Does The New York Times hate Timothy Dolan?

Does The New York Times hate Timothy Dolan? August 29, 2013

”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.

On 30 July the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a Federal District Court had ruled that Cardinal Dolan and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had acted properly — and morally — by shielding cemetery funds from creditors. The Journal Sentinel story entitled “In win for Milwaukee Archdiocese, judge shields cemetery funds from creditors” reported:

In a decision that could have far-reaching implications for religious institutions around the country,a federal judge has ruled against forcing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to tap its cemetery funds to pay sex abuse claims in its bankruptcy.

In issuing the ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa said including the funds would violate free exercise of religion under the First Amendment and a 1993 law aimed at protecting religious freedom. Randa cited the Catholic belief in the resurrection, which teaches that the body ultimately reunites with the soul, and the role of Catholic cemeteries in the exercise of that belief under canon law.

“The sacred nature of Catholic cemeteries — and compliance with the church’s historical and religious traditions and mandates requiring their perpetual care — are understood as a fundamental exercise of this core belief,” said Randa in overturning an earlier decision by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley.

Yet there has been nothing from The New York Times on this issue. When the ruling was handed down, I expected to see something. Perhaps another angry Bruni jeremiad on the courts protecting an evil institution, tut-tutting from the editorial board — but nothing. Perhaps it being August the staff are on holiday and no one was about to write this piece. Yet The Times has an AP subscription and could have run the wire service story.

What message is The New York Times sending by not reporting the court verdict, which as the Journal Sentinel story points out, stressed the judge’s decision that what Cardinal Dolan did was not only lawful, but was a moral act based upon the Catholic Church’s doctrines. Is The Times motivated by animus towards the Roman Catholic Church? Does it hate Cardinal Dolan?

I doubt the newspaper has a grudge against the archbishop. Life’s events are more often motivated by mistake and omission than deliberate aggression. Nevertheless, this does episode does not do credit to The New York Times.

Caveat: The New York Times may have reported this decision — if so, I have not seen it, nor been able to find it on their website. Times image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    Interesting moral conundrum for the media. Granted, public interest in information or stories about alleged wrong-doing is not as popular among readers or viewers as any stories that set things right or clear a person.
    But is media morality or justice to be predicated merely on circulation or ratings data and the resulting financial bottom line. Certainly when other businesses predicate their morality on the bottom line, the media usually skewers that rationale. But AH! circulation is God. Ratings are sacred
    However, in justice and a sense of morality, shouldn’t the media forget the bottom line for a while when courts have found allegations splashed across the media landscape to have been false?? Shouldn’t the media give as big a splash to the truth as they did to what turned out to have been lies or falsehoods even if few will bother to pay attention to the truth ???

    • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

      Note: The second sentence above should have read: stories of alleged wrong doing are MORE popular than those that set things right.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    What’s interesting is that the creditors are now crying “foul” over the judge’s decision because his parents and in-laws are buried in the cemeteries, a fact he did not disclose before he ruled on it. ( Their move to get him pulled off the case probably won’t go anywhere, but perhaps this might have something to do with the Times’ decision not to publish the ruling? OK, so maybe that’s wishful thinking.

  • Julia B

    Retired atty here who did mostly property issues. I can’t find the article, but there was criticism in legal circles over the judge’s reasoning. There was no necessity to bring in issues of religious freedom to decide this case. As I had argued here, the money should have been in a trust all along. These monies were paid at the time the plots were sold – to be used for maintenance in perpetuity. The trust would have been like the “lock boxes” that should have been used for Social Security money. These funds did not belong to the archdiocese. They were being held in trust and should have had a formal trust set-up to make that clear to creditors.

    There are legal theories protecting such funds that don’t have a good written document, but it’s always better to have that formalized so as not to have to deal with the lawsuits that occur without documentation. Not putting things in writing is what keeps lawyers busy – like people who put their kid’s names on the deed to their home instead of doing a will – kid goes bankrupt and creditors get the parents’ house.

    Dolan was doing the right thing; not trying to cheat anybody. Of course, the plaintiff’s lawyers were going to give it a go, but they probably knew it was a shakey attempt and they could lose. Even losing, it makes the church look bad because the average person doesn’t understand law, particularly the hightened fiduciary duties of folks who hold money on behalf of others.

  • DPierre

    Good article, geoconger. My site,, covered this exact issue:

    *7/10/13* (about the NYT publishing three articles on the Dolan transfer issue):

    *8/7/13* (about the NYT *not* reporting the judge’s decision vindicating Dolan):

    Dave Pierre

    • George Conger

      Good work. Glad to see the issue raised in multiple venues.

  • Gitanjali Sudhir

    Follwing the many good examples of Pope Francis, can the Print Media start publish pictures of Church Ministers in less gaudy and more humane attire?
    Gita – Chenna – India

  • HermitTalker

    The history of the NYT on pouncing on the Catholic clergy, and ignoring stories of abuse by Jewish rabbis is certain proof that they, and the other MSM media have a biased and jaundiced view of the RCC. Cardinal Dolan is a prime target, an wily articulate Irish-American who is a match for them and Obama’s equally evil agenda

  • Alfred Corbo

    The judge said that taking money from the cemetery fund would be wrong. Cardinal Dolan transferred money from the diocese to the cemetery fund to shield it. These are two different cases.

  • I_M_Forman

    The NY Times would look for any opportunity to attack Catholicism since it goes against the current culture of Death that the Times promotes.

  • Peter Baker

    I have been a life long RC all my 74 years, and a life long reader of the Times for almost as long.. I have never seen any bias in the Times against our church. Sometimes, indeed, the Times has an opinion that differs from the party line promoted by the church hierarchs. That hardly is a matter of bias. Many of us in the pews often disagree with the official church party line.

  • fondatorey

    I admit I don’t read all the Times stories about the abuse scandals, so maybe my impression is off base, however, in the ones I do read I seem to see one of the attorneys involved in such cases quoted in almost all of them (for example in the July 1 story above) and in fact several of the stories I have seen seem to be generated solely by that attorney’s theories of liability and not by actual new information or events. Maybe my sample size is off and I am just noticing a pattern that does not exist in every story, just every story that I read. While I am not a reporter I imagine that there can be a certain quid pro quo where a source acts as a content provider and also is able to ‘win’ good coverage that serves his interests.

  • Jerome Osullivan

    Love the sinner/hate the sin! Whether Dolan’s action were legal or moral-he lied about his actions and behavior.