Does The New York Times hate Timothy Dolan?

”The question is, should this indictment have ever been brought? Which office do I go to to get my reputation back? Who will reimburse my company for the economic jail it has been in for two and a half years?”

So said former Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan to The New York Times following his acquittal on state charges of fraud and theft in 1987. Accused by the Bronx DA of attempting to defraud the New York City Transit Authority of $7.4 million on a subway construction project in the late 70′s, before he entered the Reagan Administration, Donovan and his co-defendants were found not guilty on all charges — with one jury telling the Times she believed the prosecution was politically motivated. While rejoicing in the not guilty verdict after his two year ordeal, Donovan lamented that it was not fair that the news of his being a decent man would receive far less publicity than the accusation he was a criminal.

What should a newspaper do in this situation? How can it restore the reputations of those falsely accused? Human nature being what it is, the news of an evil man is far more interesting than that of a good one. Critics often accuse newspapers of printing only bad news — senior church leaders upbraid me from time to time for focusing on scandal, corruption and hypocrisy and downplaying the good works performed by church. It does little good to respond that I dutifully report on the good news, but no one reads it. Stories of church sponsored campaigns to stop child marriage in Africa or of female genital mutilation, for example, are read by only a few, while a naughty vicar story is good for tens of thousands of hits, while an Al Gore in bed with the Church of England will get picked up by Drudge and crash the servers.

In the Donovan case The New York Times acted properly and professionally according to the dictates of the craft. They reported without bias, cant or agenda. To have done more would have been special pleading, engaging in propaganda to sway public opinion to think as our masters tell us.

What then should we make of The Times coverage of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee abuse lawsuit? On 1 July 2013 The Times printed a story entitled “Dolan Sought to Protect Church Assets, Files Show”. This was followed on 3 July 2013 with an editorial entitled “Cardinal Dolan and the Sexual Abuse Scandal” and a 6 July op-ed piece by Frank Bruni entitled “The Church’s Errant Shepherds”. Apart from a correction on 16 July The Times does not appear to have followed up on the story.

Which is curious as the first article starts off with a bang.

Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday reveal that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has emphatically denied seeking to shield church funds as the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. He reiterated in a statement Monday that these were “old and discredited attacks.”

However, the files contain a 2007 letter to the Vatican in which he explains that by transferring the assets, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the request in five weeks, the files show.

The article continues in this vein, proffering evidence and arguments that while Archbishop of Milwaukee, Cardinal Dolan acted disreputably by moving church assets out of the reach of creditors. The Times editorial doubled-down on this assertion writing:

Tragic as the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church has been, it is shocking to discover that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while archbishop of Milwaukee, moved $57 million off the archdiocesan books into a cemetery trust fund six years ago in order to protect the money from damage suits by victims of abuse by priests.

While not labeling him a crook, the editorial board was quite clear in its opinion the archbishop had engaged in shady dealings and had not lived up to the high moral standard The Times expected of the Cardinal Archbishop of New York. The censure of the op-ed pales in comparison to the rage that seethes through Frank Bruni’s piece. The underlying acts of abuse were bad enough, but the institution’s response has been worse.

I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.

I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.

However, Bruni’s column is a column. A reader may agree with his sentiments or find them unhinged. They are written to provide entertainment based on current events — they are not reporting in and of themselves. The Times‘ op-ed piece is also only the opinion of the editorial board. One either agrees with its sentiments or does not. The underlying news stories however, are what makes or breaks the newspaper’s reputation for reporting. And here the paper disappoints.

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A detour through some good reporting on life issues

Because I’ve been so critical of the way abortion is routinely covered in the mainstream media, I wanted to quickly highlight two recent stories that were different. One of the points that activist Lila Rose has made in her criticism is that the media needs to tell positive stories related to the sanctity of human life. One criticism I’ve made in the past is how the media have completely failed to explain the ethical or religious concerns related to assisted reproductive technology.

A reader passed along this story originally out of KCCI but also posted on CNN.com. It’s about a family that adopted embryos that were left over from IVF treatments. The couple in question are religious, although their religious views aren’t explored in the story. He’s a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is mentioned in the story. But just telling a simple story that involves the fact, oddly obscured, about how IVF treatments routinely create embryos that are never implanted, and about how people can gestate these young humans, is a big story and one that should be told. Link to the CNN story here. I can’t figure out how to embed it.

A sample:

Reporter: But last year, the dad who doubles as a pastor got a  prayer request that stumped him.

Pastor Luke Timm: Pray for this couple. They’ve adopted an embryo. And I went – ‘what is that?’

Reporter: He found after couples go through in-vitro fertilization, many have leftover embryos they don’t want to just throw away.

Joni Timm: There are lots and lots of embryos out there waiting for a chance at life.

The second story is a simple profile of two lobbyists in the abortion fight.

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On the ‘heartbreaking’ death of a city church

The Godbeat reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel consistently does good work. “After 125 years, Bethlehem Lutheran Church holds last service” is the latest example. It was one of those stories that I came across via a Google alert, expecting it to be a boring depiction of what happened to cause a church to shutter its doors. Usually those stories are only exciting if they involve some type of doctrinal or financial corruption.

But this was an amazingly engaging story in spite of the lack of those elements, one that made me cry and actually got me to pray for the people involved in it.

The news hook was that Bethlehem Lutheran (LCMS) held its final two services last Sunday before closing up shop. The editors at the paper wisely allowed the reporter to write at length about what happened and sent a skilled photographer to take pictures that showed the love the community had for each other and for their building.

The piece struck me right away with its natural emphasis on sacraments and worship. The beginning:

Janet Engel knelt at the Communion rail at Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Sunday, tears welling in her eyes.

At 85, she’d built a lifetime of memories in this sacred space. She was confirmed here. She attended its grade school. Every Christmas, every Easter was celebrated in these pews.

And on Sunday, for the last time, Engel knelt to receive the Holy Eucharist here.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Engel, who gathered with hundreds of current and former members for final services at Bethlehem, which closed its doors Sunday after 125 years.

“It’s wonderful to see all of these people again,” she said. “But closing the church — it’s just heartbreaking.”

These humanely told stories are a regular feature of this reporter’s. I still recall some of her writings on Roman Catholic and Muslim communities for how they permit adherents to discuss their religious beliefs.

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‘Apparently,’ there’s a news story about Wisconsin church

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The lead story on CNN’s “Belief Blog” at this moment concerns a former National Football League player who apparently lost a church speaking engagement after tweeting support for basketball player Jason Collins, who this week revealed that he’s gay.

Stop the presses!

Seriously, this is national news?:

Washington (CNN) – LeRoy Butler, a former safety for the Green Bay Packers, is one of many professional athletes to tweet support for Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out as gay this week.

“Congrats to Jason Collins,” Butler tweeted April 29, the day Collins came out in a Sports Illustrated cover story.

But Butler says the four-word tweet cost him a speaking appearance at a Wisconsin church.

The church’s response?

Well, that’s where the apparently comes in:

He was scheduled to speak at the church (whose name he has not revealed) about bullying and his new book, “The LeRoy Butler Story: From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap.”

However, Butler announced the trouble in a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday.

CNN links to a similarly vague, one-sided Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story:

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