After receiving hundreds of complaints about the paper’s treatment of Pope Benedict in stories about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, the New York Times’ Public Editor replied in an article published last weekend.
No regular reader of this blog will be surprised to learn that Clark Hoyt finds The Times not guilty.
He confines himself to answering criticisms of a March 24 article by Laurie Goodstein on Milwaukee priest Lawrence C Murphy. This, you might remember, involved a tantalising paper trail that led to the door of Cardinal Ratzinger and, says Hoyt, “struck a particularly sensitive nerve” with Catholics.
One by one he dismisses critiques by Fr Raymond de Souza, Cardinal William Levada and Fr Thomas Brundage (the last actually admitted he made a mistake in his statement). But Hoyt weighs in particular the criticism from Wall Street Journal heavyweight William McGurn (among others) that Goodstein relied for the documents on the lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, who has made millions of dollars out of suits against the Church, but she did not mention this.
Actually, she relied on another self-interested and discredited source as well — former Archbishop Rembert Weakland — but Hoyt doesn’t address that issue at all. He writes:
Goodstein told me her article was not done at the instigation of the lawyers but came about from her own reporting inquiries. Regardless, the issue of whether Anderson has sued the church four times or 1,500 seems to me to be a red herring. The more important question is whether the documents were genuine and what they said about the case. I have read them and believe that Goodstein’s article is an accurate and reasonable account. Readers can interpret whether they showed a two-year lack of urgency about a horrendous case or, as Levada argued, a realistic judgment that it was “useless” to try a dying priest.
Perhaps McGurn’s blast rankled, however, because The Times has since published a profile of lawyer Anderson which contains some mild and largely indirect criticism of him. On the whole, however, he comes out as a crusader for children’s rights who “cries a lot when he describes victims” and doesn’t do it for the money. The article also drops the information that “The New York Times was working on a different article last month when a reporter contacted Mr Anderson.” In other words, the paper did not start its campaign against the Pope on Anderson’s initiative.
But, back to Hoyt. He finally brushes aside the allegation that The Times is anti-Catholic and says “it would be irresponsible to ignore the continuing revelations”.
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.
And that, clearly, is where it expects to arrive before long.