The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, said sections of the corporation, particularly in news and current affairs, were pursuing an anti-Catholic agenda.
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He also criticised the BBC for broadcasting a Panorama programme entitled Sex and the Holy City next month, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the Pope’s election and the beatification of Mother Teresa.
He said Popetown, a satirical cartoon which caricatures John Paul II, would be deeply offensive to many.
The Archbishop demanded an urgent meeting with senior executives, including Greg Dyke, the director-general. He said the BBC should be forced to justify its funding through the licence fee.
He said Catholics were “fed up with seeing a public service broadcaster using the licence fee to pay unscrupulous reporters trying to re-circulate old news and to broadcast programmes that are so biased and hostile. Enough is enough.”
Archbishop Nichols’s outburst reflects the growing conviction of the Catholic Church’s leadership that it has been unfairly treated by parts of the media, including the BBC’s Today programme, over claims that it covered up sex abuse cases.
While it was difficult to accuse the whole corporation of being anti-Catholic, it “sometimes looked like that”, the Archbishop added.
Concentrating his fire on Kenyon Confronts, he said recent programmes had investigated topics such as fraudsters who faked their own deaths, dog fixing and doping, drug dealers and dealers in bogus marriages.
“That this programme is considered, by the BBC managers, as a suitable way to engage with the Catholic Church is absolutely offensive,” he said.
“That this programme has been allowed to progress this far shows either malice towards the Church or a total lack of judgment, or of managerial responsibility, within the BBC News and Current Affairs Department.” He claimed that “researchers” for the programme had made a series of “unacceptable” approaches to priests in the Birmingham Archdiocese to “dig for dirt”.
These included an alleged telephone call to a Birmingham priest at two o’clock in the morning, and another to a 79-year-old priest on the day after he was discharged from hospital following major surgery. The Archbishop also claimed that a reporter acting on behalf of the BBC had gained entrance as “a Catholic and friend” into a residential care home to approach another priest in his late seventies, who became easily confused. Nevertheless the reporter allegedly “cornered” the priest in his room to question him for sensitive information. The Archbishop said that, as far as he was aware, the programme had unearthed no new cases of clerical sex abuse.
He admitted that the Church had made mistakes in its handling of child abuse cases. But he argued that it had now introduced tough new guidelines to prevent future lapses. Over the past 20 years, three Birmingham priests have been convicted of child abuse, two others accused of offences have fled the country and another died insisting on his innocence.
Archbishop Nichols said that he was happy to discuss the Church’s record, but the “style and approach” of the proposed programme was “unacceptable”.
“Kenyon Confronts is examining how the Catholic Church is treating victims of past child abuse as they campaign for redress,” a spokesman said.
“We recognise that the Archbishop has concerns about the programme. We believe it is an issue of serious public interest which will be fairly examined and reported. We take great care to reflect all faiths in the UK.”
Archbishop Nichols’s comments represent growing confidence that the Church has weathered the media storm that followed the appointment of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as the Archbishop of Westminster.
The Cardinal has apologised repeatedly for his “serious mistake” when, as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, he appointing Fr Michael Hill to be chaplain at Gatwick airport in 1985. Hill was later jailed for abuse.
The role of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in reporting alleged cases of paedophilia amongst Catholic priests has drawn particular criticism from the Church.