Kenneth L. Woodward’s wide-ranging “Church of the ‘Times’: A Dissent” (May 7) strongly implies, without saying it explicitly, that New York Times reporting on the Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse scandals has been misleading or inaccurate. I leave it to others to analyze his rambling essay about the culture of the Times, its controlling family, and how it compares to Newsweek, Time, etc. As a regular and fairly critical reader of the Times (and Commonweal) over many decades, I have found its reporting of the crisis thorough, mostly fair, and responsible. There may be unreported relevant facts, but Woodward cites none.

His argument seems threefold: First, Woodward writes that the Times has a predominantly liberal point of view. Big news. Of course the Times is, and ought to be, a secular paper. Regardless of the paper’s overall attitude toward religion, the issue here is its coverage of child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests and the widespread cover-up over many decades in this worldwide and hard-to-fathom organization, the Roman Catholic Church.

Every significant development in this story, since it broke in 2002, has come from secular sources—the press, government investigations, judicial subpoenas, revelations by victims—in this country and now throughout the world. There has been little help, or even clarification, from the Vatican or any diocese. In contrast, from church sources there has been mostly silence, denial, obfuscation, and attacks on the media.

Second, Woodward asserts that the Times gave more emphasis to the church’s story than to the Boy Scouts or Brown University. So what? As Woodward points out, the Catholic Church is overwhelmingly larger and more complex and has far more members than those other organizations. Moreover, the church seeks to impose upon its adherents an ancient and rigorous code of sexual morality.

And finally, Woodward complains that the Times used documents furnished by a plaintiff’s lawyer who was well paid. Again, so what? Those documents were mostly church records that had to be extracted by legal subpoena. No one claims they are not authentic.

The hierarchy was always free to get ahead of stories of child sexual abuse by releasing documents and being forthcoming. Instead, bishops have cast further suspicion on themselves by their vigorous and very expensive resistance to disclosure, whether in Boston or Bridgeport, Ireland or Mexico. But for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Der Spiegel, the Irish Times, and the rest of the secular press, we Catholics would know little about how our church did and did not deal with child sexual abuse over the past half-century. The story will go on for quite some time, and I will continue to comb the Times and other sources for the latest revelations—positive and negative. Just imagine relying for such information on the Vatican or diocesan press offices!

Brooklyn, N.Y.



I sincerely hope that Edward N. Wilson is a more discerning reader of the Times than he is of my piece in Commonweal.

My article is about the shortcomings of the New York Times, not those of the Vatican, which is a whole other subject. The fact that Wilson wishes it otherwise suggests that my metaphor of the Times as reverenced church applies to him.

As for his other comments, I did not say that the Times is a secular paper. I said it is “secularist and secularizing”—something quite different. To follow one of my examples, if Wilson lived in Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, or New Orleans (to name a few) he would be more aware of the religious education going on in those cities from the local secular newspapers than he ever will learn of church-related schooling in New York from reading the Times. To secularize is to exclude.

If the Times were really concerned about child abuse, and not about the Catholic Church with its “ancient and rigorous code of morality” as Wilson puts it, the paper’s editors would indeed give equal attention to the Boy Scouts, public schools, churches, and other institutions that are experiencing the same abuse problems.

My complaint about the Wisconsin story I cited is not merely that the Times published materials furnished by the plaintiff’s attorney, but that it chose to make the attorney’s construal of those materials its own.

The Boston Globe did good, solid reporting on this issue a decade ago. So did we at Newsweek. As a professional journalist, I cannot say the same of the Times. Indeed, as its May 17 front-page story on Archbishop Timothy Dolan makes clear, the Times does not even know what exactly it is trying to uncover. My piece suggests good reasons why the paper’s newsroom culture makes that myopia possible.              




In response to Cathleen Kaveny’s May 7 column, “A Darkening,” let me say that we had a similar atheist-vs.-theist event at Fairfield University last month, with Christopher Hitchens pitted against John Haught. The debate was inconclusive; the audience was unimpressed by the atheist (unless they were already fans).

But it’s an old story: the great atheists from Feuerbach on challenge religious believers from the outside. Genuine challenges, however, come from the believer’s own experience, whether in the pain of clergy sexual abuse and episcopal incompetence or the plain old problem of evil. Job wasn’t fazed by the pathetic arguments of his “friends” but by the disjunction between what he thought God was and how it was working out in his life.

Fairfield, Conn.



I have not yet read Paul Knitter’s book Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, reviewed by James L. Fredericks in the April 9 issue (“The Lotus Position”). Do I misread Fredericks’s critique? I am puzzled by his statement that “nowhere are we given to believe that there are some respects in which Buddhists and Christians are simply baffling to one another because their religious visions are incompatible.” Based on my reading of, for example, Thomas Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite, I would challenge whether the word incompatibility applies. Zen practice makes a clear point about realizing your self, understanding who you are, identifying with your source, and then returning to the community to live out that realization. Christian scriptures instruct us to find and practice perfect poverty of self, to love God, and to express that love toward our neighbors.

Incompatibility of religious visions? I would say not.              

Sandy Hook, Conn.



Thank you for the excellent piece “Holy Ground” by Br. Michael McGrath (April 9). As an Italianist and a Catholic, I appreciate his reminder that sacredness is found not just at the traditional centers of Catholic worship, but in the many forgotten and rarely recognized “stops along the way” of pilgrimage. In 2006 I was fortunate enough to walk the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela from Pied-de-Port, France, and it was not at St. James’s tomb where I most clearly felt God’s presence, but in the many stops and brief acquaintances made along the way.     

Bronx, N.Y.



Bruce Fuller’s article “A Gamble: Can Charter Schools Fix Public Education?” (March 26) left me with more questions than answers. Fuller seems to make a good case for charters’ ability to satisfy the desires of parents for structure, stability, and values in their children’s education. He properly notes that charters may siphon needed funds away from public schools that must serve everyone who comes to their door. But serious questions remain.

Will charters change the value we place on education? Will they make us more or less willing to provide quality education for all? Will charter schools demonstrate sufficient accountability of their own? In Albuquerque earlier this year, serious questions were raised over how well charter schools were managing the public money they received.

What’s more, if there are “savage inequalities” in public education—as Jonathan Kozol put it in 1992—have those inequalities been sufficiently addressed? And could charter schools create further inequalities?

Finally: How should the church respond to charter schools, beyond hoping they will help allay the financial burdens many dioceses face? Could the charter-school movement impede the church’s service to the poor?        

Los Alamos, N.Mex.

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