
Blame frame: A fourth frame that emerged related to the application of
blame, although it was less significant than the first three frames. The
blame most often was placed on an individual priest who was accused of
sexual abuse of minors. In many instances, these stories related specific
accusations of criminal behavior, allegations of abuse, and "shocking
scandals." Additionally, a significant amount of blame was assigned to the
Catholic Church in America as a whole, primarily for its role in covering
up the scandal. The church was "getting heat" and made "tragically
incorrect" decisions when reassigning priests accused of abuse to other
parishes. Stories referred to a "terribly shameful period," Cardinal Law's
"blunder," and the Church's "battered credibility."
Health terminology frame: Many of the coded stories presented the priest
sex abuse scandal in the context of medical terms. The Catholic Church, for
example, suffered from "systematic ills" and "myopia" and its reputation
had been "blemished" as the problem of sexual abuse was left to "fester."
The problem of alleged priest abuses stemmed from "underlying diseases" and
"moral cancer" of the church that "wounded" the Catholic institution and
caused the victims "untold pain."
Analysis versus events stories: Contrary to our expectations, more than
half the stories examined were analysis stories, rather than event stories,
although The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Sun Times both wrote more
event stories than they did analysis stories. The Los Angeles Times also
ran more stories overall than the other three newspapers. One possible
reason for this is that during the time of our study period, a sex scandal
involving six to 12 priests in the Los Angeles diocese was reported in
March 2002; consequently, a number of stories were written that linked the
sex abuse charges against priests there to the sex abuse scandal in the
As expected, The Washington Post wrote ran more analysis stories than
event stories; however, The Boston Globe also ran more analysis stories. It
is possible that because the story broke in the Boston area, which was due
largely to the Globe's investigation of the allegations, that once the
event aspects of the story were covered, the paper then ran more analysis
stories, which gave the overall story added life. It certainly had all the
elements of a "good" news story: prominence, conflict, proximity,
timeliness and significance, to name just five news values. Furthermore,
the newspaper's staff had invested a significant amount of time in covering
the story and, as a local paper, had built up sources over the years, both
with Church officials in the Boston diocese and those outside the Church.
Therefore, the first hypothesis only partially supported, since The
Washington Post did run more analysis stories than two of the three other
Source affiliation: The results of our study show than nearly two-thirds
(64.6 percent) of all sources cited in stories were affiliated with the
Catholic Church. Furthermore, even though more non-Catholic affiliated
sources were cited as a first source in event stories than were first
sources in analysis stories, more than half of the event stories cited a
Catholic source first. Therefore, Hypotheses 2 and 3 were not supported.
On the surface, the results seem to indicate that the Catholic Church had
more opportunity to present its side of the scandal, based on the
overwhelming use of Catholic-affiliated sources, and perhaps even on
framing the event, as evidenced by the fact that Catholic-affiliated
sources were more frequently cited as the first source in stories. However,
this study did not examine whether the information provided by that source
was presented in a positive or negative light. Breen (1997) found in his
study of media coverage of deviant acts by Catholic priests that the
majority of stories portrayed the clergy negatively.
Further research also could focus more specifically on the Catholic
Church's efforts to build an agenda and communicate its "side of the story"
to the media. Is there evidence to show that the Church acted in a
proactive or defensive way through its communication with the media?
Frames: This study's analysis of frames used by reporters in their coverage
of the events leading up to Cardinal Law's resignation shows clearly that
the story was reported, for the most part, using a sexual abuse/sexual
deviance frame. This supports what Barrie (2002) found in his study of a
similar scandal in Ottowa, Canada, which was widely covered by the media there.
Barrie (2002) speculated that the reason for this approach could be
reporters' lack of understanding of the Church's structure and its internal
politics, which would then lead them to focus on the more obvious sexual
aspects of the story. Our analysis, however, showed that there was an
attempt by some reporters to include the Church's perspective on the issue.
This attempt was seen in the "church and state" frame employed by some
reporters to tell the story. Although most stories primarily had a secular
focus in discussing the legal aspects of the case, others included the
Church's view that the issue should be dealt with within the Church
itself. This finding may relate to a trend among religion reporters to
move away from safe topics and delve more into the complexity of stories
with religious implications (Shepard, 1995; Ward, 2002).
There is no question that there was a "tug-of-war" aspect to a number of
the stories that employed the "church and state" frame. Some stories even
included specific information on Church policy as it relates to protection
of children and the Church's rationale for wanting to deal with the issue
of abusive priests by focusing on the moral/religious aspects, rather than
the secular/legal issues. Certainly, this frame provided reporters with a
conflict element, which gives added news value to the story.
The issue of blame also was a frame employed by some reporters in their
stories. Although some stories focused the blame aspect on individual
priests who had committed sexual abuse, other stories focused blame on the
Catholic Church. This is, for many in the Church, the crux of the matter.
As Bishop Gumbleton noted in his speech to members of the Church hierarchy
in May 2002: "the laity are not as enraged by the fact that there are
priests who are pedophiles, as much as the collusion in covering up and
protecting the criminals disguised as men of God." The Bishop's language is
much harsher than that used by reporters to attach blame to the Church.
Further examination of the "blame" frame and its use by media other than
newspapers could be enlightening, as well as an examination of the presence
of "self-blame" by the Church in its communication to its publics.
The children frame, which presented the scandal as offenses against
children regardless of the timeframe of alleged offenses, requires
additional research exploration. Particularly, this frame may reflect the
Catholic Church's attempt to build an agenda of its forward-thinking
approach to prevent future abuses. The Church, as an "official" source,
might be able to influence the media agenda (Turk & Franklin, 1987).
Subsequent research should explore the Church's information subsidies to
determine what messages it attempted to provide to the media.
Finally, the health terminology frame was the least significant of the
five frames that emerged. However, the use of symbolism associated with
sickness and disease may reflect attempts by the media to diagnose the
Church's problems and offer remedies for its resolution, part of the goal
of media framing (Entman, 1993).
Study limitations: This exploratory analysis of the presentation of the
priest sexual abuse scandal focused on four large newspapers only.
Additional research should examine papers in a wide variety of communities,
including those with sizeable Catholic populations and those reflecting
other religious affiliations. It also is important to assess the frames and
extent of media coverage in other media vehicles, including magazines,
radio, television, and Internet.
It is important to note that the five media frames that emerged should be
examined further regarding what Entman (1993, 1989) referred to as
salience. According to Entman, analysis of media content may determine the
media's intent but might not reflect what salient messages are retained by
its audiences. "Because salience is a product of the interaction of texts
and receivers," Entman (1993) said, "the presence of frames in the text, as
detected by researchers, does not guarantee influence in audience thinking"
(p. 53). This study only identified potential frames, but did not assess
how those frames were received by readers.
Summary: This exploratory study of media coverage of the priest sex abuse
scandal found that the four newspapers generally focused its attention more
on analyzing the scandal than merely reporting events. Sources were
primarily affiliated with the Catholic Church, which may reflect the
official status afforded high-level church officials and leaders by the media.
Five media frames emerged from the analysis that point to the level of
conflict and emotion afforded this story. Findings regarding the sexual
deviance frame support earlier research that media tend to cover
religious-centered crimes from a secular perspective, and the church and
state frame reflects the power struggle that occurred between the legal and
religious communities. Similarly, the blame frame reflects aspects of
conflict associated with accountability and responsibility.
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 Intercoder reliability was calculated at 92 percent utilizing Holsti's