By Fr. George Welzbacher
May 9, 2010
William McGurn, one of the Wall Street Journal's senior editors, published in his paper's April 6th edition a devastating critique of the coverage offered by the New York Times (and most particularly the coverage offered by reporter Laurie Goodstein) of attorney Jeff Anderson's efforts to blame Pope Benedict for the failure of three of Milwaukee's archbishops to take timely action to remove from active duty a priest whose crimes went for decades UNREPORTED to the Vatican. You may recall that I reprinted Mr. McGurn's essay in our parish bulletin a month ago. One of his suggestions to the people at the Times was that they would be well advised to explore the background of Mr. Anderson, Ms. Goodstein's chief source in her reporting of the Milwaukee case. The Times seems to have taken the hint. Another reporter, Monica Davey, was assigned to interview Mr. Anderson. She did so on Monday, April 26th, at Mr. Anderson's headquarters here in St. Paul and the interview was published in the Times on April 28th. I beg leave to share her report with you here, with two preceding comments of my own.
Comment #1: Ms.Goodstein's self-contradictory statements about the canonical trial of the Milwaukee priest in question, Father Lawrence C. Murphy, and her insinuations with respect to Cardinal Ratzinger's supposed complicity in the actions of others committed decades in the past, stand uncorrected in Ms. Davey's account of her interview with Mr. Anderson.
Comment #2: Mr. Anderson, despite his claim to have studied intensively the Church's canonical procedures, shows himself for whatever reason unwilling to acknowledge a basic fact, namely that under the norms of Canon Law the initial responsibility to take corrective action against clerical malfeasance in any diocese of the Catholic Church rests not with the Vatican but with the local bishop, in accord with the general principle of subsidiarity and in observance of the respect owed the local bishop as a successor to the Apostles. The pope's role as successor to Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, is to act NOT as a court of FIRST instance but as a court of REVIEW. And the pope cannot review what the local bishop falls to transmit, precisely the point at issue in the Wisconsin case, in which the transmission to Rome of pertinent information from a succession of local bishops did not take place until more, and in a number of instances far, far more, than twenty years had passed since the commission of the crimes.
Here is Monica Davey's account of her interview with Jeff Anderson. Emphasis has been added.
* * * * *A Frenzied Pace for the Lawyer Behind Suits Against the Vatican
By Monica Davey
New York Times Wed., April 28, 2010
Jeffrey A. Anderson, the lawyer whose pursuit of the Roman Catholic Church has been perhaps the loudest, is the center of his own tornado. As employees race in and out of his omate offices, Mr. Anderson is planning a news conference in Los Angeles about an abusive priest, answering calls from the family of a victim of another from Florida, and preparing a lawsuit in Milwaukee naming the Vatican and the pope as defendants. And this is only a Monday.
Mr. Anderson 62, has been filing suits against priests and bishops since 1983 and, at least once before, against the Vatican itself. But a new wave of accusations reaching ever closer to Rome has emerged in recent weeks, helped along, in part, by Mr. Anderson's discovery of previously undisclosed documents. Now he is receiving new calls and pressing new cases, with more court filings and news conferences, at an almost frenzied pace.
His critics call him a headline chaser and a self- promoter. And even some in the legal community refer to his role as co-counsel in so many abuse cases as "the Jeff Anderson franchise system."
Mr. Anderson is unapologetic: "Yes, I am driven. Yes, I am obsessed Yes, I am. Maybe I'm even manic about it," he said in an interview that filled the rare gaps between everything else whirling around him. "But it has little to do with their theology. It has everything to do with what they're doing to kids."
He turns loud, outraged, profane when he talks about individual cases. He cries a lot when he describes victims. He rarely stops to eat. He is extremely impatient, hyperfocused. In his own words, "A.D.D. untreated "
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called him "a ceaseless ball of energy."
But Jeffrey S. Lena, a California lawyer representing the Holy See, said that while Mr. Anderson had performed an important function----"He has forced some dioceses to acknowledge that there had been shortcomings"-his legal maneuvers against the Vatican tended to operate from a misreading of how the church is organized.
Mr. Anderson views the church as a purely "top down" structure, Mr. Lena said, whereas much power is actually exercised LOCALLY by bishops WITHOUT the direct involvement or knowledge of the Holy See.
For his part, Mr. Anderson sees it differently. "The reality is that we and others have been studying the hierarchical structure of this institution for a quarter of a century, and every single case demonstrates that control is at the top," he said, adding that this central question is one that "ultimately will be heard in a courtroom "
He will not say how much he has made from his pursuit of the church (he says he does not know). But he insists that the cases, which number more than a thousand (he says he has not counted), have never been about the money.
Yet, in 2002, he estimated that he had at that point won more than $60 million in settlements from Catholic dioceses, and he acknowledges that in the most complicated cases, he may receive as much as 40 percent of a settlement or judgment.
Mr. Anderson drives a Lexus, leads his small firm from a former bank building replete with chandeliers, dark leather and marble, and co-owns with his wife a Victorian inn that promises "the ultimate experience in luxury, privacy and romance."
"I don't care what people thiink," said Mr. Anderson, who is built like a high school wrestler and whose gravelly voice regularly creseendos into impassioned monologue. "If I had done this for money, I could have stopped doing this a long time ago. [In the course of history, apar tfrom a craving for wealth, other appetites have been known to prompt obsessive behavior. Hatred, for example, or the pride of singular achievement. The hunter instinct might he gratified in "bringing down " a pope. A papal mitre would be an exciting trophy to hang on a hunting lodge wail]. I could have chosen to not work 18 hours a day today, and gone and enjoyed whatever money I'd earned. I could have stopped pouring it into initiatives across the world right now that I'm funding and financing -that I'm pouring into what I consider the child civil rights movement."
As for the news media, Mr. Anderson fully acknowledges his efforts to pursue attention-not for himself, he says, but for his clients. "There's not an interview I refuse," he said after completing a telephone interview with a South African radio station. He said he considered it "a moral imperative" to make public whatever he learns; it is the only way, he says, to protect other children.
Mr. Lena said the suit Mr. Anderson filed last week naming Pope Benedict XVI among the defendants was "over the top" and rife with exaggeration. The suit was on behalf of a former student at a Wisconsin school for the deaf, where the Rev. Lawrence Murphy is accused of abusing boys for almost two decades [back in the 1950's and 1960's].
The New York Times was working on a different article last month when a reporter [Laurie Goodstein] contacted Mr. Anderson. He provided documents about the Murphy case describing how efforts by Wisconsin church officials to subject Father Murphy to a canonical trial and to remove him from the priesthood were halted after he wrote a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, asking for a cessation of the trial. [You may recall my comments last week on this "mess of imprecision"] .
"It shows," Mr. Lena said, "how you can both create a media frenzy, and then capitalize on it. Jeff is very, very good at creating intense media interest, and then shaping a narrative for the press to write their stories around." He added later: "He serves these media events up like nice little meals for reporters to chow down on, and they do."
One huge hurdle to Mr. Anderson's latest case against the Vatican and his previous one, filed in 2002, is that the Holy See has been recognized as a foreign sovereign and, as such, is generally immune from lawsuits in American courts.
But Mr. Anderson's 2002 case, involving a priest in Oregon who, Mr. Anderson says, had previously been accused of abusing boys in Ireland and Chicago, has so far been allowed to proceed. Much is at stake on both sides if the Supreme Court, which could soon decide whether to hear the case, allows the suit to continue.
Mr. Anderson--once a hippie, a women's shoe buyer, and advertising executive (he lasted one day before quitting) and one-time law school washout-was raised Lutheran. He brought up three children with his first wife in the Catholic Church. And though he was "once a dedicated atheist," he says he is deeply religious now, but not in any particular church. He has, by the way, sued over abuse in other faiths: Lutheran, Baptist, Mormon and so on.
As an alcoholic who quit drinking around his 50th birthday, Mr. Anderson says his experience helps him understand the pope's comments in recent weeks about efforts to protect children. Denial, he says, is a powerful force.
And thus begins one of Mr. Anderson's singular monologues, which his critics would call both disrespectful and inaccurate.
"Tell me one thing, Pontiff, you've done," he began. "One act-not words-ONE ACT. [It was Cardinal Ratzinger who in fact reorganized the Vatican's entire 'machinery' for addressing these cases in a systematic and vastly more efficient way, with emphasis, whenever possible, on swift administrative judgment when the evidence is clear-cut, whereas before there was great confusion as to which department (congregation) even had jurisdiction. As pope he removed from office and banished into severe penitential seclusion the powerful founder and leader of the prestigious Legionnaires of Christ. And when the mid-twentieth century crimes of Father Lawrence C. Murphy were finally brought to his attention in 1996, he did authorize a canonical trial. Not bad, I should think, for starters. And he's only just begun]. Have you removed one bishop? Have you disciplined one cardinal? Have you disclosed one secret? Have you changed one protocol that requires secrecy?"
"He's a dear man," he continued. "He's a wise theologian. But when it comes to this issue, he is as sick... as a practicing alcoholic."
* * * * *Other journalists of national standing are coming forward to join such noted writers as William McGurn, John Allen and George Weigel in taking the Times to task for biased reporting, reporting that is warped by allegiance to a radically secularist and secularizing agenda that stimulates in turn a vehement hostility to the Catholic Church as the chief opponent of secularization. The latest such journalist to join in censure of the Times is Kenneth Woodward, for many years a senior editor of Newsweek magazine who is associated now with the elitist journal Commonweal. I am including Mr. Woodward's trenchant criticism as a separate insert in today's parish bulletin. It's well worth reading.
* * * * *Mother's Day
On a much brighter note may I offer my prayerful congratulations and grateful praise to all of the mothers in our congregation! And for those who, after years of sacrificial, loving service, have passed to God, let us remember then in our humble prayers!
One of our gentle and lovely senior parishioners, the recently widowed Sophie (Mrs. Stephen) Chlebeek, offered the following poem for reprinting in our bulletin. We reprint it gladly and offer an approving "Amen"!
A Proud Mother
By Sophie Chlebeck
I know that I shall never be
A world-wide, famed celebrity.
I'll never be a movie "star,"
Nor on the stage get very far.
I'll never have the artist's touch
That thrilled the audience so much.
I'll never make World History's page,
Recorded for a future age.
But I have sons to manhood grown,
And daughters, all my very own.
As I look at them, all envy ceases.
I'm proud of THEM-MY "Masterpieces"
* * * * *
Published in Commonweal Magazine (http://commonwealmagazine.org)
Church of the ‘Times’
Kenneth L. Woodward
The New York Times’s worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But what makes the Times unique is that it is not just the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church
May 7, 2010, issue of Commonweal
The New York Times isn’t fair. In its all-hands-on-deck drive to implicate the pope in diocesan cover-ups of abusive priests, the Times has relied on a steady stream of documents unearthed or supplied by Jeff Anderson, the nation’s most aggressive litigator on behalf of clergy-abuse victims. Fairness dictates that the Times give Anderson at least a co-byline.
After all, it was really Anderson who “broke” the story on March 25 about Fr. Lawrence Murphy and his abuse of two hundred deaf children a half-century ago in Wisconsin. Reporter Laurie Goodstein says her article emerged from her own “inquiries,” but the piece was based on Anderson documents. Indeed, in its ongoing exercise in J’accuse journalism, the Times has adopted as its own Anderson’s construal of what took place. Anderson is a persuasive fellow: back in 2002 he claimed that he had already won more than $60 million in settlements from the church. But the really big money is in Rome, which is why Anderson is trying to haul the Vatican into U.S. federal court. The Times did not mention this in its story, of course, but if the paper can show malfeasance on the part of the pope, Anderson may get his biggest payday yet.
It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own. Does this mean that the Times is anti-Catholic? New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan thinks it is—he said so last October in response to an earlier series of stories on clergy abuse. Whatever one thinks of Dolan’s accusation, clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper. A longer April 15 story about a Brown University student credibly accused of raping another student, an incident the university did not report to the police and arguably “covered up” at the request of powerful figures in the Brown community, appeared on page 18.
No question, the Times’s worldview is secularist and secularizing, and as such it rivals the Catholic worldview. But that is not unusual with newspapers. What makes the Times unique—and what any Catholic bishop ought to understand—is that it is not just the nation’s self-appointed newspaper of record. It is, to paraphrase Chesterton, an institution with the soul of a church. And the church it most resembles in size, organization, internal culture, and international reach is the Roman Catholic Church.
Like the Church of Rome, the Times is a global organization. Even in these reduced economic times, the newspaper’s international network of news bureaus rivals the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The difference is that Times bureau chiefs are better paid and, in most capitals, more influential. A report from a papal nuncio ends up in a Vatican dossier, but a report from a Times correspondent is published around the world, often with immediate repercussions. With the advent of the Internet, stories from the Times can become other outlets’ news in an ever-ramifying process of global cycling and recycling. That, of course, is exactly what happened with the Times piece on Fr. Murphy, the deceased Wisconsin child molester. The pope speaks twice a year urbi et orbi (to the city and to the world), but the Times does that every day.
Again like the Church of Rome, the Times exercises a powerful magisterium or teaching authority through its editorial board. There is no issue, local or global, on which these (usually anonymous) writers do not pronounce with a papal-like editorial “we.” Like the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the editorial board is there to defend received truth as well as advance the paper’s political, social, and cultural agendas. One can no more imagine a Times editorial opposing any form of abortion—to take just one of that magisterium’s articles of faith—than imagine a papal encyclical in favor.
The Times, of course, does not claim to speak infallibly in its judgments on current events. (Neither does the pope.) But to the truly orthodox believers in the Times, its editorials carry the burden of liberal holy writ. As the paper’s first and most acute public editor, Daniel Okrent, once put it, the editorial page is “so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.” Okrent’s now famous column was published in 2004 under the headline “Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” and I will cite Okrent more than once because he, too, reached repeatedly for religious metaphors to describe the ambient culture of the paper.
The Times also has its evangelists. They appear daily as the paper’s columnists. Like the church, the Times historically has promoted its evangelists from within the same institutional culture. This assures a uniformity of assumptions only the Vatican and Fox News can trump. Even when the editors reach outside the corporate fold, as they must for columnists of even mildly conservative persuasion, they do not look for adamantine conservatives like George Will to match the heavy-breathing liberalism of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman. Culturally, conservatives David Brooks and once-a-week columnist Ross Douthat inhabit the same world as their liberal colleagues, though it must be said that Brooks and Douthat are the only Times columnists I can recall who welcome an expansive role for religion in public life.
At the Times, the public editor’s job is to examine the paper’s news stories for evidence of biased reporting and unwarranted narrative assumptions. (Would that Rome had ombudsmen—and ombudswomen—to represent voices not heard at the Vatican.) On this point, Okrent’s essay was forthright: it is one thing to provide a “congenial home” for like-minded readers, he observed, “and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear.” On social issues like “gay rights, gun control, abortion, and environmental regulation, among others,” Okrent wrote, “...if you think the Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.” And there was this: “If you are among the groups the Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.”
Indeed, even read with eyes wide open, the Times is remarkable for what it systematically leaves out. In its annual Christmas list of the year’s most notable books, there is no category for religion, much less theology. A reader of the paper’s regular education coverage, not to mention its quarterly “Education Life” supplement, would never know that the New York Archdiocese runs one of the largest parochial school systems in the world. Or that the Lutherans, the Seventh-day Adventists, and Orthodox Jews also educate thousands of kids throughout the metropolitan area. In the secularist and secularizing world of the Times, only public schools and New York’s elite prep and nursery schools are worthy of the reader’s attention.
Every institution creates its own sheltering culture. The Holy See is larger, more complex, and much older than the Times, and the Roman curia is inherently more diverse than the newsroom of the Times, despite the latter’s periodic bouts of mandated diversity training. But as anyone who has covered the Vatican can tell you, its institutional culture is also inherently traditional, conservative, and self-protective. It is, after all, the last functioning Renaissance court.
As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.
Every journalistic operation generates its own newsroom culture. By that I mean an implicit set of assumptions about what cultural norms and attitudes the newspaper, magazine, etc. should reflect in its collective editorial outlook. As in the church, these norms are passed down from the top, becoming part of the air the composite Timesman breathes. For example, religion was well and routinely covered by Time magazine, because co-founder Henry Luce, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, considered the subject of major cultural importance. Religion was important at Newsweek because the magazine imitated Time’s template. Why is it then, that the devout of any religion should find the newsroom culture of the Times (Okrent again) “a strange and forbidding world”?
For that we have to look at the family dynasty that made the Times the nation’s establishment newspaper. After seven years of researching the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, biographers Susan E. Tifft and her husband Alex S. Jones concluded that “it has become increasingly apparent that the family’s self-image as Jews has profoundly shaped the paper.” The story that Tifft and Jones tell in their extraordinary family biography The Trust is a narrative of social assimilation by the paper’s publishing clan, a determination not to espouse Jewish causes in its newspaper, and the family’s progressive ambivalence toward religion of any kind.
Much of this attitude was an understandable reaction to the pervasive and unapologetic anti-Semitism that characterized American culture at least until after World War II. And even today, of course, there is much criticism of the Times that smacks of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, especially when it comes to the newspaper’s coverage of the Middle East. Still, the paper’s institutional suspicion of traditional religions, especially when they assert themselves in public affairs, makes Orthodox Jews as well as conservative Evangelicals and Catholics feel like barbarians at the gates. The most telling comment Tifft and Jones elicited in this regard was from the current publisher, Arthur Ochs “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. He described his personal faith this way: “I have the Times. That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in, and it’s a hell of a thing to hold on to.”
I have to think a lot of people who write for the Times do too. Perhaps this is why some Catholic editorial columnists (names on request) cite the paper’s questionable reporting on the church as if it were revealed truth. It’s a nice example of how belief in the Times makes any other form of religious identification merely private and provisional when measured by the one true faith. Writing as a columnist, the affable Bill Keller once described himself as a “collapsed” Catholic. The adjective is new to me and I gather it describes how the weight of the Times as church collapsed his faith in the church of his earlier commitment.
As executive editor, Keller is now responsible for front-paging journalistically questionable stories that attempt but never quite manage to make the pope personally complicit in the clergy-abuse scandal. He apparently thinks that Jeff Anderson has handed over the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Pentagon Papers.
No, I am not suggesting that the scandal is merely media-driven, as some at the Vatican have argued. There would be no stories if there had been no history of abuses and cover-ups in the first place. But I am saying that the Times has created its own version of the scandal as if they had discovered something new. They haven’t. Until they do, I remain a dissenter in the pews of the Church of the New York Times.
* * * * *