I was wondering when the public editor at The New York Times, Clark Hoyt, would deal with the avalanche of criticism over the paper's stories that examined Pope Benedict XVI's handling of clergy sexual abuse cases. Now, he has. He concludes:
Like it or not, there are circumstances that have justifiably driven this story for years, including a well-documented pattern of denial and cover-up in an institution with billions of followers. Painful though it may be, the paper has an obligation to follow the story where it leads, even to the popes door.
Hoyt focuses on the article that attracted the most controversy, a March 25 story on the case of the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, the Milwaukee priest who admittedly molested dozens of deaf boys and possibly as many as 200. I largely agree with Hoyt's response to those who assailed The Times (although, as I posted earlier, I do think there were some journalistic problems with the March 25 story). The column lacks Hoyt's usual nuance, though. While The Times has been effective in examining then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's role in a number of individual cases, it has not done well at putting those cases into the context of his overall handling of the issue. Ratzinger did begin to respond to the sexual-abuse issue at a certain point, so the early cases go only so far in following the story "to the pope's door." This is something Hoyt might have picked up on.One other point: Hoyt refers erroneously to the "archbishop of Brooklyn." The head of the Brooklyn diocese, Nicholas DiMarzio, is a bishop. During the chrism Mass, he had called on priests to "besiege The New York Times. Send a message loud and clear that the Pope, our Church, and bishops and our priests will no longer be the personal punching bag of The New York Times. It was a poor choice of words.
Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).