Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pedophile Priests, 'Evil Pope' and The New York Times

I'd be more shocked at old-school American news media's coverage of the pedophile priests and 'evil' pope, if I hadn't lived in this country all my life. Actually, I haven't seen the word 'evil' used to describe the Holy Father in traditional news media - no surprise, since 'evil' isn't supposed to exist now, except in the minds of hate-filled, narrow-minded people.

Like so many words, "shocked" has a fairly definite meaning. Several of them, actually, but this is the cluster that applies in this case:
  1. Surprise greatly
  2. Strike with disgust or revulsion
  3. Strike with horror or terror
  4. Inflict a trauma upon
    (Princeton's WordNet) [numbering mine]
I'm not surprised - greatly or otherwise - that The New York Times is coming out with potshots at the Pope. The upper crust of lower Manhattan may think that the Times is a 100% unbiased font of "all the news that's fit to print": But that doesn't mean that they're right.

So, cross out #1.

I am a bit disgusted and revulsed at what I see as self-righteous indignation, so #2 fits, more or less. My emotional reaction is a bit stronger because it's my outfit that's being attacked - but I don't like to see malignant virtue directed against anyone.

Check off #2.

Does The New York Times antics strike me with horror or terror? It might, if I let myself think about what's going on inside the heads of the proper gentlefolk who run the paper. But no, not really. I'll get back to that.

Nothing for #3, really.

Does the sort of anti-Catholic tripe that passes for some contemporary news "inflict a trauma upon" me? In a way, yes. I'm not particularly thick-skinned, and I don't like it when my considered beliefs are assaulted like that.

Check off #4 - sort of.

Final score: a weak two out of four. Not bad, really, since I don't think that The New York Times staff realize that they're off-base.

Here's what got me started on this post:
"Cardinal Levada to NY Times: Reconsider 'attack mode' against Pope Benedict"
Catholic San Francisco (March 30th, 2010)
"The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI:
how it looks to an American in the Vatican

By Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

"In our melting pot of peoples, languages and backgrounds, Americans are not noted as examples of 'high' culture. But we can take pride as a rule in our passion for fairness. In the Vatican where I currently work, my colleagues – whether fellow cardinals at meetings or officials in my office – come from many different countries, continents and cultures. As I write this response today (March 26, 2010) I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America's newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.

"I say this because today's Times presents both a lengthy article by Laurie Goodstein, a senior columnist, headlined 'Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,' and an accompanying editorial entitled 'The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal,' in which the editors call the Goodstein article a disturbing report (emphasis in original) as a basis for their own charges against the Pope. Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting...."
As far as I know, that "America's newspaper of record" is about as official as the New York Times' "all the news that's fit to print" line.

The New York Times: An Adequate Hometown Newspaper

I think that The New York Times, as a reflection of New York City's upper crust and social wannabes, makes a quite adequate hometown newspaper. As for the reputation it's built? I think an increasing number of Americans are catching on to just what the "Gray Lady" really is:
Back to Cardinal William J. Levada's article:
"...In her lead paragraph, Goodstein relies on what she describes as 'newly unearthed files' to point out what the Vatican (i.e. then Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) did not do – 'defrock Fr. Murphy.' Breaking news, apparently. Only after eight paragraphs of purple prose does Goodstein reveal that Fr. Murphy, who criminally abused as many as 200 deaf children while working at a school in the Milwaukee Archdiocese from 1950 to 1974, 'not only was never tried or disciplined by the church's own justice system, but also got a pass from the police and prosecutors who ignored reports from his victims, according to the documents and interviews with victims.'

"But in paragraph 13, commenting on a statement of Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) that Church law does not prohibit anyone from reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, Goodstein writes, 'He did not address why that had never happened in this case.' Did she forget, or did her editors not read, what she wrote in paragraph nine about Murphy getting 'a pass from the police and prosecutors'? By her own account it seems clear that criminal authorities had been notified, most probably by the victims and their families...."
The Holy See doesn't, as a rule, micromanage Catholic dioceses and parishes around the world. With upwards of 1,150,000,000 Catholics around the world (CIA), I doubt that they'd want to try. Or have enough staff for the job, even if they wanted to.

I'm not excusing the actions of a few priests over the last half-century, at all. I think it's a good thing that the Church is finally dealing with them and their victims. I also think that it'd be nice if they'd never raped and/or seduced those folks, and all that. But the Church is dealing with the problem: although you're not likely to hear that in the news. I suppose it's not exciting enough.

Not an Excuse: But a Possible Partial Explanation

I don't know why it took so long for the Church to start correcting the appalling behavior of misbehaving priests, but I've got an idea.

The Catholic Church is a huge organization, involving more than a billion people on every continent. Except, I suppose, Antarctica: and I wouldn't be surprised if there are some of us there, from time to time.

I think it's the size of the Catholic Church that accounts for America's traditional anti-Catholicism. Besides, we simply aren't British: which may have been a factor in Thomas Nast's dim view of those Catholics over there.

As the centuries rolled by, anti-Catholicism has been a fairly constant background noise in America. That's changing, I think: and that's another topic.

When the pedophile priests seemed to be limited to a limited cadre in America, I thought that the Vatican might have written off accusations that got to them through unofficial channels as just more wild claims from accuracy-challenged anti-Catholics.

The Murphy case, and some others, shows that the problem isn't limited to this country. From what I can tell, though, it may still be priests who got into the system around the same time who have been acting badly.

What is emerging - even in old-school news, if you dig deeply enough - is that the Vatican didn't act in many cases because they'd been lied to.

There are more delicate ways to put that: but the unzipped clerics wouldn't have been able to indulge their disordered passions freely, if their immediate superiors hadn't been doctoring the records and passing misinformation up the chain of command.

That was then, this is now.

It's Not the 20th Century Any More

The Vatican has been re-assigning bishops here in America - and we've been getting some new ones. The process isn't going swiftly, by American standards: but I'll probably live long enough to see the Catholic Church's 2,000th anniversary. An outfit with over a billion people, that's almost two millenniums old, can be expected to have an un-American notion of 'swift action.'

With any luck, we'll be getting bishops and priests re-assigned here from Africa. The way things are going, I think it's very possible that parts of Africa will be the Ireland of the 22nd century - and maybe beyond. Which is yet another topic.

The terrible damage done by sexual predators using their position in the Church as cover is being dealt with. We'll continue paying the bills - literally - for their misbehavior for a long time. No complaints: that's the way it works.

Other monumental foul-ups - many done "in the spirit of Vatican II" - are being corrected, too. If you think The New York Times is strident now, just wait until those reforms hit the fan.

If "It's Not Because I'm Jealous" - It Usually Is

Someone in the family noted that when the phrase, "it's not because I'm jealous" comes up in a conversation that hasn't been about jealousy - the person who said that usually is. I think there's something to that.

A recent op-ed piece in The New York Times came close to claiming that opposition to President Obama's health care proposal was racism. (March 29, 2010) There's a germ of truth in that claim, I think. Some people are almost certainly opposed to the president because he's black.

I think that disapproving - or approving - of a person's actions on the basis of that person's ancestry is daft. No surprises there: I'm a Catholic, and very few Catholics were ever WASPs. I never was, for that matter: although I'm a convert and 'look Anglo.'

At the risk of being like the person who says "It's Not Because I'm Jealous", I think that some of the wild opinions in The New York Times and other traditional news media may be rooted in part in an uneasiness about a changing America.

Say Goodbye to the 'Good Old Days'

This country started out being heavily Protestant, and stayed that way until somewhere in the 20th century. By now, though, even those Americans who go to church fairly regularly have a less-than-intense interest in - and understanding of - their own faith.

Not many Americans go to the length of University of Minnesota, Morris, associate professor Paul Myers, to demonstrate how open-minded they are: but I don't think you could call America a particularly Christian country. Not on a practical level.

And the folks who are at the top of the dominant culture seem to like it that way. Religion, after all, is the opiate of the masses and something that sophisticated people don't take seriously. 'Everybody knows that.' Being "spiritual" is okay: as long as you do it in private, or take up one of the popular versions of Eastern philosophies.

That's an over-simplification of what's going on with something like 307,000,000 people - but not, I think, by much.

That was America, maybe 20 years back.

Today, there are a lot more Catholics - and Muslims - in this country. I'm a little more aware of Americans who are followers of Islam, because quite a few live here in Minnesota. Many Somalis are in the position my ancestors were, a few generations back, and are now American citizens living in Minnesota. But I'm getting off-topic.

Immigration by Hispanics has been credited - or blamed - for the increasing fraction of Americans who are Catholic. That's had a more immediate impact on my community. There's a whole section of one aisle in the grocery down the street with food that's not what the old German/Irish families here are used to. For my household, it means we now can pick up prayer candles on a grocery run.

For me, more waves of immigrants to America is 'more of the same.' My household's a sort of German/Norwegian/Irish stew. The extended family isn't all recent immigrants, though: I'm related by marriage to the Lakota nation. We seem to have a sort of ethnic apathy: We marry people we love, even if they don't have the 'proper' ancestors. As of a few years ago, I've got kin in the Philippines. So give us another generation or two and we'll probably have "Hispanic" in the mix, too.

I'm getting off-topic again.

The point is, this isn't the self-satisfied fifties, the earnest sixties, or the painfully 'open minded' eighties anymore. Can't say that I miss any of those periods.

For folks who were quite comfortable, living in a genteelly secular culture, this influx of people who look funny, go to a different church, and give a rip about their religious beliefs must be a jarring experience.

The Catholic Church is Real Conservative, Right?

One of the things 'everybody knows,' apparently, is that the Catholic Church is a bunch of hidebound conservatives. Who are PEDOPHILES, of course.

I think it's an American habit, at least, to sort people out into as small a number of categories as possible. In America, when it comes to the practical philosophy that determines what people do - not what they say they should do - there seem to be three categories:
  • Conservatives
    • Hate-filled homophobic racist oppressors
    • Patriotic supporters of family, flag and apple pie
  • Liberals
    • Open-minded tolerant lovers of the environment
    • Bleeding heart nitwits with no morals
  • Moderates
    • Don't give a damn
      • As long as they get re-elected
    • Understand the complexities of a diverse society
That's a rather extreme over-simplification, I hope: but you get the picture.

'Obviously' the Catholic Church is horribly conservative. Just look at life issues: We're against abortion!

Take another look at life issues: We're against capital punishment! Sort of. (October 2, 2008)

I've written about this before. (November 3, 2008)

You want something simple, that conforms to contemporary American cultural assumptions? Don't look at the Catholic Church: we've been around for almost 2,000 years now: we didn't conform to the world then, and we don't now.

I think it's the failure of the Catholic Church to follow cultural stereotypes that's maddening to some folks. Particularly since Catholics who understand their faith know that they're supposed to be engaged in their culture. (September 24, 2008) By some American standards, that's not being very 'spiritual.'

And, since we've got fairly well-defined standards of behavior, we're not 'open minded,' either. Not by the sort of sixties standards that America's current crop of 'best and brightest' grew up with.

Under the circumstances, I'd be concerned if stalwart bastions of a declining culture didn't go a little crazy about Catholicism. Look at this way: given what The New York Times editorial staff seem to believe, do we really want our beliefs to be something they'll praise?

Vaguely-related posts:
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A tip of the hat to CatholicNewsSvc, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.