A liberal Catholic shot at the NYT

As I’ve written before, recent media coverage of sex-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church has faced harsh criticism from those who sense anti-Catholic leanings in the secular media.

Weighing in now is none other than Westchester’s own Kenneth Woodward, the former longtime religion editor at Newsweek (where he remains a contributing editor). I’ve often praised the terrific lecture series that Woodward organizes at his parish, St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff Manor.

In fact, the next FREE lecture is this Monday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., when Christian Smith, director of Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Center for Social Research at Notre Dame, will talk about “Souls in Transition: The Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.”

Woodward has written a critique of the New York Times’ recent stories about sex abuse for the Catholic weekly, Commonweal. This is particularly interesting because Commonweal is, of course, a liberal magazine that has been very critical of the church’s handling of the abuse crisis.

Woodward’s essay, called “Church of the Times,” actually has two, almost separate themes.

The first is that the Times is a sort of Church of Secularism that can’t help seeing believers as space aliens — quite odd and difficult to understand. He makes the case that the Times operates much like the Vatican:


As U.S. newspapers go, the Times is also a venerable institution and its hierarchy of editors, deputy and assistant editors, and copyeditors is a match for the Roman curia. The paper has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. To those who devote their lives to it, the Times has become “a place that will shelter you the rest of your life,” as Arthur Gelb wrote in his detailed memoir, City Room. I know what he means: Newsweek in the nearly four decades I worked there was also a sheltering institution. Moreover, with reporting flowing in from our worldwide news bureaus, we in New York felt as if we were operating at the throbbing center of the known and knowable universe. Given its exponentially larger work force, not to mention hourly input from the Internet, this illusion is all the more powerful at the Times. A journalist could spend a lifetime in its newsroom without encountering a dissenter from the institutional ideology.


Woodward’s point that the Times sees its mission as Big and Important (“All the news that’s fit to print,” anyone?), not unlike a religious institution, is quirky and fun to consider, whether you agree or not.

His second point is that the Times’ coverage of two high-profile “scandals” was poorly done. He spends much less time on this point, opening and closing his essay with it.

First and foremost, he asserts that the Times has been too reliant on the legal papers (and views) of the lawyer Jeff Anderson, the most high-profile defender of abuse victims.

He writes: “It’s hard for a newspaper to climb in bed with a man like Anderson without making his cause its own.”

But Woodward doesn’t critique the stories — dates, places, chains of command — as other critics have tried to do.

Woodward does make one timely point about all the Times’ recent front-page stories about abuse scandals connected or vaguely connected to the pope: “…clearly the Times considers sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests more newsworthy than abuse committed by other groups. An April 13 verdict against the Boy Scouts of America, which has struggled with the child-sexual-abuse issue for a century, did not merit page-1, above-the-fold treatment but rather a single paragraph deep inside the paper.”

I would like to know how the Times would explain its meager coverage of the Boy Scouts’ case, which involves a national organization having decades worth of files related to scout masters who have abused minors. Here is their most recent story about the case, which ran deep inside the paper.

The Times’ ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, recently defended the paper’s coverage of things Catholic.

Did a ‘faith instinct’ help humankind survive?

The notion that we are hard-wired to have faith has gotten a lot of mileage the past few years.

It’s the melding of faith and science into one, big…something.

thumbs_headshotNYT science writer Nicholas Wade, who writes often on evolution, has a new book called The Faith Instinct that makes that case that natural selection — the bane of many people of faith — has actually fostered the religious impulse.

He’ll speak next Monday (Dec. 7) at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in Briarcliff Manor. I have lauded the church’s speaker series many times.

Wade will speak at 7:30 p.m. Free and open to all. He replaces, by the way, Jonathan Alter, who will be rescheduled next year.

A description of the book from Wades’ website looks like this:


The Faith Instinct presents a novel approach to religion. It explores the evolutionary origins of religious behavior in early humans, and traces the cultural development of religion from its origins up until to the present day.

The book does not challenge the central belief of either atheists or people of faith, since it offers no opinion as to whether or not God exists. It’s about religious behavior and its value to the first human societies and their successors.

Based on evidence from anthropologists’ studies of religion, and new findings from genetics and archaeology, The Faith Instinct concludes that religious behavior was favored by natural selection because of the survival advantage it conferred on early human groups.

The religion of early peoples, who lived as hunters and gatherers, underwent a profound cultural transformation as the hunter gatherers formed the first settled societies. The form of religious observance shifted from all-night communal dances, to the spring and harvest festivals of early agricultural societies, to the forms of religion more familiar today. The Faith Instinct retraces the historical context in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam arose, and analyzes how religion has retained many of its ancient roles even in modern secular societies.

More big-time lectures coming to St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff

The terrific lecture series at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor gets going again in a few weeks.

It’s free. Open to all. 7:30 p.m. each time.

A nice, small church with plenty of parking. Get there 20 minutes early if you want to sit toward the front.

Here’s the line-up for the fall:

Thursday, Oct. 8, Donald Lopez, “Buddhism: What it is and isn’t?” Lopez is distinguished professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies at the University of Michigan and a translator for the Dalai Lama. He will explain why Buddhism appeals to so many Westerners these days.

Monday, Nov. 9, Father Robert Imbelli, “What is this pope up to? The theological vision of Benedict XVI.” Imbelli, a prof of theology at Boston College, will explain the vision behind the pope’s encyclicals, his book about Jesus and his changes in the liturgy.

Monday, Dec. 7, Jonathan Alter, “The Reality of Hope: Barack Obama’s first year.” The longtime political analyst will offer a preview of his new book detailing Year One for Obama.

Last call: Martin Marty tonight in Briarcliff

A reminder: Martin E. Marty, perhaps the nation’s most respected analyst of the role of religion in our culture, will speak at 7:30 tonight (May 26) at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor.

It’s free and open to the public — and bound to be good.

The advance I wrote for LoHud is HERE.

Come on out and bring that question you always wanted to ask about religion in America.

Next Tuesday: The one and only Martin Marty in Briarcliff Manor

One week from today, on May 26, an American Institution will visit the County of Westchester.

Martin E. Marty.

No, he doesn’t pop up on Page Six or in People mag.

But he is one of the most prominent and influential scholars of American religion in the history of American religion.

Marty will speak at 7:30 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor. Free and open to the public.

Marty has long been in great demand. Bringing him to Briarcliff is a big score for Ken Woodward, the longtime Newsweek editor who puts together the great, great speaker series at St. Theresa’s.

What has Martin Marty done?

Just written more than 50 books and 5,000 articles. Been awarded 75 honorary doctorates. Has written a column for “The Christian Century” since 1956.

He taught at the University of Chicago for 35 years, retiring in 1998. The Divinity School’s research center was then named the Martin Marty Center.

He was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1952.

He is now 81.

I’ve read many of Marty’s articles and essays over the years. He has a way of synthesizing religious trends in the culture with clarity, punch and a sense of humor.

Marty’s own website lists many of his own papers, books, projects, etc.

It also has an amusing page of his “regrets” — that he doesn’t evaluate manuscripts, critique dissertations, open doors to foundations, serve on boards, speak to individual congregations (St. Theresa’s being an exception, I guess), etc.

And there is a very funny page about how to “host Marty” when he does speak.

His lodging? “Gregarious though he is, Marty needs privacy, as he takes his “portable office” along. When he stays overnight prior to an event the next day, he prefers quiet hotel or campus guest house accommodations for laptop and other work.”

Does he nap? “After lunch and before an afternoon appearance or just before dinner, Marty typically takes a 7- to 10-minute refresher nap.”

Sounds good to me.

Does he share meals? “Marty prefers to breakfast alone; he is an early riser and likes to work without interruption until the first public event of the day. He enjoys sharing lunch and/or dinner with his host; he loves to mix and to learn from faculty, students, and others.”

How long will he talk? “Unless otherwise specified, Marty speaks for exactly 50 minutes; the following question-and-answer period is usually about 20 minutes.”

I’ll be timing him.

Does he get a big fee? “When asked what his speaking fee is, Marty always responds, ‘Do for me what you do for others like me.’ “

Come out to see him, Westchester. Directions and info HERE.

Oh, yeah. His subject? From St. Theresa’s: “Marty, the nation’s most honored historian of American religion, will discuss how our broken, divided and economically traumatized nation can begin to build “cultures of trust,” and what our various religious communities can contribute to that effort.”

Funeral director/poet to speak Tuesday evening at Briarcliff church

American’s most prominent funeral director will be the next speaker in the amazing speaker series at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor.

Thomas Lynch, who was the focus of the PBS Frontline film, The Undertaking, will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday (March 31).

Lynch is no ordinary undertaker. He’s a poet, essayist, and professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan.

A church release asks: “What do we mean by a good death, good grieving, good funerals?” Lynch will shed some light on these most difficult questions.

Next up at St. Theresa’s, by the way, is none other than Martin E. Marty, one of America’s most distinguished authorities on religion. Tuesday, May 26. 7:30 p.m. Mark it down.

The church is located at 1394 Pleasantville Road.