March 31, 2010
Mr. Clark Hoyt
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
Dear Mr. Hoyt,
Last week on March 24, the New York Times ran a story by Laurie Goodstein entitled, “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys“. As you are probably aware, this article touched off an international storm of controversy about how the Pope and the Vatican have handled the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. (Of course, there is a much bigger problem of child sexual abuse outside of the Church, but we don’t need to provide such unnecessary context to a New York Times article.)
The reaction to the allegations in the article has been vicious, incendiary, and predictable. The ensuing rhetoric has reached near euphoric proportions for the anti-Catholic bigots who are using the article’s claims to score cheap political points against the Church, with some of them going so far even to call for the Pope’s resignation. Needless to say, the last acceptable bigotry in the world today, anti-Catholic bigotry, has now been stoked by many of the errors, half-truths, distortions, and unfounded pretexts found in Ms. Goodstein’s article.
The point of this letter, Mr. Hoyt, is simply to point out a couple of critical factual errors in the article in question. The first error is actually the main thesis, and consequently the main source of controversy, in the article:
“But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.” (Source)
The article states that Archbishop Bertone “halted the process“. Yet, this statement is simply not true and represents a distortion and even fabrication of the events, as the documents that Ms. Goodstein used in his report even confirm. None of the documents give any indication whatsoever that Cardinal Bertone “halted the process” against Fr. Murphy. In April 1998, there was a recommendation by then-Archbishop Bertone, then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, to implement pastoral measures to ensure Father Murphy had no ministry, but without the full burden of a penal process because of a number of extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was the frail health of Fr. Murphy and the lengthy and cumbersome procedures involved in a full blown canonical trial. However, this was only a suggestion on the part of Archbishop Bertone since the local bishop retained full control on the ultimate decision. In fact, the next month, the Bishop of Superior, Most Rev. Raphael M. Fliss, rejected Bertone’s suggestion for pastoral measures and began formal canonical proceedings against Murphy. The case was abated by the local bishop (Archbishop Weakland, himself a one-time active homosexual) 2 days before Murphy’s death on August 21, 1998 and only when it became evident that Murphy was on his death bed.
Just yesterday, the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, accused the Times of making “a huge leap of logic and information” in connecting the pontiff to the case involving Fr. Murphy, and for failing to do the basic courtesy of contacting him or checking the accuracy of quotations erroneously attributed to him:
With regard to the inaccurate reporting on behalf of the New York Times, the Associated Press, and those that utilized these resources, first of all, I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In an October 31, 1997 handwritten document, I am quoted as saying “odds are that this situation may very well be the most horrendous, number wise, and especially because these are physically challenged , vulnerable people.” Also quoted is this: “Children were approached within the confessional where the question of circumcision began the solicitation.”
The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them. As a college freshman at the Marquette University School of Journalism, we were told to check, recheck, and triple check our quotes if necessary. I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.
Additionally, in the documentation in a letter from Archbishop Weakland to then-secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone on August 19, 1998, Archbishop Weakland stated that he [Editor’s note: Archbishop Weakland] had instructed me to abate the proceedings against Father Murphy. Father Murphy, however, died two days later and the fact is that on the day that Father Murphy died, he was still the defendant in a church criminal trial. No one seems to be aware of this. Had I been asked to abate this trial, I most certainly would have insisted that an appeal be made to the supreme court of the church, or Pope John Paul II if necessary. That process would have taken months if not longer.
Second, with regard to the role of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), in this matter, I have no reason to believe that he was involved at all. Placing this matter at his doorstep is a huge leap of logic and information. (Source)
Therefore, in light of these two glaring errors, I am asking you to secure from the New York Times the following:
1) a retraction of the statement that “Cardinal Bertone halted the [canonical] process” when he did no such thing,
2) a retraction of the comments attributed to the judicial vicar, Father Thomas T. Brundage, which were never written by him, and
3) an apology from the New York Times, placed prominently on the front page, acknowledging the error and the slander on the good name of the leader of the world’s Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, and his assistant at the time then-Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone.
Mr. Hoyt, I am sure you can appreciate that, among faithful Catholics, the reputation of the New York Times has not been particularly high in recent years. I can assure you that, unless these corrections are made, not only will the New York Times have no credibility left with us, but it will be rightly considered just another bigoted, anti-Catholic publication which spews distortions and outright falsehoods to advance an anti-Catholic agenda.
The allegations made in the article in question are now being roundly refuted and exposed on the internet. The question now is not so much if the errors will be corrected and known, but what reputation the New York Times wishes to hold among people who value accuracy and fairness in news reporting.