The New York Times once again attacked Pope Benedict XVI in its July 1 edition with another poorly researched and error-filled article. Having failed to stir up any major controversy with the article, the Times editors railed anew in an editorial on Friday expressing explicitly the biases that were so implicit in its earlier article.
In the July 1 article, the Times claims that then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger failed in his responsibilities to claim jurisdiction over sex abuse cases in the 1990’s. As the Times declares, “More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.”
But the facts paint a very different picture, and the article itself is undercut throughout by the testimony of canon lawyers and also the very bishops who were caught up in the crisis during the period. For example, the piece cites Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who in 2001-2002 served as president of the U.S. bishops' conference in the during the worst days of the crisis for the American Church. Far from lamenting the failures of Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Gregory stresses the determination of the Cardinal to fight within the Curia in Rome for a forceful response.
The result of these contradictions is to give the entire article the appearance of shaping contrary evidence to fit a specific editorial agenda.
The Times piece betrays again a depressing ignorance of how the Church functions and even basic theology. The authors, clearly advised by theologians or sources with bones to pick with the current pope, condemn Cardinal Ratzinger for ignoring the sex abuse crisis in the 1980s and 1990s even as he waged a war against adherents of liberation theology and tried to reduce the influence of episcopal conferences. They seem to forget that one of his chief jobs as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was to protect the authentic teachings of the Church and to help clarify the proper role of institutions (such as episcopal conferences) in the life of the faith.
The task of Cardinal Ratzinger was to insure that radical liberation theologians (with their Marxist interpretation of authentic Christian liberation) did not drag the Church into error and even into violent political struggles in Latin America and elsewhere. Rather than condemning the pope, in hindsight, the Church owes him a great deal for preventing what might have been a theological disaster.
As to what Ratzinger could or could not have done, the article itself defeats its own assertions by noting the sudden energy with which cases were pursued by the CDF after the promulgation of the 2001 decree. What rights Ratzinger and the CDF might have had in Church law prior to 2001 or whether those rights existed at all is a matter for canon lawyers to decide. What is clear, however, is that far from demonstrating Cardinal Ratzinger was derelict in his duty, the record – spelled out even between the lines of the Times’ own reporting – points to a dedicated Church leader who was trying to rid the Church from a cancer and who, once he grew aware of the severity of the problem became a champion of a cause that is still being waged.
In light of the article’s biases, the Friday editorial should come as no surprise. The editorial board rails that the Vatican is “reportedly” planning guidelines for bishops around the world and then falls back into its customary habit of blaming Pope Benedict for not going far enough. As usual, the Times is so eager to damage the pope that it cannot even wait to read what the Vatican instruction actually says. It also ignores the fact that it was Cardinal Ratzinger who helped push for swift Vatican approval of the strict new laws needed by the U.S. Bishops in 2002. It is that same Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – who has moved to universalize the guidelines needed for dealing with the problem of sex abuse in a way that respects the laws of countries and Catholic communities spread literally across the globe. These guidelines will assist bishops everywhere in crafting the same programs of safety, protection, and reform that have proven so effective in the United States.
But the deeper issue is the Times’ hypocrisy in moralizing that the Church needs mandates. As Bill Donohue and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights note, “When New York State was considering two bills dealing with the sexual abuse of minors, the New York Times endorsed the one that did not apply to the public schools. And today it has the nerve to lecture the pope for not having a universal policy on this issue.”
For excellent critique of the Times article, read Michael Sean Winters’ piece at National Catholic Reporter.