NYT public editor Clark Hoyt has defended the paper’s decision to go hard after the role current Pope Benedict XVI may have played in going soft on a priest accused of sexual abuse back when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Hardly alone among the world’s news media, The Times has been covering the widening Catholic sexual-abuse scandal, which in recent months has expanded even to the German archdiocese of the future Pope Benedict XVI. But one Times article last month struck a particularly sensitive nerve. Relying on documents from a lawsuit, it described how local church officials and the Vatican handled the case of a Milwaukee priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys.
It said that top Vatican officials, including Benedict when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, did not defrock Father Lawrence Murphy despite repeated warnings from American bishops that failure to act could embarrass the church.
Hoyt goes on to encapsulate the story.
It is a fair question why Milwaukee government officials were not more aggressive about the case, but it is also perfectly appropriate for The Times, with a worldwide audience, to pay far more attention to the handling of a sexual-abuse case under the jurisdiction of the prelate who would eventually become pope.
Here’s his finish:
Some readers say The Times is anti-Catholic. They wonder why it isn’t giving equal effort to sex abuse in the public schools, or in other religions. And Levada and others argue that Benedict improved the Vatican’s response to such cases, streamlining the procedures for hearing them and apologizing to victims.
But it would be irresponsible to ignore the continuing revelations. A day after the first article about Murphy, The Times published another front-page article that said Benedict, while archbishop in Munich, led a meeting approving the transfer of a pedophile priest and was kept informed about the case. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish. The paper’s critics have been mostly silent about this report.
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 pope’s door.