Further to my original petition to the New York Times to get them to retract their slanderous article against Pope Benedict XVI, Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of the Times, has written a defense of Goodstein’s original article, called “Questioning the Pope“. Below is my rebuttal to his more central points.
April 27, 2010
Mr. Clark Hoyt
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
Here is an excerpt that you should pay attention to:
“But in the English version used by the NYT, instead, not only are some passages omitted, but frequently the contrary is said,” Rodari writes. “It is true, Bertone requests to take into consideration Murphy’s frail physical condition, who indeed soon after dies. But he never says that because of such conditions the process should be stopped. He says, and this is omitted in the automated English version, that in order to help Fr. Murphy’s repentance, ‘a period of retreat may be granted,’ otherwise, the measure will be ‘more rigorous,’” the Italian paper states.
Socon or Bust
Many readers, including church officials, took the article as a direct attack on Pope Benedict. But much of their criticism does not hold up:
¶De Souza, writing this time on National Review Online, said The Times accused Ratzinger of “intervening” to prevent Murphy from facing penalties. The paper did not. The Times article did not establish what role, if any, Ratzinger played, saying only that communications about the case were addressed to him and that his deputy intervened. That’s a long way from saying Ratzinger did.
Really? Then why did this story explode with an enormous amount of vitriol directed at Benedict? Just a big misunderstanding at what Goodstein really meant to say, was it Mr. Hoyt? Did the whole world interpret Ms.Goodstein incorrectly? Is it really such a “long way” for you to travel, Mr. Hoyt, when the public’s reaction matches the picture Ms. Goodstein painted? Or did she just plant convenient insinuations without such frivolities like context or full disclosure?
Let’s review some of the facts omitted by Ms. Goodstein’s reporting:
First, Benedict was not responsible for removing abusive priests from active ministry. That was the job of the local homosexual bishop – a convenient and apparently insignificant fact that Ms. Goodstein forgot to mention.
Second, the Catholic Church does not “defrock” its priests. It laicizes them. By the way, Mr. Hoyt, what is the point in having a “religion” reporter if she can’t even get the basic jargin right, let alone even understand the basics of canon law? Does the New York Times think these kind of errors embolden its credibility?
And third, and most importantly, laicization has nothing to do with a priest remaining in active ministry which is the salient point in the abuse of children. This last point makes the whole article largely irrelevant since its aim was to attach blame on the Vatican and Benedict for permitting a homosexual predator to abuse children. Yet, The Times knows or should have known the critical difference, but it permitted a hick reporter to publish her story anyway, knowing that the great majority of The Times’ readers are largely ignorant of this distinction. And the article continues to take advantage of this general ignorance throughout the piece, setting up a red herring and painting Benedict as someone who “failed” to take action against child abusers. The only thing the Vatican “failed” to do is strip Murphy of his right to perform public functions in the time that the New York Times found reasonable.
Mr. Hoyt, pay attention: simply because Ms. Goodstein put down some “facts” hardly exonerates her or the New York Times for putting these “facts” in a context which does not fit the reality. Any reporter can put down “facts” which gives the impression of a completely opposite reality. But then again, we normally don’t attribute too much respect to these kinds of reporters or their reporting. Is that what the New York Times considers legitimate journalism these days? Based on your refusal to accept accountability for such an article, it certainly suggests that it does.
¶The presiding judge in Murphy’s canonical trial, Father Thomas Brundage, said in an essay online that he had never received any communication halting the trial, and many critics of the Times’s coverage pointed to this as evidence that there was no pressure from the Vatican to drop the case. But The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel later confronted Brundage with a memo showing that he actually drafted the archbishop’s letter officially abating the trial. Brundage posted a statement: “In all honesty, I do not remember this memo, but I do admit to being wrong on this issue.
First of all, Fr. Brundage’s admission that he actually drafted the archbishop’s letter officially abating the trial proves very little in exonerating the Times’s coverage of the story. Fr. Burndage’s letter (from Weakland) to the Vatican does not prove that there was any pressure from the Vatican at all. It only proves that Weakland decided to abate the case and inform Rome. This is hardly a “smoking gun”.
Secondly, the actual process was never halted by the Vatican at all. That point has never been acknowledged by the New York Times. None of the documents give any indication whatsoever that Cardinal Bertone “halted the process” against Fr. Murphy. In April 1998, there was a recommendation by then-Archbishop Bertone, then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, to implement pastoral measures to ensure Father Murphy had no ministry, but without the full burden of a penal process because of a number of extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was the frail health of Fr. Murphy and the lengthy and cumbersome procedures involved in a full blown canonical trial. However, this was only a suggestion on the part of Archbishop Bertone since the local bishop retained full control on the ultimate decision. In fact, the next month, the Bishop of Superior, Most Rev. Raphael M. Fliss, rejected Bertone’s suggestion for pastoral measures and began formal canonical proceedings against Murphy. The case was then abated by Archbishop Weakland 2 days before Murphy’s death on August 21, 1998 and only when it became evident that Murphy was on his death bed. Here is the time line of events:
6 April 1998
Archbishop Bertone, noting the frail health of Father Murphy and that there have been no new charges in almost 25 years, recommends using pastoral measures to ensure Father Murphy has no ministry, but without the full burden of a penal process. It is only a suggestion, as the local bishop retains control.
13 May 1998
The Bishop of Superior, where the process has been transferred to and where Father Murphy has lived since 1974, rejects the suggestion for pastoral measures. Formal pre-trial proceedings begin on 15 May 1998, continuing the process already begun with the notification that had been issued in September 1996.
30 May 1998
Archbishop Weakland, who is in Rome, meets with officials at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, including Archbishop Bertone but not including Cardinal Ratzinger, to discuss the case. The penal process is ongoing. No decision taken to stop it, but given the difficulties of a trial after 25 years, other options are explored that would more quickly remove Father Murphy from ministry.
19 August 1998
Archbishop Weakland writes that he has halted the canonical trial and penal process against Father Murphy and has immediately begun the process to remove him from ministry — a quicker option.
21 August 1998
Father Murphy dies. His family defies the orders of Archbishop Weakland for a discreet funeral. (Source)
Third, the Italian Newspaper Il Foglio notes that the NYT story provides links to both the English and Italian version of the 1998 meeting, “but it omits to say one thing: the English version is a grossly distorted translation of the Italian, made with ‘Yahoo translator,’ a translation that the Vicar of the diocese, Thomas Brundage, sent to his authority, Bishop Fliss, to help him understand the Italian,” the Italian political paper explains….“And it is here, in the Italian version, that many important things are said.” “It is explained that either Fr. Murphy gives ‘clear signs of repentance’ or the canonical process will go to the end, including his dismissal from the clerical state.” “But in the English version used by the NYT, instead, not only are some passages omitted, but frequently the contrary is said,” Rodari writes. “It is true, Bertone requests to take into consideration Murphy’s frail physical condition, who indeed soon after dies. But he never says that because of such conditions the process should be stopped. He says, and this is omitted in the automated English version, that in order to help Fr. Murphy’s repentance, ‘a period of retreat may be granted,’ otherwise, the measure will be ‘more rigorous,’” the Italian paper states. (Source)
THEREFORE: The New York Times has yet to concede that Goodstein’s assertion that “Cardinal Bertone halted the process” is demonstrably false in fact and caluminous in context, since, first of all, the question did not involve Murphy’s active ministry (the relevant question at hand in sex abuse cases) and secondly, the reason why other pastoral measures were proposed by Bertone was because of the priest’s ill health and not for any other implied reason, and thirdly Goodstein did not obtain a proper Italian translation of Bertone’s response which would have yielded the exact opposite of what she alleges.
But it would be irresponsible to ignore the continuing revelations. A day after the first article about Murphy, The Times published another front-page article that said Benedict, while archbishop in Munich, led a meeting approving the transfer of a pedophile priest and was kept informed about the case. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish. The paper’s critics have been mostly silent about this report.
That’s because that particular report has also been largely discredited as well. But when you are addressing an anti-Catholic publication like the New York Times, you have to pick and choose your battles because there are so many of them to wage. Besides, I’m sure that you are aware of the old adage: There are more statements that a burro can make than a wise man can answer.
Like it or not, there are circumstances that have justifiably driven this story for years, including a well-documented pattern of denial and cover-up in an institution with billions of followers. Painful though it may be, the paper has an obligation to follow the story where it leads, even to the pope’s door.
Your paper has an obligation to tell the whole truth. Your paper has an obligation to put the facts in context. It has an obligation to assign a competent religion reporter who has a rudimentary knowledge of canon law. It has an obligation not to rely on a faulty and pedestrian Yahoo translation to insinuate the Pope’s “failure” in “defrocking” a homosexual predator priest.
Your paper has an obligation not to be so obvious in being such an anti-Catholic bigot’s paradise.