New York Times unhinged

Saturday Night Live used to feature a skit in which comedian Jon Lovitz played “The Pathological Liar” who enjoyed weaving fantastical tales which he enjoyed delivering as truth. That comes to mind, thinking through the audacity of the latest New York Times’ wildly spun tales about the pope. Only this is no joke…

Untethered to anything grounded in truth, the once great broadsheet that claims it carries “all the news that’s fit to print” has plunged into a parallel universe where facts are whatever they say they are, all distortion that’s print to fit…an agenda. And they’re on a rampage against Pope Benedict and the Vatican.

Because the “paper of record” is now a broken one, and because so many other media outlets still lack the manpower or veracity to fact-check the Times before re-running their stuff, we have to take the Times’ war on the pope seriously. Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture does, and provides perspective.

Abandoning any sense of editorial balance, journalistic integrity, or even elementary logic, the Times looses a 4,000-word barrage against the Pope: an indictment that is not supported even by the content of this appalling story. Apparently the editors are relying on sheer volume of words, and repetition of ugly details, to substitute for logical argumentation.

He calls it “comically absurd”, “a mess of contradictions”, and illustrates examples of both points. And the ultimate irony…

The Times story, despite its flagrant bias and distortion, actually contains the evidence to dismiss the complaint. Unfortunately, the damage has already done before the truth comes out: that even a decade ago the future Pope Benedict was the solution, not part of the problem.

To understand how, read Lawler’s piece and other stories on that site. And by all means, check in with Just B16 regularly. Not just for balance, but for the center of gravity.

Look who’s defending the Church

Over here, we have two big media columnists working out their thoughts and concerns about the ongoing crisis, and their ideas about how it will ultimately impact the Church….and there’s some irony in the scenario.

And all over the site we have some very interesting people around the world weighing in and supporting Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church……some very big non-Catholics.

There’s a little cross-section of a lot of stuff available in one place. It’s one to bookmark. And pass along to everyone still stuck with slogans on their mental bumpers. Reminds me of the old ‘Dragnet’….Jack Webb….’Just the facts, Ma’am’. ‘Just B16’ deals in just that.

Church, news and….reliable sources

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley says that during the U.S. bishops intense efforts to tackle the whole abuse crisis, prevent anything like that from happening again, and above all safeguard children…..their strongest ally in Rome was Cardinal Ratzinger.

Media were vital in drawing the crisis to the surface in the first place in 2001, and deserved the Pulitzer for that. Who’s watching the watchdogs now, and how are they behaving?

Stay with ‘Just B16’ for comprehensive coverage and analysis.

To set the record straight in Milwaukee

This is a stop-the-presses story. The unrelenting attacks on Pope Benedict XVI have a lot to do with a lot of cases and allegations but one of the central flashpoints is the now notorious Milwaukee scandal. Because the New York Times has been driving this story without availing themselves of the facts behind it, the priest who was the presiding judge over the canonical criminal case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy has spoken out to correct the record.

Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL, gives a compelling account.

I will limit my comments, because of judicial oaths I have taken as a canon lawyer and as an ecclesiastical judge. However, since my name and comments in the matter of the Father Murphy case have been liberally and often inaccurately quoted in the New York Times and in more than 100 other newspapers and on-line periodicals, I feel a freedom to tell part of the story of Father Murphy’s trial from ground zero.

As I have found that the reporting on this issue has been inaccurate and poor in terms of the facts, I am also writing from a sense of duty to the truth.

The fact that I presided over this trial and have never once been contacted by any news organization for comment speaks for itself.

Volumes.

My intent in writing this column is to accomplish the following:

To tell the back-story of what actually happened in the Father Murphy case on the local level;

To outline the sloppy and inaccurate reporting on the Father Murphy case by the New York Times and other media outlets;

To assert that Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope or bishop in history to rid the Catholic Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and provide for those who have been injured;

To set the record straight with regards to the efforts made by the church to heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual misconduct. The Catholic Church is probably the safest place for children at this point in history.

That is an enormous statement, and it has solid documentation to back it up. Which is why it should be in headlines all over the world.

The depth of understanding Fr. Brundage reveals here is as compelling as the way he tells it.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out the scourge that child sexual abuse has been — not only for the church but for society as well. Few actions can distort a child’s life more than sexual abuse. It is a form of emotional and spiritual homicide and it starts a trajectory toward a skewed sense of sexuality. When committed by a person in authority, it creates a distrust of almost anyone, anywhere.

His profile of abusers cuts to the core, no psycho-babble and no spin. The criminal mind and intent and behavior of abusers is the same, no matter who the perpetrator, common man or priest.

As for the numerous reports about the case of Father Murphy, the back-story has not been reported as of yet.

And that’s another stunning statement, given all that has been reported. Alleged. Charged. And perpetuated globally by constantly looping news cycles. In the case at ‘ground zero’ in Milwaukee, “the back-story has not been reported as of yet.”

Well it is now.

Between 1996 and August, 1998, I interviewed, with the help of a qualified interpreter, about a dozen victims of Father Murphy. These were gut-wrenching interviews. In one instance the victim had become a perpetrator himself and had served time in prison for his crimes. I realized that this disease is virulent and was easily transmitted to others. I heard stories of distorted lives, sexualities diminished or expunged. These were the darkest days of my own priesthood, having been ordained less than 10 years at the time. Grace-filled spiritual direction has been a Godsend.

Murphy’s response and Fr. Brundage’s handling of this case are well covered in this account. By him, and at this point, him alone, until others take note.

With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee..

The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.

Big media are weaving their own tales out of only partial information and largely conjecture, rumor and the desire to make an account fit an agenda. They have it that Murphy was given a pass, but Fr. Brundage sets the record straight.

…the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.

Second, 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. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information.

Third, the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Fourth, Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children.

And all  American dioceses are required to have some form of a ‘safe environment program’ in place, and they are extensive. They have become the model for the world, at this point.

Finally…

On behalf of the church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

Read the entire account, and encourage others to learn the truth and be part of upholding it. And note to media: Fr. Brundage’s contact information is at the bottom of that article. No more excuses.

In the wake of the Times

The New York Times hasn’t been credible on so many big stories for such a long time now, they’ve generated a sort of cottage industry of journalism to correct the record in the wake of their irresponsible and tendentious reporting. Good news is…there are many solid journalists and scholars out there clarifying how many ways the Times gets a story wrong, as they are right now in their attacks on Pope Benedict.

Like Fr. Raymond de Souza.

The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Yep. That’s not only clear, it’s provable. Which Times’ reporting is not. Fr. de Souza lists plenty of evidence, but prefaces it with noteworthy circumstances that should have discredited the story in the first place and kept it off the pages of the paper had any good editor done their due diligence. Or even a passing check on the framework within which this picture was painted by author Laurie Goodstein.

The New York Times story had two sources. First, lawyers who currently have a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. One of the lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, also has cases in the United States Supreme Court pending against the Holy See. He has a direct financial interest in the matter being reported.

The second source was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee. He is the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him…He is prima facie not a reliable source.

Already, enough to render the story barely even tabloid-worthy. But that’s very telling of the Times…

A demonstration took place in Rome on Friday, coinciding with the publication of the New York Times story. One might ask how American activists would happen to be in Rome distributing the very documents referred to that day in the New York Times. The appearance here is one of a coordinated campaign, rather than disinterested reporting.

It’s possible that bad sources could still provide the truth. But compromised sources scream out for greater scrutiny. Instead of greater scrutiny of the original story, however, news editors the world over simply parroted the New York Times piece. Which leads us the more fundamental problem: The story is not true, according to its own documentation.

This is what always gets me, the major media all reporting from the reporting of others, which all goes back to the first ones who pick up a story from…The New York Times. Nothing is sourced, nothing fact-checked, nothing questioned for authenticity. Research really isn’t that hard. It just sometimes produces facts that don’t match the narrative.

Do read on, there’s so much here. And in this clarification, de Souza documents the history of the relevant timeline in this scandal from materials available right there on the New York Times website. Proving that somebody covered themselves.

The Times “flatly got the story wrong,” he says. “Readers may want to speculate on why.”

Here are some ideas.

Church attacks and the facts

The media mantra over the weekend, and they increasingly hyperventilated as the tone ramped up, was ‘What did the Pope know and when did he know it?’ Headlines by Sunday on the 24/7 news cycles were something having to do with ‘Calls for the Pope to resign!’

Yes, Benedict is beleaguered, as is the Church, but one casualty out of the public eye is truth. Or as National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen said, “the first casualty of any crisis is perspective,” and facts are surely falling and buried in all the orchestrated fury over the abuse crisis that’s erupted worldwide. He correctly notes in this good piece that “raising these questions is entirely legitimate,” but let’s get some things straight in this debate.

There are at least three aspects of Benedict’s record on the sexual abuse crisis which are being misconstrued, or at least sloppily characterized, in today’s discussion. Bringing clarity to these points is not a matter of excusing the pope, but rather of trying to understand accurately how we got where we are.

I’m very keen on clarity, so let’s go for it…

First, some media reports have suggested that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger presided over the Vatican office with responsibility for the sex abuse crisis for almost a quarter-century, from 1981 until his election to the papacy in April 2005, and therefore that he’s responsible for whatever the Vatican did or didn’t do during that entire stretch of time. That’s not correct. 

In truth, Ratzinger did not have any direct responsibility for managing the overall Vatican response to the crisis until 2001, four years before he became pope.

Bishops were not required to send cases of priests accused of sexual abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until 2001, when they were directed to do so by Pope John Paul II’s motu proprio titled Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela. Prior to that, most cases involving sex abuse never got to Rome.

So Ratzinger was “not the point man.” Now about that infamous letter…

In some reporting and commentary, a May 2001 letter from Ratzinger to the bishops of the world, titled De delictis gravioribus, is being touted as a “smoking gun” proving that Ratzinger attempted to thwart reporting priestly sex abuse to the police or other civil authorities by ordering the bishops to keep it secret.

That letter…was not intended to prevent anyone from also reporting these cases to the police or other civil authorities…

In reality, few bishops needed a legal edict from Rome ordering them not to talk publicly about sexual abuse. That was simply the culture of the church at the time, which makes the hunt for a “smoking gun” something of a red herring right out of the gate.

Now here’s the point about that 2001 letter, Allen says:

Far from being seen as part of the problem, at the time it was widely hailed as a watershed moment towards a solution. It marked recognition in Rome, really for the first time, of how serious the problem of sex abuse really is, and it committed the Vatican to getting directly involved…

For those who have followed the church’s response to the crisis, Ratzinger’s 2001 letter is therefore seen as a long overdue assumption of responsibility by the Vatican, and the beginning of a far more aggressive response.

And that hasn’t been a very big group, since most of the world’s media and certainly all of the Church’s opponents pick their moments to jump on an allegation and then start cranking out what passes as journalism, when it’s merely reporting on the reporting, which is usually not original and not sourced or researched.

The new norms the American bishops developed to ensure swifter handling of alleged cases of abuse set the pace for the Church, and Rome responded far better to their system and precedent than the New York Times and other media either acknowledge, or even know. Allen points out that anyone paying attention would know this background. Enough said there…

It’s ironic, Allen says, that the Times and others have been accusing Ratzinger/Benedict of “inaction”, when the opposite is the reality.

In truth, handling 60 percent of the cases through the stroke of a bishop’s pen has, up to now, more often been cited as evidence of exaggerated and draconian action by Ratzinger and his deputies.

Obviously, none of this is to suggest that Benedict’s handling of the crisis — in Munich, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or as pope — is somehow exemplary. An accounting needs to be offered if this pope, and the church he leads, hopes to move forward. For that analysis to be constructive, however, as opposed to fueling polarization and confusion, it’s important to keep the record straight.

L’Osservatore Romano published an editorial trying to do that, stating pointedly that there’s been “no cover-up” in Rome.

Transparency, firmness and severity in shedding light on several cases of sexual abuse by priests and religious: these are the criteria that Benedict XVI is indicating, with constancy and serenity, to the entire Church. A work method – consistent with his personal history and more than twenty years of experience as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – that is feared by those who apparently do not want the truth to be asserted but who would prefer to exploit, without any foundation in fact, horrible episodes and painful events in some cases dating back to decades ago…

The purposes have been indisputably confirmed by the Pope, as evidenced by his recent pastoral letter to Catholics in Ireland. But the prevailing trend in the media is to ignore the facts, preferring  instead to force interpretations in order to disseminate an image of the Catholic Church as almost solely responsible for sexual abuse, a view that does not correspond to reality, and which is furthermore in function of the rather obvious and ignoble intention of attacking Benedict XVI and his closest collaborators at all costs.

And the Vatican was attacked for this editorial, too.

What remains intriguing to me is how hard the media pounded the image of Cardinal Ratzinger as the “doctrinal hardliner” when he was head of the CDF, and when he was elected pope their initial reaction – headlines and story ledes carried this everywhere for some time – was that “God’s Rottweiler” would now take over the Church. They spread the dreaded notion that the Enforcer would be cracking heads in his intolerant manner (a caricature created by them, notwithstanding). So there’s been a real flip here.

Look whose become the Grand Inquisitor now.