Happy Independence Day! On Friday, we looked at the 4,000-word New York Times attack against Pope Benedict XVI. Much of the story was a good exploration of the complexity of Vatican canon law that contributed to difficulties in quickly resolving some of the sex abuse crisis. But much of it — including the first breathless paragraphs — was blatant editorializing against Benedict without substantiation. I came out strong against it because it was a deeply unfair piece that argued against where its own reporting led. I thought it would be interesting to review how the piece was being received in other quarters.
Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters wrote in “Contra the NY Times“:
This morning’s New York Times “expose” regarding then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s role in the Vatican’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis exposes more than it intended. It exposes the fact that the authors, Laurie Goodstein and David Halbfinger, and their editors, do not understand what they are talking about and, at times, put forward such an unrelentingly tendentious report, it is difficult to attribute it to anything less than animus.
NCR is certainly not a bastion of traditionalism, for what it’s worth.
I wondered how those quoted in the article felt about it considering that their quotes were largely supportive of the Pope while the article was so brutally anti-Benedict. I’ve only seen one of the sources speak out and he was not pleased. Ignatius Press founder and editor, Father Joseph Fessio, called the article a “masterpiece of topsyturvydom“:
Great theme: the bishops wanted to do more but were handcuffed by the Vatican’s–and Ratzinger’s–in action. That’s a wonderful storyline which is a masterpiece of topsyturvydom.
One question can cut through it all: You are a bishop, say in 1980, and you find one of your priests has been abusing little boys. What do you do? Nothing whatever prevents you from removing that priest from ministry, disciplining him, and reporting him to civil authorities. All talk about “arcane canonical processes”, “complicated and overlapping jurisdictions”, is simply beside the point.
And if one needed any indication of the mindset of the NYT, the beginning of this sentence would provide it: “As Father Gauthe was being prosecuted in Louisiana, Cardinal Ratzinger was publicly disciplining priests in Brazil and Peru for preaching that the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed,…”
First Things was one of many to use the t-word in its article How Do You Spell Tendentious? They also referred to it as a “hatchet job”:
I could go on, but it would be tedious. It’s almost always tedious to refute tendentious reporting.
In any event the article ends up refuting itself, because the various bishops closely involved in the Vatican’s admittedly inadequate responses to the sexual-abuse crisis uniformly praise Ratzinger. Australia’s Archbishop Wilson is typical. After the 2000 meeting, he reported: “I felt, this guy gets it, he’s understanding the situation we’re facing. At long last, we’ll be able to move forward.”
Catholic World News had a substantive critique on how the article handled the Crimen sollicitationis issue. And Phil Lawler critiqued the piece generally. Here are the first and last paragraphs, also at the Catholic World News website:
Today’s New York Times, with another front-page attack on Pope Benedict XVI, erases any possible doubt that America’s most influential newspaper has declared an editorial jihad against this pontificate. Abandoning any sense of editorial balance, journalistic integrity, or even elementary logic, the Times looses a 4,000-word barrage against the Pope: an indictment that is not supported even by the content of this appalling story. Apparently the editors are relying on sheer volume of words, and repetition of ugly details, to substitute for logical argumentation. …
The Times story, despite its flagrant bias and distortion, actually contains the evidence to dismiss the complaint. Unfortunately, the damage has already done before the truth comes out: that even a decade ago the future Pope Benedict was the solution, not part of the problem.
Rod Dreher, over at Beliefnet, is known for his criticism of the church’s handling of the sex abuse problem. Still, he thought the article did a disservice to readers:
This is incredibly unfair, even tendentious, designed to lead the reader to the conclusion that Ratzinger busied himself being “God’s Rottweiler,” as his enemies have called him, attacking favorite causes of liberals, while letting abused children hang. My longtime readers know that I have not hesitated to criticize Benedict over his handling of the scandal, when I thought that criticism was warranted. It’s hard for me to conclude, though, that this massive Times story today is meant as much more than an unfair, and ideologically-driven, attack on the Pope.
Did anyone else weigh in? I tried to find a substantive defense of the article but I couldn’t even find much in the way of any defense, much less anything in response to the criticisms you read above. This comment in the thread of our previous discussion was about the best I could find. Have you seen anything defending the piece on the merits or did it just land with a thud?
What do you think the net effect of this piece will be, both in terms of public opinion about Pope Benedict and the credibility of the New York Times on this issue?