Dolan vs. NYT, Round ?

Archbishop’s Dolan ongoing criticism of the New York Times is getting a lot of attention this week.

As I’ve pointed out before, Dolan has been going after the Times since he came to New York, often using his blog to point out examples of what he believes to be anti-Catholicism.

In a blog post last week, the big guy pointed to an “insulting photograph” of a “nun” that accompanied a write-up of an off-Broadway comedy. And he strongly objected to a review of an art exhibit featuring posters produced by ACT UP, the anti-AIDS advocacy group that often attacked the Catholic Church. The review included a photo that showed a poster denigrating Cardinal O’Connor.

Dolan opened his blog by acknowledging that he’s been there before:

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I know, I should drop it.  “You just have to get used to it,” so many of you have counselled me.  “It’s been that way forever, and it’s so ingrained they don’t even know they’re doing it.  So, let it go.”

I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities.

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Numerous Catholic blogs have supported Dolan’s stance.

One said: “Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice it seems to me in America.” Another: “It seems every time you open a paper or scan the news, there is someone else misunderstanding or mocking the Catholic Church.”

The producers of the play, called Divine Sister, actually responded to Dolan. Their response in part:

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Charles Busch is a wonderfully talented playwright who for decades has lovingly parodied classic Hollywood films in his work. His newest play, The Divine Sister, continues that tradition as a comic homage to nearly every Hollywood film involving nuns: “The Song of Bernadette,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” “The Singing Nun” and “Agnes of God.”

The image the New York Times ran on Friday, October 15, 2010 of The Divine Sister shows Mother Superior teaching Timothy how to properly hold a baseball bat. This scene references the classic 1945 film “The Bells of St. Mary’s” where Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict gives a young boy boxing lessons.

The Divine Sister is not a commentary on religious faith; it is a joyous look at these films. While our show is indeed irreverent, it is a celebration of the nuns in those iconic works, with a wink and a smile.

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Mark Silk, a prominent analyst of media coverage of religion, caused somewhat of a stir by dismissing Dolan’s criticisms as off-the-mark, if not silly.

He writes: “I don’t exactly know what it is the Dolan would have the Times do. Avoid reviewing plays that deal with nuns and popular culture? Bar from its pages any organization that disrespects his church? Do penance by urging the Empire State Building to light itself up for Mother Teresa?”

CBS New York followed up on the story (as GetReligion points out). CUNY Prof Paul Moses — former religon writer for Newsday –told CBS: “That’s a really scathing image of Cardinal O’Connor. I think that was a lapse with the Times, not that they’re anti-catholic. Maybe it’s more they simply didn’t do a very good job on that story.”

Dolan wrote a second post today.

He’s standing by his guns. But he promises: “No more comment from me on this spat.”

We’ll see.

Dolan: Catholics must ‘recover nerve’ to support Catholic schools

While it’s appeared in recent years as if Catholic schools were heading toward irrelevance — or semi-extinction — because of financial woes, Archbishop Dolan is pledging to refocus on Catholic education.

In a strongly worded article in the Jesuits’ America magazine, Dolan makes the case that Catholic life is largely dependent on the existence of healthy Catholic schools. As a result, he writes, all Catholics — not only those with children of school-age — must take responsibility for Catholic education.

He writes: “Nowadays, Catholics often see a Catholic education as a consumer product, reserved to those who can afford it. The result is predictable: Catholics as a whole in the United States have for some time disowned their school system, excusing themselves as individuals, parishes or dioceses from any further involvement with a Catholic school simply because their own children are not enrolled there, or their parish does not have its own school.”

Dolan says that while Catholic schools were once needed to protect students from anti-Catholicism, they are now needed to protect them from secularization.

He writes:

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Today’s anti-Catholicism hardly derives from that narrow 19th-century Protestantism, intent on preserving its own cultural and political hold. Those battles are long settled. Instead, the Catholic Church is now confronted by a new secularization asserting that a person of faith can hardly be expected to be a tolerant and enlightened American. Religion, in this view, is only a personal hobby, with no implications for public life. Under this new scheme, to take one’s faith seriously and bring it to the public square somehow implies being un-American. To combat this notion, an equally energetic evangelization—with Catholic schools at its center—is all the more necessary.

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Dolan challenges Catholics to get on board without mincing words.

How about this: “It is time to recover our nerve and promote our schools for the 21st century. The current hospice mentality—watching our schools slowly die—must give way to a renewed confidence.”

Or this: “Have we Catholics lost our nerve, the dare and dream that drove our ancestors in the faith, who built a Catholic school system that is the envy of the world?”

Dolan is gradually unveiling a new approach to the schools that he calls “Pathways to Excellence.” He hasn’t released much info yet, but he wrote in a May column in the NY Post that, mostly likely, some schools would be closed, some would be merged and some new schools would be opened.

I wrote a couple of years ago that the Archdiocese of NY was planning to put groups of parishes in charge of single schools, moving away from the traditional one-parish, one-school approach. We’ll see if this new strategy is part of Dolan’s plans.

Proposing a forum on media coverage of the Catholic Church

In his latest blog post, Archbishop Dolan again tees off on the media.

He begins:

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Because of all the inaccuracies in the recent coverage of the Catholic Church in the New York Times and other publications, appearing in news articles, editorials, and op-eds, I was tempted to try my best to offer corrections to the multitude of errors. However, I soon realized that this would probably be a full time job.

It is a source of consternation as to why, instead of complimenting the Vatican and a reformer like Pope Benedict XVI, for codifying procedures long advocated by critics, such outfits would instead choose to intrude on a matter of internal doctrine, namely the ordination of women.

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Dolan later says that the media’s “obsessive criticism” of the pope is “simply out of bounds.”

I’ve noted in the past that Dolan has become something of a media critic since coming to NY. Defending the church and the pope from the NYT and others seems to be one of his passions.

So here’s an idea: How about someone organizes a forum on media coverage of the church?

Give Dolan and someone from the Times, plus others (John Allen? Father James Martin? A  media critic like Howard Kurtz?), a chance to make their case and rebut the other side(s).

Do it in public. In a civil forum.

The Fordham Center on Religion and Culture seems like a natural host. They did a program about anti-Catholicism a few years ago, which I still regret that I missed. (How does one define anti-Catholicism in 2010, I wonder?) But a forum on media coverage of the Catholic Church would certainly revisit the anti-Catholicism question.

What do you think, Mr. and Mrs. Steinfels?

The Crossroads Cultural Center in NYC, run by the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation, has run several provocative forums in recent years and could do one on media coverage. Monsignor Albacete?

One of the many academic centers at Notre Dame could do it — but I would rather the forum be in New York.

How about the Columbia Journalism School?

Maybe Iona could step up to the plate and bring some action to Suburbia?

So who is going to do it? How about one night in late September?

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:

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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.

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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.

Archbishop Dolan vs. the Times, Round 3 and counting

I wrote the other day about media coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church and claims from some — including Archbishop Dolan — that the coverage has an anti-Catholic slant.

His main concern, as he wrote on his blog, is that the media focus on abuse in the Catholic world but largely ignore abuse in the larger society.

Dolan was not done.

image_xlimage_2010_03_R1433_DOLAN_POPE_3292010Yesterday, after Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan defended Pope Benedict XVI from media reports connecting the pontiff to sex-abuse scandals in Germany and the U.S. The Vatican has also been quite unhappy with some of the reports.

Dolan, as he tends to do, used strong, unambiguous words: “And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.”

…now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus…

That’s the New York Times he’s talking about there, folks.

According to the AP, Dolan got a 20-second standing ovation from the packed cathedral.

You get the feeling this isn’t over. Dolan has shown that he is quite comfortable charging anti-Catholicism in the media — especially the Times — and he does not take kindly to attacks on his Holy Father.

Here are his remarks in full:

(AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)

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“May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — — yet hopefully uplifting — — Sunday Mass?

“The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.

“The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.

“Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.

“What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.

“Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.

“But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”

“And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.

“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

“Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.

“Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, il papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.”