Professional angry-Catholic Bill Donohue at the Catholic League is convinced that the New York Times is harassing the Pope and Catholics and he took out an ad in the paper to underscore the point. But it is likely conservative columnist Ross Douthat the folks churning out the reporting on the new scandals that allegedly implicate Pope Benedict XVI are probably more concerned about.
Donahue’s quarter-page ad says the paper is refusing to properly cover what he calls a “homosexual crisis” and that the paper is trying to undermine the church “[b]ecause of issues like abortion, gay marriage and women’s ordination. That’s what’s really driving them mad, and that’s why they are on the hunt.”
The paper’s new revelations about the Pope’s alleged involvement in not moving forward with charges against a pedophile priest in Wisconsin and reinstating a pedophile priest in Munich have been fodder for the paper’s editorial pages, with more than five editorial, op-eds, and columns over the past week.
The paper’s token social conservative columnist, Douthat–who has long been outspoken in criticizing the handling of the abuse scandal–said the link between the Pope and a priest who is accused of sexually assaulting 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin “seems unfair” and suggests the Vatican shouldn’t be criticized too much for a case that took 20 years to land on its door step.
But Douthat is not prepared to jump on the Donahue bandwagon, chiding New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan for scolding the media about how it reports on abuse. He earlier called claims from Germany “wildly overstated” but now says the criticism “is more serious” and that “[a]t best, then-Archbishop Ratzinger was negligent. At worst, he enabled further abuse.”
It’s also likely that Douthat played some role in Sunday’s op-ed piece by the National Catholic Reporter‘s John Allen, considered the “the dean of Catholic journalists,” who picked apart the Wisconsin case without blaming NYT’s religion writer Laurie Goodstein before concluding “those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.”
In addition to the pieces by Douthat and Allen, the paper has run commentary by Peter Schnieder about the scandal in Germany, a rambling column by Maureen Dowd, an insidery commentary by former NYT Rome correspondent Frank Bruni, and its own editorial.
Like Donahue, there are many that are critical of the NYT’s coverage, regurgitating the usual defensiveness (Fr. Raymond de Souza at the National Review) and conspiracy-mongering (George Weigel at First Things) that accompanies most criticism of the NYT and its religion coverage.
But Douthat’s criticism–and praise–may be the most significant. If anyone on the op-ed page is in a position to be defensive and critical, it’s Douthat. But his tone–and likely role in encouraging the Allen op-ed which was more “inside baseball” than criticism of the paper–suggests the news side of the paper is probably getting the story right.
It also marks a new role for Douthat, whose debut as the paper’s guy on the far-right has been lackluster. His recent blog post analyzing Rep. Bart Stupak’s decision to back health care reform and this week’s analysis of the scandals shows Douthat at his best and suggest he is finally getting his footing. While he may not please everyone in his camp on the social right, his voice is definitely becoming clearer on the op-ed page.
The fact that Douthat is now blogging in addition to writing the weekly column has also freed his thinking and writing. Douthat is a blogger by nature and his early columns seemed unnatural and overthought. Blogging is more spontaneous and reactive, allowing Douthat to say everything he is thinking before plunging into his weekly columns. It also permits reacting to his columns, as he did yesterday.
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