In yesterday’s New York Times, journalist Laurie
Goodstein has defended
her widely-quoted attack on Vatican obstructionism on
sex abuse cases. It is based on an
extensive paper trail of documents
which resulted in a Milwaukee paedophile
priest, Lawrence C. Murphy, dying as a priest instead of defrocked and in

In a
controversial article on March 24
, “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest
Who Abused Boys”,  Goodstein sketched
the history of Murphy, who is
believed to have abused 200 boys at an institution for the deaf between 1950
and 1974 when he was forced out of active ministry. However, the deaf community
put more and more pressure upon local Catholic authorities to laicise him.
Finally, in 1996, the Vatican office headed by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
was informed about Murphy’s crimes. The wheels began to turn but Murphy died
before a trial took place. Goodstein’s article contends that Ratzinger’s office
was too lenient on Murphy and was more concerned with avoiding scandal.

This interpretation was quickly disputed by
the Catholic priest handling the case for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Thomas
Brundage. He complained in an Alaskan diocesan newspaper
about “the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New
York Times and other media outlets”. He protested that “with regard to the role
of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I
have no reason to believe that he was involved at all [in the Murphy case].
Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.”

I confess that I am a bit confused by Fr
Brundage’s references to being quoted when I cannot find the newspaper articles
on the internet. What is instructive is how Goodstein responded. She wrote:

He [Brundage] also
said that he had been misquoted in both The New York Times and The Associated
Press. In an interview on Wednesday, Father Brundage acknowledged that he had
never been quoted in any Times articles about the Murphy case — and the paper
did not misquote him. He said he was misquoted in an Associated Press article
that was posted temporarily on the Times Web site, and he mistakenly attributed
that to The Times.

Gotcha! Baffled readers are left with the
impression that Fr Brundage is a blustering idiot and that Goodstein’s hostile
interpretation is on the button. She sidesteps Brundage’s vigorous defence of
the present Pope.

But if Goodstein is in the business of
rapping her critics’ knuckles, why didn’t she face up to the vigorous questions
posed by priest-journalist Raymond de Souza in Canada’s National
? He pointed out that Goodstein was blaming the Vatican but failed to inquire
why Archbishop Rembert Weakland did nothing for almost 20 years. Surely she has read it. 

Furthermore, I have some questions of my own. Goodstein failed to investigate
why Murphy had never been charged by police – who knew about the allegations. If
there was negligence, weren’t they also guilty?

Furthermore, she failed to point out that
Weakland himself had allegedly destroyed
records of abusive priests
. Furthermore, she failed to underscore that
Weakland – an admitted homosexual who had used US$450,000 of archdiocesan funds
to pay off a disgruntled lover– must be regarded as an unreliable witness
because of his grudge against Ratzinger and Catholic teachings on sexuality.

What we have here is a New York Times journalist
highlighting a minor error by a critic and ignoring major errors by herself. It
is the triumph of process over substance. It is covering one’s backside. Sound
familiar? It’s exactly what the Times accuses Ratzinger of.   

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.