The `Rabbi,' The Times and the Catholic League

The New York Times ran a story during the past week noting that "a Brooklyn man" had been sentenced to up to 32 years in prison for sexually abusing a 16-year-old. In the story, The Times noted that the defendant, Baruch Lebovits, "is often referred to as `Rabbi' as a sign of respect among his peers, although he is not ordained," according to his lawyer.I take it that this was a response to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which sees a paucity of coverage of sexual abuse by rabbis to be an important civil-rights issue. It has twice issued statements in which the organization's president, Bill Donohue, criticized The Times for not reporting on the conviction of "Rabbi Lebovits" while reporting on cases involving Catholic clergy. One statement called this evidence of "a deep-seated anti-Catholic animus on the part of many elites" (the secular elite being so in step with Orthodox Jewish rabbis?).I don't know if the fact that the offender is not really a clergyman matters to the Catholic League or not.My impulse was to ignore this, but Donohue's campaign to bring rabbis to justice should be addressed because it appears to strike a chord with some Catholics who are unhappy with the way the Catholic Church is covered in the media.The newspaper in the Diocese of Brooklyn, The Tablet, published a quote from Donohue on its editorial page in March in which Donohue assailed The Times for failing to report on "Rabbi" Lebovits' conviction but reporting on sexual abuse by priests in Germany and Austria.Brother Michel Bettigole, a Franciscan who is an author and a former Catholic high school principal, responded with a letter to the editor that the paper published. "Claiming that other religious groups are not being held responsible to the same degree as Catholics on the specific issue of clerical sexual abuse of children is not going to make this wound to our Church go away," he wrote, calling Donohue a "professional controversialist."I contacted Brother Michel to thank him for sending the letter because, as a Catholic whose grandparents were Jewish, I find it unsavory, to put it mildly, for an organization that calls itself Catholic to defend the church by fanning resentment against Jews. Should the church defend itself against unjust accusations? Of course. But diverting attention to other religions - particularly Judaism, given the history of Catholic -Jewish relations - is wrong.It seems to work, at least in some quarters. For the past two weeks, the paper has carried follow-up letters to the editor that praised Donohue and castigated Brother Michel. Mr. Donohue knows his audience.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, 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). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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