New York Times not scared of Catholics

Via the indispensible Deacon’s Bench blog at Beliefnet, I learned that Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s latest criticisms of the New York Times are getting some media coverage. Not in The Times, but the local CBS affiliate has noticed.

You can read his full argument here — laid out on the Archdiocese of New York web site — but he cites two examples from the October 15 paper:

First there’s the insulting photograph of the nun on page C20, this for yet another tiresome production making fun of Catholic consecrated women. This “gleeful” tale is described as “fresh and funny” in the caption beneath the quarter-page photo (not an advertisement). Granted, prurient curiosity about the lives of Catholic sisters has been part of the nativist, “know-nothing” agenda since mobs burned the Ursuline convent in Boston in the 1840′s, and since the huckster Rebecca Reed’s Awful Disclosures made the rounds in the 19th century. But still now cheap laughs at the expense of a bigoted view of the most noble women around?

Maybe I’m especially sensitive since I just came from the excellent exhibit on the contributions of Catholic nuns now out on Ellis Island. These are the women who tended to the homeless immigrants and refugees, who died nursing the abandoned in the cholera epidemic, who ran hospitals and universities decades before women did so in the non-Catholic sphere, who marched in Selma and today teach our poorest in our inner-city schools. These are the nuns mocked and held-up for snickering in our city’s newspaper.

Now turn to C29. This glowingly reviewed not-to-be missed “art” exhibit comes to us from Harvard, and is a display of posters from ACT UP. Remember them? They invaded of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to disrupt prayer, trampled on the Holy Eucharist, insulted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he was here for a conference, and yelled four letter words while exposing themselves to families and children leaving Mass at the Cathedral. The man they most detested was Cardinal John O’Connor, who, by the way, spent many evenings caring quietly for AIDS patients, and, when everyone else ran from them, opened units for them at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center and St. Clare’s Hospital. Too bad for him. One of the posters in this “must see” exhibit is of Cardinal O’Connor, in the form of a condom, referred to as a “scumbag,” the “art” there in full view in the photograph above the gushing review in our city’s daily.

The CBS affiliate sums up the arguments and gets perspective from a CUNY professor:

“The Times was very anti-Catholic in the 19th century,” City University of New York professor Paul Moses told CBS 2′s Tony Aiello.

However, Moses said he doesn’t think the paper has an anti-Catholic bias these days, but added printing the picture of O’Connor was a terrible lapse in editorial judgment.

“That’s a really scathing image of Cardinal O’Connor,” Moses said. “I think that was a lapse with the Times, not that they’re anti-catholic. Maybe it’s more they simply didn’t do a very good job on that story.”

So what do you think? That The Times would give favorable reviews to anti-Catholic plays and art exhibits probably shocks none of us. That they’re not likely to run favorable reviews of plays that support Catholicism isn’t newsworthy either. I frankly have a hard time getting worked up over that, considering the much larger issues involving religion news coverage.

But I am surprised that the picture depicting O’Connor in such a manner was allowed through the editorial process. I’m not Catholic but you don’t have to be to find it inappropriate for a newspaper.

I would love to hear an explanation of why, as this August 2009 New York Times article states, The Times banned images of the Muhammad cartoons that helped spark one of the biggest news stories of 2006.

I wonder if it’s simply that The Times is scared of Muslims but not Christians? Or what?

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  • Tony de New York

    Anti- Catholicism still alive and well in this country.

  • Dave

    I wonder if it’s simply that The Times is scared of Muslims but not Christians?

    We’ve addressed this point in similar stories, so I’ll simply repeat: Insulting Muslims has proved dangerous in a way that insulting Christians hasn’t.

  • Stoo

    I think I’d rather see the media be less afraid of offending muslims, than be more deferential towards christians.

  • mattk

    “I wonder if it’s simply that The Times is scared of Muslims but not Christians? Or what?”

    Neither. I think that the spirit of this age, which weemsto prevail in the media, is the spirit of the Antichrist. It will oppose anyone who teaches that Jesus is Lord. I do not think the writers and editors at any newspaper conciously oppose Jesus, but their master does and uses them to attack anyone who attempts to obey Jesus. It will even attack people who are not followers of Jesus who attempt to live lives approaching a virtuous life. For example, consider the pressure the Dali Lama was put under by people in Hollywood when it became known that he opposed homosexual behavior.

  • Martha

    It’s the Arts page, so I don’t think it’s anti-Catholicism as such on the part of “The New York Times”, just the usual “if it’s transgressive, it’s simply wonderful, darling!” of arts reviewers.

    I think Archbishop Dolan is fighting a losing battle on this one, and I wouldn’t exactly pick a fight myself over a play about nuns – if he really wants to take on insulting and tiresome depictions of nuns, he should take a shot at the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

    The ACT UP poster was a bit much; I agree that the paper could probably have picked a less offensive one (although that leaves us with the thought that this might have been the least offensive one in the exhibit, which is alarming).

    But yeah – not surprised and I don’t think the Archbishop is going to get anywhere with this. Attacking art is just so philistine and boorish, n’est-ce pas?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I have a modest proposal to solve the Times anti-Catholic problem.
    The Catholic church should just ask the Times what moral teachings, what traditions, what practices, what parts of the Bible, what doctrines the Times wants the Catholic Church to change.
    Then the Church can adjust everything to the Times’ liking.
    If only the Catholic Church would listen to the Times’ gospel there would be no need for the Times to spew any more of its anti-Catholic garbage. All would then be well in the Times’ realm and the Catholic Church would receive an honored place at the table of their masters.

  • John Pack Lambert

    … I can understand his anger at this truly awful picture, and I do not think I would have responded any better. However, I think people are tired of double standards. Critiques of Muslims are held to the most stringent standards of quaility, but Critiques of Catholics, Mormons or Chrsitians in general can be as low quality, pornographic and offensive as possible, and if you fail to both see their great artistic value and think the government should support them you are the American equivalent of the Taliban and utterly lacking in culture.

  • John Pack Lambert

    The New York Times article on Act Up is very lacking in balance or evaluation of cause and effect.

    Besides not dealing with the exposure and obscenity in Churches, it has many other problems.

    Has the NYT never heard of Viox? Is that not a result of the pressures of Act Up, assuming that they achieved anything.

    How exactly did the stupid antics and disruptive actions of Act Up lead to the fall in the price of drugs. Why is it at all logical to make disease a politically defined thing? How did showing pictures of men embracing each other, thus encoraging at some level homosexual behavior of men, which is way, way more likely to spread HIV than vaginal sex, do any good to anyone?

    I remain unconvinced that it was any activity of Act Up that brought changes. In fact, I wonder if without Act Up the changes may have occured faster.

    The NYT people do not understand back-lash at all. If Act Up was still active I think the homosexual agenda would have even less chance of surviving. Their is a reason why the activities of their intellectual heirs, Bash Back, are not widely reported in the media. If people know radical homosexuals would invade a church during service, shout “Jesus was gay” and start making out, it would set the homosexual lobby back a long way.


    Actually I find the whole mocking and villifying nuns much worse than the attack on Cardinal O’Connor. That picture was just obscene, and to call the play anything but a sad attempt to fan the flames of bigotry just shows how lacking in good taste the times is.

    Would they promote something that mocked Muslims in the same way?


    It is not about being “More deferential towards Christians”. You have to remember they show zero deference right now.

    Not only that, they are down right hateful. This is the times that has been running all sorts of false and malicious attacks on Pope Benedict XVI. This is the Times that claims it is defending the abused when it supports a law that specifically exempts public schools from proposed changes in the rules for sex abuse as a minor suits.

    In many ways such a plan is intended to destroy the Catholic schools through law schools and send more inner-city children to languish, fail and become druggies and single mothers through the Public Schools, just to advance the careers of lazy, over-weight, white suburbanites who exploit the downtrodden African-Americans and Hispanics of New York City for their own gain.

    The article about the display was total rubbish. They are promoting and glorifying total disorder and the type of activitic push for fast approval of medicines that has lead to us having unsafe and untested medicines in use.

  • tmatt

    With a lot of spiking and a bit of combining, I just got John Pack Lambert’s number of comments on this post down to single digits!

    It’s hard work, but someone has to do it.

  • Darel

    Deacon John M. Bresnahan said:

    The Catholic church should just ask the Times what moral teachings, what traditions, what practices, what parts of the Bible, what doctrines the Times wants the Catholic Church to change. Then the Church can adjust everything to the Times’ liking.

    Um, we already have that. It’s called The Episcopal Church.

  • Kristie-Anne

    John, I agree with almost everything you said, except you lost me when you started talking about race. I don’t think race has anything to do with it.

    It is a religious smear because the church does not support the homosexual lifestyle. That is the church’s choice and those of the Catholic faith. For homosexuals, a people who want rights so badly, it looks to me that these particular individuals are willing to smear and demean the opinions and rights of others in an attempt to express themselves in relation to their own rights. But not even that-how tasteless and disgusting they tried to achieve their goal! Vulgarity does not gain popularity with others. I can’t believe the New York Times printed this trash…how sad! It wouldn’t have mattered who this picture was mocking.

    The worst part is that many homosexuals believe in God, and I don’t think they would support such a disgusting display against people of faith who devote their entire lives to God. Nuns devote their lives to tending the sick and charity and prayer. If ever the people who support this play needed a helping hand, a nun would still help them no matter how desolate or twisted they are.

    There is not true objectivity in the press anymore, so I do have to say I believe this was undoubtedly meant to be a religious slur against Catholics and it was not an editorial mistake. What editor would ever make such a huge mistake without getting fired??? Editors are well-paid, and it would have been seen by more than one editor, it goes through a hierarchy of editors. Saying-Oops! That one just slipped by us would be ridiculous and unbelievable. Do not ever assume people are not intelligent, not paying attention, or passive-do not underestimate other people-that is a gullible and dangerous mistake.

  • Lynn

    I don’t doubt that the New York Times often has an anti-Catholic stance. But the two articles which Archbishop Dolan seem…. well, very mild. The Act-Up article doesn’t make any mention at all of the Church, its clergy, its buildings, or its policies. And the play, well, plays and movies poking fun at Catholic sisters have been popular in the US for decades.

  • Bram


    Blackface minstrelsy poking fun at African-Americans was also popular in the US for decades. Your point?

  • David Charkowsky

    When outfits like the New York Times cover religion it always seems to come off like a kind of “intellectual pornography”.

  • Kristie-Anne

    Lynn, I didn’t know poking fun involved imitating the likeness of and printing obscene pornographic pictures of religious women. Sexual obscenity of chaste women and teasing/poking fun are like comparing two different worlds. I can’t imagine the New York Times printing a picture from a purely pornographic work. Why? Because it would lessen their worth, damage their reputation and the trust of readers as well as investors. It is important to remember that many who make pornography consider it an art-yet it is never considered reputable enough to be included in serious journalistic enterprises.

    Social norms decide vulgarity and vulgarity is simply used in extremely poor taste and usually to hurt others and/or strike drama and controversy. So, mission accomplished I suppose. I agree with David-it is a form of intellectual pornography, although I am using the word “intellectual” very loosely. As they say when children compete in the game Limbo, “How low can you go?,” that is, before you fall.

  • Passing By

    While the Times anti-catholic creds were well-established by their antics of last Easter, if not before. But these examples seem more like adolescent desperation to appear hip, slick, and cool than anything like real “anti-catholicism”. Although the real cool kids don’t have to work so hard to appear cool.

    The archbishop needs to pick his battles more carefully.

  • John Pack Lambert

    At least the way I took Archbishop Dolan’s objection to Act Up was that the article was problamatic because it failed to mention how offensive in the presence of children and to religious institution Act Up was.
    However I think the mocking of Cadinal O’Connor, who did so much to care for those actually suffering, was the key issue.

  • Julia

    I’m Catholic and I don’t think the photo of the nun is pornographic. The one of the former Cardinal is tasteless but is not that outrageous. SNL has worse stuff.

    This attention is feeding the problem.

    Somewhere along the line, ART came to require jolting the bourgeoisie – in other words: making middle-class people uncomfortable and therefore having to think for a change.
    So the cognescenti say.

    I have a very nice youngish relative in the theater business and she says a successful play jolts people and makes them think. It doesn’t matter if the reaction is abhorrence, as long as it gets a reaction – shaking people out of their middle-class torpor. Getting them to question their pre-conceived notions.

    “Edgy” is the current approving adjective. Reviewers are very much into this way of judging THE ARTS.

    As long as Catholics remain so touchy, THE ARTS will continue to target Catholic subjects because they get a response. We’re way too easy.

    Part of the above is tongue-in-cheek, but I think it accurately describes the current scene.

  • Julia

    I’ve heard lots of people called “scumbags”.
    Or does it now have a different meaning that I’ve missed?
    Words keep changing their meaning.

    I’m in Cardinal territory and our fans call the Mets “pondscum”.

  • Kristie-Anne

    Julia, if Catholics are so touchy then why did the New York Times ban a cartoon about the prophet Muhammad among other things in relation to Islam? Why is it okay to show sensibility and restraint for one religion but not others? The Times did not to want to offend Muslims, and yet they have no problem openly offending Catholics. Muslims as well as Catholics reject homosexuality. And in fact, homosexuals are often lawfully executed without remorse in primarily Muslim countries.

    For me, I say to each their own, but either way more care should be taken so we do not become desensitized to bottom-dwelling sludge like this, or accept it as perfectly normal. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to have to look at trash like that all day once our society is used to it.

    And Julia, SNL is meant to be ridiculous, there is no value to it beyond hysterical and outrageous entertainment. The New York Times is a serious journalistic publication, not a joke, or at least it’s not supposed to be.

    Also, in reference to your baseball team comparison, calling someone pond scum and printing a picture of pond scum hailed as a higher life form than a human being in a publication that reaches thousands and thousands of people are two way different scenarios, and there is no relevance between the two.

    It seems to me that the Times has specifically and continuously targeted Christians. This is not the first time; however, I’d have to say it is the boldest. Printing a picture that calls a Cardinal a scumbag and then compares him to a condom with a description below that says, “This one prevents AIDS” attacks the church as being less than a condom. It belittles the Christian faith. I might add that condoms do not prevent AIDS as the virus is smaller than the holes in a condom, so in all honesty it is misleading like a false promise; therefore, defeating its own purpose as a comparison. In conclusion, I am a little amused because while at first sight it was shocking and disgusting to me, analyzing it further I found that it is as ironic as it is self-destructive, although I do not think the creators of the picture realized it themselves.

  • Jerry

    This attention is feeding the problem.


  • Lynn

    Kristie-Anne, I am puzzled by your statement that the Times published a pornographic picture of a Catholic sister. Here is the article which Archbishop Dolan objected to.

    The play is a parody of some of the movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I haven’t seen it but I doubt its pornographic. The scene shown in the article is based upon a scene from he classic 1945 film The Bells of St. Mary’s where Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict gives a young boy boxing lessons.

    But I do need to apologize for not catching that the article on the Act-Up exhibit originally had a photo which does not appear in the online version. Yes, that photo is offensive and needlessly provocative.

  • Bram

    You’re right, Lynn. People like you always are. A nun with her legs spread wide and her eyes fixed on an adolescent boy holding an upright baseball bat between his legs? Nothing the least bit suggestive in that, and nothing the least bit offensive. Thank goodness Catholics and others have you to let them know what they are and are not allowed to be offended by.

  • Jeffrey

    To me the story isn’t how mean the NYT is to Catholics (or afraid of Muslims) but how sensitive the powerful NY Archdiocese is to any shred of mild criticism or a passing reference. In an era where everyone is hyperdefensive and easily offended, I guess I can understand why a poster you can barely see in the picture and a review of s satirical show that makes fun of the powerful church can cause instant offense. I’m just trying to figure out why the TV station played alone.

  • Mollie

    But on a journalism blog, the interesting thing is how wildly different the NYT treats potential offense of Muslims with potential offense of Christians. I think they fear Muslims or are otherwise Islamophobic.

  • Stoo

    Maybe suggestive (actually I have no idea what’s going on there, it’s just two people in silly poses!), but not pornographic.

  • Stoo

    Mollie, we might also want to consider a sense amongst secular western types (like myself) that christianity is a product of our own culture. And that we should put our own house in order, so to speak, before criticising the guy next door.

    There’s also the fact that islam is heavily associated with ethnic minority groups. For the sake of not wanting the minority to feel ostracised or under attack, or just plain fear of being called racist, the media might stay their hands somewhat.

    Not that I completely agree with those mindsets, and I agree simple fear could be a motivation too. Just throwing that in there.

  • mattk

    I thought the nun in the picture was getting ready to act as catcher for the batter. Its hard to tell from the photograph. Anyone here see the play and know what wasgoing on?

  • John Pack Lambert

    Or put another way, if Archbishop Dolan was a Muslim Iman he would issue a fatwa that said it was ok to kill the editors and photographers of the New York Times.

    A Christian is “violent” when she wrecks a pornographic print while a Palestinian is “jnon-violent” when he thrown rocks instead of shooting rockets at humans.

    At times it almost seems some people think that wrecking art is a worse crime than killing artists.