This week, Catholics throughout the world celebrate the happiest and saddest events in the story of our redemption. It is during Holy Week that we recall Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, His institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood, His suffering and death, and His glorious resurrection.

The Washington Post marked the start of this holiest of weeks with a March 29 editorial cartoon by Tom Toles depicting monstrous-looking priests using a picture of Jesus as a lure to attract children so they can sexually abuse them. The priests are labeled "Decades of Abusive Priests" and they hold a lasso in front of the picture of Jesus, which is labeled with the words of Matthew 19:14, "Let the little children come to me." The priests, with their sinister eyes and lascivious grins, note, "What a great recruitment poster," and at the bottom of the cartoon, they note that they can forgive themselves for their abuses because "we're priests!"

This tasteless, vicious and spiteful cartoon is an offense to hundreds of thousands of local Catholics who are preparing for Easter. It is even more of an offense to the hundreds of priests in the Archdiocese of Washington - and the countless thousands of priests around the world - who have devoted their lives to Christ, His Church and His faithful.

And, let this fact escape no one's attention: the cartoon appeared on the very day that 200 priests of this archdiocese gathered with Archbishop Donald Wuerl and our auxiliary bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew to renew their commitment as priests and to receive the holy oils that they will use throughout the year for administering the sacraments.

This cartoon is not social commentary, it is an attack on the Catholic faith. Why do I say this? For several reasons.

The priests in the cartoon are depicted as amorphous blobs trying to trap children. In reality, Monday's Chrism Mass demonstrated that priests come from all backgrounds and ages, but they share a common call to give up their lives in service to their people. The oils that were blessed at the Chrism Mass and then distributed to the priests are used by the priests to baptize babies and adults entering the Church, and anoint those who are sick or dying. The priests are there for their people, on call 24 hours a day.

The cartoon makes no mention of the fact that people in professions other than the priesthood make up the vast majority of child abusers in our society. It should be pointed out that this is a problem for all of society to face, that occurs most often within families, that cuts across all occupations and denominations.
The Post and other media fixate on decades-old abuse cases, but they have all but ignored the fact that the Catholic Church has adopted stringent child protection policies (see our archdiocesan website at www.adw.org) that are much more strict than those in place at public schools or other institutions serving children.

There are relentless and constant attacks on Pope Benedict, who has done more than anyone to strengthen the Church's child protection policies, and who spoke movingly about his sorrow over the issue during his April 2008 Mass at Nationals Park and then afterward personally met with a small group of abuse survivors at the Apostolic Nunciature (Vatican Embassy).

I have to question why the media have been so unrelenting in covering this scandal without presenting the complete story of who Catholics are and what we believe. In the weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, we were told time and again that these actions of a relatively few Islamic extremists should not be an indictment against an entire religion, its teaching and its adherents. Yet, in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct by a small percentage of Catholic priests, it seems that our religion, our hierarchy, and our beliefs have been subject to an almost incessant barrage of criticism.

Our Church has been tireless in addressing this problem. Allegations against our priests have been investigated and addressed and subjected to impeccable scrutiny by both civil and Church authorities. We have reached out with Christ's love to those victimized by abuse, offering prayers, compassion and healing.

We, the faithful who support our priests, must be the first to stand up and say that the actions of a few bad clergymen are not an indication of what our religion is or what we believe or who our priests are. The Washington Post's vicious Holy Week cartoon defaming priests abuses the good name and good works of priests who give their lives in serving their people. The Post's slogan, "If you don't get it, you don't get it," certainly applies to this cartoon's attack on the priesthood and the Catholic Church.