Why is The New York Times so fixated on the Catholic Church? A recent wave of articles have been widely criticized for their sourcing, their conclusions, their over-reliance on plaintiffs’ attorneys, and their sweeping, ideologically tainted opinions about Catholic leadership, beliefs and practices. The newspaper that considers itself the newspaper-of-record has tried mightily to implicate Pope Benedict XVI in the sexual abuse scandals, despite significant evidence that he has been a champion of reform. Most recently, it concluded a yearlong “investigation” of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan with little to show for it but some disgruntled critics and a lot of evidence that the archbishop has been trying very hard for a long time to do the right thing for the victims and all the Catholics he is responsible for. 

The Times is coming across as a little bit obsessed. It recently began an editorial with the sentence: “The Catholic Church is working against the interests of child abuse victims in state legislatures around the country.” What is the basis for such a defamatory accusation? The Church opposes bills in several state legislatures, including New York, that would suspend the statute of limitations so that victims of crimes that may have been committed 20, 40, even 50 years ago could file lawsuits. In some states, such as California, such legislation was clearly aimed at the Catholic Church, and it resulted in more than a billion dollars with of claims.  

In New York, responding to criticism that such legislation unfairly targets Catholic and private institutions, the proposed law has been broadened to include the public schools as well. This in turn has alarmed public school administrators and local governments, who would face the same daunting challenge the Church would face: spending untold amounts of money fighting a host of lawsuits when the protagonists may be dead, the witnesses unreliable and a fair defense nearly impossible. 

There is a reason that virtually every legal system has a statute of limitations. Having lawsuits filed in a timely manner assures justice for both the plaintiff and the accused. If the statute is suspended, and the resulting lawsuits are directed solely against the “deep pockets” of an institution — be it the Catholic Church or the public school system — without regard for whether an adequate defense can be mounted, and without regard for the tremendous cost of mounting defenses against a wave of lawsuits, the cost to both the institution and to society will be huge. 

In California, the lifting of the statute of limitations may have been a godsend for lawyers, but it severely impacted the Church’s ability to perform socially valuable services. In New York, where the state economy is in tatters, the state government is beset by fiscal crises and political corruption, private social agencies such as those sponsored by the Catholic Church have played irreplaceable roles in easing the pain of those who are impacted by the recession. 

If the Church had been doing nothing to address the sexual abuse scandal, one might understand the urge to exact fiscal revenge. The truth is that the Church has not only paid out billions of dollars in restitution, treatment and lawyers’ fees, but has embarked on an unprecedented effort to screen personnel, instruct children, inform parents and better prepare its priests. 

The Times ignores what the Church has done to protect children and ignores what the rest of society has been incapable of doing to protect children. Care for the victims — all victims — must remain a priority, but the Times’ obsession with the Church seems to have less to do with the victims and more to do with its own journalistic need to collect a scalp, and maybe a Pulitzer, no matter the larger social cost.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.