Because GetReligion’s Mollie Hemingway is gracious enough to concede that I’ve offered
the “best defense” of the Goodstein/Halbfinger NYT article
on Pope Benedict’s performance as head of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and because I was perhaps ungracious enough
her around a little in a subsequent post, let me acknowledge the
validity of her latest grounds for criticism.
First, G/H may fairly be charged with taking a swipe at then-Cardinal
Ratzinger’s position on Liberation Theology. Here’s what they wrote:
As Father Gauthe was being prosecuted in Louisiana, Cardinal
was publicly disciplining priests in Brazil and Peru for preaching that
the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed, which the
cardinal saw as a Marxist-inspired distortion of church doctrine.
OK, if I’d been their editor I would have changed that to read “…for
preaching that empowering the poor and oppressed was the church’s
central mission….” In the context of the article as a whole, I count
this venial sin.
Second, and more importantly, Hemingway claims that the G/H time-line
regarding when the CDF “dithered” is “a mess.” With respect to the
paragraph above, for example, her point is that the prosecution of
Father Gauthe and the crackdown on liberation theologians took place in
1980s, but that knowledge of the CDF’s full responsibility for abuse
cases indicated in a letter from 1922 didn’t surface until some time in
I’ll stipulate that there is indeed considerable fuzziness about when
the 1922 letter came to be known inside the Roman Curia. For all we
know, the CDF’s staff canonists may have been aware of it all along. But
that’s not the point. The CDF had some considerable responsibility for
abuse cases all along. And we know in
detail from the Kiesle case in the early 1980s that the CDF under
Ratzinger didn’t merely dither; it brought to a standstill a proceeding
that had been moving forward. As I noted, G/H allude to the Kiesle case
(which Goodstein and Michael Luo looked
at earlier this year). Had I been the editor, I would have made a
little space to name and describe it.