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Michael Sean WintersMarch 29, 2010

I know that some people think Hell must have just frozen over because I am about to pay a compliment to George Weigel. But, his post at First Things says some things that need to be said. At the most basic level, before we move on to discuss how the Vatican must change its ways, or what the current crisis means for ecclesiology, it is worth asking if the New York Times did a fair and accurate job reporting the story in the first place. I started asking that question in these pages the day after the Times story broke and Mr. Weigel has done an admirable job taking that criticism to the next level.

Michael Sean Winters

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13 years 8 months ago
While I am quite hesitant to play the anti-Catholic card, the post-modernist in me feels that all texts must be interpreted.  If this true (from sacred scripture on down), why would the NYT be exempt from this?  Should not the background of the writers and their positions on a whole host of issues be rememberd when interpreting what has been reported on and written.  Let us all be good post-modernists and take no text (even the Bible) at face value.
13 years 8 months ago
It was wise to remain anonymous [as author] when you agree with the  'everybody' does it defence. At least Weigel had the decency not to name 'Rabbis' as the first group of abusers as Bill Donahue did on CNN.
13 years 8 months ago
After observing (silently) the vicious internecine ideological attacks in comments to the blog posts on this topic since last Friday, all I'll say is that I'm finally happy to be in a group that includes Michael Sean Winters, George Weigel and John Allen of National Catholic Reporter.  Ross Douthat at the Times has a really wonderful essay this morning on how this crisis is a result of and a challenge to BOTH the liberal & conservative wings of Catholicism.  As he points out, both the most liberal (Mahoney/Weakland) and conservative (Law) bishops were (at best) negligent in their response.
To those on here objecting to questions about the Grey Lady's reporting accuracy, don't forget that the Times, at the end of the day, is a CORPORATION that has to sell papers.  Since some liberals like to castigate greedy insurance (or other) corporations, I think that fact bears remembering.
Thomas Piatak
13 years 8 months ago
Thanks for posting this comment on Weigel's excellent column.
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
You would think from reading these "circle the wagon" defenses that the NYT (and the rest of the secular media) was wildly off base in their reporting. They're not.
Here are two sentences from Weigel's piece that caught my attention: "In recent years, though, no other similarly situated institution has been so transparent about its failures, and none has done as much to clean house. It took too long to get there, to be sure; but we are there." Are we talking about the same institution and the same crimes?!
Jeff: I didn't realize anyone on the AMERICA blog space was making the liberal/conservative distinction on this topic. Could you please cite any contributors that have done this?
13 years 8 months ago
There are comments, too numerous to re-post, to the effect that if we just rid the church of its "medieval-hierarchical" structures and its trappings, this problem would resolve itself.  I take that to be a criticism of conservative Catholics.  Perhaps I'm off base?
Re: the Times; I don;t think any of the commentators questioning the Times would suggest that the Times is fabricating stories from whole cloth (as it has in the past on at least 2 occasions, i.e. Jason Blair).  But there are elements of over-statement or crucial distinctions that fail to be reported and/or understood in some of the coverage.  As for the Weigel quote: from your point of view you would swear that these crimes were still ongoing.  The Murphy case was 20 years old when it got to the CDF.  In fairness, you cannot suggest that the Church has not been forthcoming since the Dallas meeting about its wrongdoings.  It saddens me to see people so willing to go the mattresses for the NY Times in their (ideological) haste to pass approbation on the majority of bishops who today did not preside over the serial re-assignments (in the main).  I wholeheartedly endorse the last statement - all ideologies should be examined in this process.
Jim McCrea
13 years 8 months ago
It would be nice to believe that these crimes are not still going on.  To be so quick to do so, however, would be naive.
As St. R. Reagan was know to say:  Trust but Verify.
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
I don't know about how other people read and hear the news but the transcripts of the major networks and the newspapers never suggested that it was ongoing. What is ongoing is the pervasive nature of the crime as it draws in more and more dioceses around the world and travels higher up on the power structure.  It feels like Watergate, except the tragedy and stakes are much, much higher. Unlike Jeff, I wouldn't reduce it to political labelling.
What I read in some of these posts is a certain defensiveness that does not serve the Body of Christ well. It's natural to feel embarassment and want to explain and compare what has happened to other institutions.  But the stark fact is that there is no single institution quite like the Catholic Church in terms of size, power structure, and religious significance. 
The question for some time is how well the hierachy has addressed what has happened.  So far, it has been mostly inadequate. The bishops responsible have largely been allowed to continued in their positions. There have been some useful measures but they are tempered by legal stonewalling. There is an inherent problem with the structure of power in the Church that must change. 
James Lindsay
13 years 8 months ago
I complimented Weigel on my blog last week for his comments extoling the value of silence at Church. Get out the snow plows - or better yet tell him that Weigel and Bindner have complimented him on something. This being Holy Week, he will likely examine his conscience upon hearing of the fact.
13 years 8 months ago
"For the Church’s sexual abuse crisis has always been that: a crisis of fidelity". -Weigel
I think that Weigel has it exactly right. Faith filled priests do not abuse children. Many want more more complicated and sophisticated reasons; however, I believe it to be this simple.
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 8 months ago
So Weigal et al are upset w/ the media ie the NY Times.
Tell me Weigel, if the media hadn't exposed sexual abuse in the first place do you think the bishops would have? Would you have? I seriously doubt it.
Quite the opposite.
Why let that get in the way of a good self promotional story.
And while I'm at it, if just one more case is found that implicates Benedict then let me  borrow a line from Bill Donohue and apply it to pope Benedict:
Benedict ''is toast''.
13 years 8 months ago
Michael, I did not like the title of your post when I saw it, and I do not like the title of Weigel's post either. Yes, the NYT does not do a perfect job, but neither do any of us, and I really do not think that Catholics should call the behavior of anybody else shameful or treat them of being scoundrels in the matter of sexual abuse! This does not mean of course that mistakes in the reporting should not be pointed out, but I believe that the appropriate tone is the tone struck by John Allen in his recent discussion of the record of Benedict much better.
I also believe that Weigel misses the main point of why the ''revelations'' of the New York Times are still important and unsettling. The important issue is not so much what Cardinal Ratzinger's formal  responsibilities were in the Murphy case; the striking point is that reports of child abuse do not seem to have unsettled the hierarchy very much. You would think that at the first hint that there was a priest  serially abusing children, there would have been frantic phone calls going around between the Vatican and Milwaukee trying to understand how to stop this. The seeming indifference to the welfare of the children is really what I find upsetting.
The same point is true of the story of the Rev. Hullerman in Munich. The issue of how much Archibishop Ratzinger knew is somewhat irrelevant. The real issue, it seems to me, is to understand why was the culture of the local church hierarchy not more focussed on the welfare of the laity. And for this, the head of that hierarchy is responsible.
Alas, all of the stories which are coming out show that the Church seemed or was indifferent to the suffering it imposed on the most vunerable. And this indifference not due the fact that our leaders were evil persons. We should be focussing on trying to understand what went wrong. I do not see that attacking the New York Times serves any useful purpose.
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 8 months ago
One commentator states:''In all the outrage at Winter, Weigel, et. al... I have not seen anyone credibly rebutting their assertions? ...the American bishops have done further than any other institution in American life to cleaning house and putting in place reforms that will prevent not just abuse, but the mishandling of cases. If you disagree with that, please provide EVIDENCE for why.''
Lets just take one example. Dioceses have, since the news broke (by the media I might add), have done their best to impose limits on the statute of limitations, Colorado, Diocese of Boulder and Chaput as a despicable instance.
Another easy one, Lori in Connecticut and his fight to have sex abuse documents released to the public.
Can't refute that fact.
the Church is NOT just ''any other institution in American life''
It is my Church that claims to have moral superiorty when compared to other institutions,
It is my Church that claims to be founded by Christ when compared to other institutions.
It is my Church that is the great bastion of Truth when compared to other institutions.
It is my Church which claims to live according a different set of rules when compared to other institutions.
It is my Church that claims to live to a higher standard than the surrounding culture.
Thats the rub.
We are tired of the mess and the enablers. Time to CLEAN HOUSE AND IT WON'T BE PRETTY.
13 years 8 months ago
I was not able to finish my earlier comments due to a family problem.  I'd like to finish with several points.  The "wall of silence" existed throughout the institutions that make up society including academia, media, clergy, law ,therapy.   All are guilty and to blame for decades of denial of the effects of child abuse.  The wall has been broken in the Catholic Church.  The journalism of the Boston Globe was an impetus in the cracking.  It is hugely ironic that the one person in the Church who really "gets it" and since 2001 has been aggressively dealing with it, Pope Benedict, is the subject of a frenzied attqack by the NY Times, an institution that utterly failed to fulfill its journalistic mission. 
I tried to illustrate the immense difficulty of making judgments in this kind of milieu.  The ambiguity of law, the conflicting theories of treatment, the ubiquity of the crime and the lack of determination of citizenry to make needed changes. (one only need consider the fury in San Diego county over the murder/rapes of two teenaged girls by a paroled sex offender to get a picture of the overall failure of our civil society to deal with this horror).
As Catholics and citizens it is our duty to face and deal with child abuse in all its forms and in all its manifestations.  Studies show that sexual abuse is rife in our public schools.  Why are powerful institutions such as the NY Times and the Law not attacking this scourge?  When people use the tragedy in the church to further their own agendas, I question their motivations.  There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the air.
As one who worked in the field as a CPS social worker, I know the pain of those who realize they are dealing inadequately and sometimes with faulty judgment  when they work with traumatized children.  Our systems are inadequate and dysfunctional.  They show how much our citizenry is willing to invest in its children!  I and others of a religious bent survived  Many, do not.  Where is all the compassion??
I have read and re-read the pope's pastoral letter to the Irish and I wish I could thank him for it.  My prayers are with him and the many fine, decent, holy priests of our church.
13 years 8 months ago
No one is suggesting that the Times (of the Globe) shouldn't have broken the stories.  No one has suggested that we'd all be better served by ignoring or explaining away the tragedy of sexual abuse & the serial mishandling of it by bishops.  But why is it wrong to ask that the story be told accurately and fairly?  Isn't that a matter of justice, too?
In all the outrage at Winter, Weigel, et. al. for their posts, I have not seen anyone credibly rebutting their assertions?  Start with the assertion by Weigel that since this story broke in 2002, the American bishops have done further than any other institution in American life to cleaning house and putting in place reforms that will prevent not just abuse, but the mishandling of cases.  If you disagree with that, please provide EVIDENCE for why.  Reading some of the posts on here, you would swear some Catholics view their own Church as nothing more than a grand RICO conspiracy.
13 years 8 months ago
So by your t(Y)elling, Winters, Weigel, anyone who questions the NY TImes's accuracy is compliciy in the "rape of tens of thousands of children"?
The fury of Le Revolucion!
13 years 8 months ago
Dale '' keep shouting'..most of our fellow Catholics are still deaf. when their heads are in the sand ,their  ears and eyes are covered. Time for gentle ass kicking.
Jeff;  You have not yet seen much fury yet, it ain't over.
13 years 8 months ago
Our "heads are in the sand"? Really?  Winters, America, John Allen of NCR...all with their heads in the sand, huh?  All those reactionary types.  Only you see clearly.  I think that's overstating things just a tad, huh?
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 8 months ago
Gee, Jeff asks for specifics, I list the evidence and he goes ballistic and attacks me, hmm, I must be onto something.
I guess it's back to all that secrecy stuff.
Not anymore!
At my cluster parish in the past decade we've had 4 priests laicized, another priest who died would have been laicized, another priest arrested for picking up prostitutes, another priest moved to our rectory while being laicized (his bedroom window overlooked our Catholic Elementary schoolyard 50 feet away), and another priest who commited suicide last year after being place on leave pending the outcome of an investigation and we also had to change the name of our Knights of Columbus group because it came to light the priest had been credibly accused. And a bishop who apparently knew about their histories but still sent them to a church w/ an elementary school! That's 9 priests and one complicit bishop,all this in one cluster of 4 churches, three churches 3 miles apart the fourth church 11 miles away.

I will continue hollering. It was investigative reporting that let us know what was going on. The chancery fought it tooth and nail. It's worse then most think.
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
I would add to Dale's list the fact that very few bishops responsible have resigned (and some have been promoted).
It may help me understand your argument better Jeff if you could provide me with the name of another institution similarly situated that has faced the same number of credible cases of abuse.  I know that Catholic priests, overall, constitute a small number of the total cases but the ones I read and hear about are scattered, i.e., families, a local Protestant church, a camp counselor. 
And, enough about the NYT-the reporting has been good for the most part and the documents provided online are a stunning indictment of the hierarchy. This is a world wide problem and there is a mountain of first person, legal, and journalistic evidence that point to a systematic problem.  Focusing on one newspaper (and really, for what purpose?) is unwise.
13 years 8 months ago
Matthew I'm glad to hear you say 'Bill Donahue is not helpfull', Of course I would get it out a bit more stronger.. The other day,  when asked on CNN what are some the other groups  that abuse children  ,Wild Bill's  named first ...RABBIS ... phew..
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
 Of course the Wisconsin story is relevant-as Matthew points out it deals with the person in charge of the Curia office that refused—despite multiple appeals from the bishop of the diocese—to defrock the priest: then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. That is not in contention and it makes this all the more serious (especially as it's clear it existed in other countries as well).
Matthew claims that the Church in NYState supports competing bills extending the statute of limitations. That may be true but it isn't in many states.  Hhere's what the Maryland Catholic Conference says: "The Church opposes the extension or removal of the civil statute of limitations for child abuse and/or the creation of a “window” during which stale claims can be filed."
13 years 8 months ago
All I am trying to say (without going ballistic or writing in all caps) is that there must be some moderation between the "NY TImes is Gospel Truth & those who question it are heretics" camp & the "nothing in the Times is true & its all a persecution" camp.  To me, it seems, the best way to really understand the problem begins with accurately understanding the FACTS.  I think Winters, et. al. are within their rights to ask whether the Times is doing that.  The vicious attacks on that (to me) very simple proposition is telling.  I think most people want the facts.  And demanding that does NOT equate with sticking one's "head in the sand" or just being "defensive" or "embarrassed" or will lead to the continuation of the rape of "tens of thousands" of children (which isn't happening NOW anyway, according to an AP story last weekend.  I know that this won't generate agreement, but its my own moderate view.
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
1. The notes from the May 1998 meeting indicate that the Vatican was "not encouraging" about dismissal (then Murphy died in August 1998).
2. I'm not certain about your second point-are you agreeing that Maryland Catholc Conference was wrong? 
I think you are missing the crucial point-here is this horrible thing and you immediately put your lawyerly skills to work.  Moreover, I don't think that you are disagreeing with the basic narrative of what happened so it's puzzling why you take this approach. Can you now explain away what has happened elsewhere?  Remember: we did not come to find out about this tragedy because the hierarchy "saw the light" and moved to confess and make things right.  In every case they got caught.
At the end you mention "justice" and "revenge."  How do you think justice can best be served?  Who should oversee that process?  I don't think that the people who have poisoned the well should not now appear as the water inspectors.
Matthew Tracy
13 years 8 months ago

While I am being overly lawyerly, my problem was not with the New York Times article. When I read it I was dismayed and wondered how the Vatican could so such a thing. Then I read the documents that the Times posted and the story did not match the documents in a lot of key respects. That upset me greatly as the story is then used not to criticize the Church, but to unfairly malign the Pope who did nothing wrong here. He may very well have done wrong with Father H in Munich, but the Wisconsin case was not an instance of a Vatican coverup.

As far as "making things right", does money accomplish that? Because that is what this is about now. I am horrified at the pedophilia and the actions of most (not all diocese) in response. But I have a hard time justifying eliminating the statute of limitations so 50 year old claims can go to court where most if not all of the witnesses are dead. That is why you have statutes of limitation in the first instance.

The Diocese of Denver offered to mediate claims outside the statute but no takers so far.
Vince Killoran
13 years 8 months ago
One final note (and then no more from me on this particular post!): I think it's interesting that much of the FIRST THINGS  and NATIONAL REVIEW analysis on the Wisconsin case hinges on the fact that Card. Ratzinger was not present at key meetings, and that correspondence addressed to him was answered by his assistant (who, BTW, is now a Cardinal!).  This goes to the culture of the Vatican and bishops-i.e., the fact that such a disturbing case seemed to be handled with nary an uproar.
Dale Rodrigue
13 years 8 months ago
The legalize speak about the statute of limitations is quite telling.  I guess Truth is just relative, sin is just relative, time is relative.  If a child was raped 50 yrs ago it is less of a sin than being raped just 20 yrs ago, I guess the church leaders and their lawyers (note I said leaders and church w/ a little ''c'') think it's all relative.  No justice if it happened a long time ago (called revenge) but it is justice if it happened 20 years ago.
Doesn't matter when it happened, it's still seeking justice and the church has determined to slam shut the door instead of stepping up to the plate and accepting responsibility. And yes, it's despicable.
No wonder we've lost all credibility. 
Jim McCrea
13 years 8 months ago
Maria says:  “Faith filled priests do not abuse children.”
And faith-filled bishops do not cover-up, obfuscate and transfer offending child-abusers.
A faith-filled church does not attempt to hid crimes against humans from proper legal authorities and proper legal actions against criminals.
And faith-filled hierarchs to not enable situations in which the lay people are not only parents of children that are abused by priests, but are also expected to rise to the occasion and contribute yet more money to pay litigation and awards costs.
13 years 8 months ago
Thank you Father Martin and Michael Sean Winters of "America" for your insights and for referring us to the posts of Ross Douthat and George Weigel.  I also found the letter to the NYTimes by Fr, Raymond deSouza and Archbishop Dolan's blog to be informative.  I'd like to add a few comments from my work experience.  My career as a social worker spanned 5 decades, from the late 50's through the 90's and included work at Catholic Charities, counseling at a Family Services Assoc. agency, adocacy for children with special needs and during the last 15 yrs of work, as social worker/supervisor for a large county child protective services agency.  I attended one graduate school of social work and graduated from another in the mid 60's.  During the time I worked at Catholic Chariies and was in school, I belonged to the Child Welfare League of America, attended seminars and was pretty knowledgeable about the field.  Not once in that time did I hear or read of the sexual abuse of children.  The Juvenile Court system was set up to hear cases of neglect, abandonment and delinquency.  Only in the late 60's after a horrendous battering and murder of a 3 yr old adopted boy did the legal, medical and social services get together and push through laws regarding the physical abuse of children.  (See Barry Siegel's book: "A Death in White Bear Lake")..  It was not until 1974 that a federal law:  Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was enacted. Then, in 1978 an amendment added a specific reference to sexual abuse and exploitation.
Alice Miller, a respected European psychologist and expert on child rearing practices and child abuse, called this blanket denial a wall of silence.  In a 1990 book she indicted the entirety of human culture-academia, psychiatrists, clergy, politicians and members of the media-in perpetuating this wall as a way to protect itself thus denying the mind destroying effects of child abuse.
During my yrs at CPS, I held little ones in my arms and tried to comfort them at the county receiving home; I had numerous situations of molest on my caseload and I volunteered as a therapist in a group program for boys and girls molested in their own homes.  I understand the dynamics of molest and I know what it takes for healing.  I know that molested children are very vulnerable to repeated victimizations as adults.  They can be easily expolited by media, greedy trial lawyers, and groups that purportedly exist to help them.  One of the saddest things I learned as a social worker is how fickle the public is and how little the public is willing to sacrifice for its children.  There is a lot of lip service about the needs and rights of children but when it comes right down to it, it is the needs, wants, and desires of adults that take precedence.  People who work in child protection as social workers, medical personnel and therapists get extremely little support for their work from the community at large.  The work is ambiguous at best with competing theories and ever-changing policies.  Judgments in individual cases are often very difficult.  One lives in a kind of nightmare of anxiety that a child one is responsible for will be grieviously injured or killed.  And the media and politicians will crucify you.   When will society really really get serious about wanting to eliminate child abuse and provide consistent, adequate funding and moral support to the agencies it has set up to deal with these issues???
I am writing as a Catholic, a member of the Body of Christ, and a citizen.  1

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