It’s not often you read someone in the National Catholic Reporter defending the pope. After all, with the exception of its excellent Vatican correspondent John Allen, Jr., the NCR is to Catholicism what The Nation is to the Republican Party: the official organ of opposition. For decades, it’s been the primary forum for angry ex-priests, angry ex-nuns and even, in the case of uber-liberal Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee, angry ex-archbishops. It regularly features columns by the usual collection of geriatric Sixties liberals, such as Richard McBrien of Notre Dame, ex-priest Eugene Kennedy, Joan Chittister, Charles Curran, and so on. For a “NCR Catholic,” the papacy is not a “charism of unity” that has held an international community of believers together for well nigh 2,000 years but merely an archaic medieval institution that should have long ago been jetisonned by a “progressive” church (small C).
Thus, it was something of a surprise to read new NCR blogger Michael Sean Winters actually step up and defend Pope Benedict XVI (the arch-villain for the NCR for literally decades!) against the assorted imbecilities and logical incoherence of the New York Times. “This morning’s New York Times “expose” regarding then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s role in the Vatican’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis exposes more than it intended,” Winters writes. “It exposes the fact that the authors, Laurie Goodstein and David Halbfinger, and their editors, do not understand what they are talking about and, at times, put forward such an unrelentingly tendentious report, it is difficult to attribute it to anything less than animus.”
Amen. Here’s some of the good bits:
The Times article comments, this is not reporting really, that, “Yet throughout the ’80s and ’90s, bishops who sought to penalize and dismiss abusive priests were daunted by a bewildering bureaucratic and canonical legal process, with contradicting laws and overlapping jurisdictions in Rome, according to church documents and interviews with bishops and canon lawyers.” Have Ms. Goodstein and Mr. Halbfinger ever seen a rerun of “Law & Order”? Legal processes are complicated and sometimes bewildering. The authors note that some cardinals were worried about maintaining the presumption of innocence in ecclesiastical tribunals. The horror. Shame on them. Worrying about a silly thing like the presumption of innocence in a court of law. Hell, it is only one of the cardinal (no pun intended) principles of a civilized society.
But, the sentence that most betrays the bias of the Times has nothing to do with the sex abuse of minors. In making the case that Cardinal Ratzinger found time to pursue other matters of lesser importance, they write: “As Father Gauthé was being prosecuted in Louisiana, Cardinal Ratzinger was publicly disciplining priests in Brazil and Peru for preaching that the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed, which the cardinal saw as a Marxist-inspired distortion of church doctrine.” This reads as “Bad Cardinal Ratzinger, persecuting those justice-loving liberation theologians.” The operative word in that sentence is “for.” Cardinal Ratzinger did not, in fact, punish liberation theologians “for preaching that the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed.” He took steps against Liberation Theology because it was built on a faulty anthropology, entailed a materialist analysis of the human person, and reduced the idea of the “Kingdom of God” to a more just earthly regime.
How such a clear and intelligent analysis got past editor Joe Feuerherd is difficult to say. But it’s a hopeful sign.