Church of the ‘Times’

A Dissent

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.

About the Author

Kenneth Woodward was for thirty-eight years religion editor of Newsweek.



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“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”

And barbarians at the gates they are. The intolerance of others, too often killing and torturing them, is a sin of religions that cry to the heavens. Catholic Relief Services and the many devout Christians working to help the downtrodden are the real church which has little to do with the hierarchy. Whether Archbishop Dolan is head of CRS or not. A pope who has the hubris to replace Oscar Romero is the face of a church of the last thirty years which has lost its way in the appointment of bishops who pledge loyalty but have no vision.

Barbarians at the gates? We know a few.

“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.”

It is surprising to me that Woodward would say this since he is a journalist. Before the Times story we did not have it laid out as well. It was reported here and there without cohesion. The Times put it together which is what journalists are supposed to do. Take a poll about what people knew before the Times story and after it was published. The results I contend would be more than dramatic.

Further, the hierarchy was able to stonewall the abuse crisis until the Boston Globe made it incontrovertibly clear that the coverup was deep and continuous. Sadly it seems to take the secular press to bring fresh air into the church. Why do we keep getting offended? Is it because we are still just talking about the crisis without doing anything about it. Paul Lakewood says that from now on every Catholic, lay or clergy, cannot claim exemption if the abuse and coverup continue.

Lets just face it and admit it. Many men become ordained and join churches simply because it grants them instant access to children. They have no Christian religious values or morality whatsoever. These men prey on the innocents without remorse or conscience. The church hierarchy protects these men rather than protect the children because they are protecting themselves. They say they protect and hide these criminals because they are trying to protect the church. They aren't lying. They have either been involved themselves or they have been befriended, sponsored and been granted promotion by these men in high places. It won't stop until fearless and Christ centered ordained men already in these churces rise up and bring it to an end. They must nail their convictions and theses to the church doors.  Their needs to be a second Reformation. Where is Martin Luther!!!

I am outraged at this journalist's defense of the hierarchical church respecting the global child sexual abuse scandal.  The hierarchy aided and abetted criminals--criminals who commited the most heinous of crimes, child sexual abuse--and ought to be held accountable for it. I applaud the New York Times for its shedding light on the problem not only of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, but of the systemic cover up of the crimes by the hierarchy.  Not only should the perpetrators be tried and imprisoned, but those in the hierarchy who aided and abetted them ought also be held to account. The hierarchical church is not above the law.

The church desperately needs to be reformed. Not unlike other human institutions, it often takes a crisis for change to occur (you can't convince me that an institution that aided, abetted and covered up sex crimes against children is of God).  I pray this crisis compels the reforms that should have been made long, long ago.  The hierarchical church's closed structure should be the first to be dismantled, and replaced with a more open and transparent system. ""This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." (John 1:5). What's outrageous is that it was not the church, but the Times, that shined light on the evil that lurked in the darkness of the church.

"clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups"


I agree completely, and most comments that follow the "news" are very hostile.   A few bloggers speak for fairness, but we're in the minority:   "A Good Bad Week for Catholicism"


All forms of abuse are unquestionably wrong, but I think another problem with the NYTimes is that it doesn't distinguish between sexual abuse and what might have been acceptable at the time it happened.   For example, until the 1960s -- in both public and Catholic schools --  it wasn't considered abusive or unusual if teachers hit students.  I haven't seen the NY Times make that clear to readers. 


What I least understand is why some members of the clergy make sweeping statements against the entire Church.   I still don't see evidence for tens of thousands of victims of sexual abuse, certainly not hundreds of thousands.

"Where is Martin Luther!!!"


If Martin Luther is around, he should worry about the sex abuse in Protestant churches. 

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was established in 2002:

Oh good Lord. Here we go again.

Since the New York Times got it wrong, it must be the case that priests weren't molesting children and vulnerable adults.

It must also be the case that bishops didn't cover for them, and shuttle them from assignment to assignment, obstruct justice, and so on.

Well, I know that I for one am relieved.

Now that it turns out that the New York Times, in its anti-Catholic zeal, made the whole thing up, I can go back to my sense of peaceful complacency.

Geez, all that fuss over nothing.


There is a significant difference between reporting a news atory and advocating and editorializing on the front page which the Times engages in daily and relentessly to further its own political and social doctrines. There are sexual predators in the New York City public school system, recently two were arrested on the same day one male, one female and it did not receive front page coverage. As a matter of fact if the Times' archives are searched for "Two Teachers arrested for sexual abuse"  there is nothing. Yet a single unsupported allegation about a priest, perhaps even one who is no longer among the living, is trumpeted.  This comment is intended solely to point out the blatant double standard of the New York Times.

This is such an important piece -- thank you. 

I understand and share the absolute repulsion toward the actions of the monsters who molested children and the self-serving cowards who did nothing, or, in many cases, worse than nothing. The Church needs to have its toes held to the fire on this -- I absolutely agree. Indeed it needs it for the safety and sanctity of its own members and to vindicate the thousands of holy, beautiful, hardworking priests.

HOWEVER -- that is NOT what this article is about.  This article is about the NYTimes, which has become the unquestioned source for understanding the abuse scandal. For the first commenter and all those who do not see the point of this article, I have to ask -- do the actual facts not matter to you? Do the motives of the source for those facts not matter? This seems as inane, politicized, and small-minded as those who would have no priest, bishop or pope criticized. The first reaction is pure cynicism, the second, pure sentimentalism.  In both cases, they undermine any real understanding.

I have spent time in the NYTimes newsrooms, know any number of people who work there, at Slate, HuffPo, and other similarly popular sources for news. Let me be clear. When it comes to seeing Catholicism, there is not even a pretense of being objective. Why? Because in their view, any Catholic other than a Maureen-Dowd/Mary Gordon/James Carroll Catholic, is a bigoted idiot with cultural baggage that keeps them from thinking clearly, and who need enlightenment from places like the NYTimes.

If we are going to have a Church of the Times, let it be one that tells The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but The Truth. If we are going to have a "Times" of The Church, let it be one that tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, including the truth about The Truth.

If you mention Jeffery Anderson, you must mention Richard Sipe, Tom Dolan and Marci Hamilton. In an interview with Mr. Anderson’s former law partner, he said Jeffery saw where the money was and decided to go after it.  Marci Hamilton is not the unbiased law professor giving pronouncements on why lifting any and all protections under statute of limitations is justified in order to sack the coffers of the Church.  She is solidly a member of these four horsemen. How has she benefited from this? Quite well, I imagine.  Richard Sipe has a “take no prisoners” stance in his crusade to take down the hierarchy. If it means destroying lives, redefining justice, and turning his back on the concepts of mercy and forgiveness, so be it. Even the victims are not allowed to know mercy and forgiveness; he will not allow the abusers and victims to receive or give mercy, leaving abusers and victims to know only a living hell. He is strident in this.

The coffers are drained. Bottom feeding lawyers are scraping the bottom of the barrel to dredge up whatever they can find for one last lawsuit, hoping to blackmail the Church in the court of public opinion for another pound of flesh, their take of it: 60%. So, Jeffery has to raise the stakes and go after Rome.  This isn’t about justice for the victims. It is an ugly mixture of pride, arrogance, spite in its most extreme form and greed.

When a spokesman for SNAP appeared before the New York State Assembly’s hearing committee on the Markey Bill, designed for a strategic attack against the Church in New York, crying alligator tears for the children, speaking as one who was himself abused in a Catholic High School, failed to mention that he was abused by a janitor, never by a priest or brother, but by an employee whom he had to approach in order to be abused.  When Markey was challenged about her sincerity over concern for children and was lobbied to include New York States school system; she opened the possibility that teachers and administrators could be sued, just as the Church, for sex abuse of children by teachers.  The flash back was so intense and immediate from every organization representing teachers and administrators, that support for the Markey bill collapsed over night and the bill was withdrawn.

Jeffery Anderson does not work alone. You must include Richard Sipe, Tom Dolan and Marci Hamilton as well.  If you want to see the face of evil, you will find it in them.

Would the New York Times allow the following comment if it pertained to other groups?   I think not, because it would be recognized as the hateful, bigoted statement that it is:

#36:  "Anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that the RCC is beyond the pale. I hate to use the word 'evil', but if there is such a thing in the human world, than the RCC is its embodiment. Fear mongering, child-molesting, sadistic rapists."

I think this NY Times op-ed ought to dispel the myths being propagated by the author of this Commonweal article:



After about 2004, what the NYT is reporting is no longer news.  In 2002, the story broke that children (mostely teenaged boys) had been abused and that some Bishops were complicit in covering it up.  Cardinal Ratzinger (currently Pope Benedict XVI) took the lead and intsituted protocols which have been protecting Catholic children ever since.

Have there been any new cases of abuse that have not been swiftly and decisively handled?  Have there been any other coverups since the time the first story broke?  If there have, I haven't seen them.

So there is a "news" story breaking that in Ireland or Germany or elsewhere, priests abused children and some Bishops covered it up.  It is a bad thing, I wish it didn't happen, but it's not news.  It's an old story warmed over with different "sauce".  When I read about it I don't feel the outrage I felt at the original story, all I do is yawn and say to myself: "Hmmm... Hell's Bible (*) is beating up on the Catholic Church again".


(*) Shamelessly stolen from FR. Z.

Kenneth Woodward is absolutely correct, and is to be applauded for his analogy. The Times has been at war with the Catholic Church since Vatican I, and the only good bishop, in Its eyes, is the dissident bishop, the bishop who prefers to toe the NYTimes' line rather than the Holy See's.


This radio interview was posted on the New York Times community blog, following Nicholas Kristoff's column, "Who Can Mock This Church?":

#358:  Thank you for this article and you are correct, there is the governing body of the church, the institutional church and the People of God of whom you speak.HOLDING CLERGY AND CHURCH LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE BEFORE THE LAWProfessor Marci Hamilton and Sister Maureen Paul Turlish on NPR's Radio Times on WHYY Philadelphia 04/12/2010 Maureen Paul TurlishVictims' AdvocateNew Castle, Delaware[email protected]

"I think this NY Times op-ed ought to dispel the myths being propagated by the author of this Commonweal article:   "


I'm glad Mr. Kristoff acknowledged Catholic priests and nuns who are dedicated to serving others, but (as I posted) I think it's a mistake to suggest the entire Catholic hierarchy is guilty of all the accusations leveled against the Church.  And this is only one article among many, many others that condemn the entire Church. 

As a daily reader of the Times, I think Ken Woodword is exactly accurate in his article.  I'm also amazed that so many seem so driven by their feeling about bishops and popes that they could not see that Woodward is analyzing the way in which the Times as an institution so often does what it can to put a negative spin on a Catholic story.  Woodward is not defending the bishops or B16.  He explicitly says so.

As a one-time newspaper editor and a current Catholic priest, I am grateful for Kenneth Woodward's long-needed commentary on the Times and, to a certain extent, media coverage in general.  The great untold story is Jeffrey Anderson's motivation, strategy and manipulation of this ongoing tragedy, which includes manipulation of the media and, as Woodward notes, the Times.  I am not an apologist for the Church in this matter, but rather a defender of the media in the midst of overwhelming criticism in Church circles and a devoted reader of the Times.  That said, Woodward's critique is long overdue.  What the Church needs, as always, are more loving critics and Woodward is one of them.  Thanks, Ken.

Kenneth Woodward, in a very broad critique of the NY Times,  mixes in a lot of different processes - editors' decisions about the newsworthiness of stories, the focus of a given reporter in a given story, news sources, editorial oage positions, the perspectives of readers. These various elements are lumped together in a metaphor: the New York Times as "church." Woodward's is critical of all of this, forgetting that the metaphor is his.

I wonder why all the attention is given to denigrating a worthy news organization, while overlooking the horror of the  story that this news organization (among many others) has been covering: the rape of children by priests.

Does Mr. Woodward mean to state that this story ought not to be covered? Is he trying to make the case that "Vicar of Christ" is really an empty title, that the Pope is not actually responsible for the doings of priests?         

The critics of Mr. Woodward’s fine article seem to believe that what Mr. Woodard sees as anti-Catholic in the New York Times is really just the Times’ firm and zealous commitment to protect children from sexual predators.  Surely then, one would expect to find editorials or stories critical of NAMBLA in the Times.  But one doesn’t.  In fact, one finds an obituary of Henry Hay, an early leader in the Gay Rights Movement that reads very much like a petition for secular canonization, but which fails to mention Hay’s open support for NAMBLA.  Further, in 1993, the Times editorially came down on the side of returning Peter Melzer to a New York City classroom, even though he was then a leader of NAMBLA and editor of its journal.  This is the Times whose Moscow correspondent Walter Durante covered for Stalin’s mass murder in the 30’s.  This is the New York Times that, in 2004, did not think that the existence of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth were newsworthy.  The New York Times is, from cover to cover, a propaganda sheet for its own secular religion, which unabashedly promotes what Pope John Paul II called the Culture of Death.  Its trademark slogan should be modified slightly for accuracy to “All the news that fits” its secular religion.  There is no doubt that for many liberals, its editorials have the power and authority of the Delphic Oracle.  A brilliant Russian dissident intellectual, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1972, tells the story of being wined and dined by the New York intelligentsia when he arrived.  He said that often, his outspoken criticisms of the Soviet regime would be acknowledged by his hosts, but they would nonetheless express what he described as fear at publicly agreeing with him.  He found it amusing that these intellectuals were more afraid of being out of step with the editorial positions of the New York Times than dissident intellectuals in Moscow were of the KGB.  Take heart Catholics, “the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against [our Church.]”  


 Sexual abuse is a horrible thing, but it is a societal problem not a Catholic problem.


 Here are the facts:




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