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Is the New York Times protecting dissident Catholic priests?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 16, 2012

The perceptive religion reporter Terry Mattingly noticed something that had escaped me, in a New York Times story about religious attitudes toward same-sex marriage. The Times reported:

 

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin, but there are Catholic priests who secretly bless gay unions. [emphasis added]

Regarding the phrase in bold—which is treated almost as an afterthought, although the claim is a bombshell--Mattingly comments:

If, in fact, the Times has factual material about Catholic priests blessing same-sex relationships and unions then this is clearly the most important news angle in this piece. This is a major news story, buried deep in a related news report.

However, note that this claim (which I do not doubt, by the way) appears with absolutely no context, no attribution, no clue as to the source of this information. The Times does not even claim to be printing this information based on anonymous sources who requested protection from the Vatican. This is most strange.

Like Mattingly, I am quite willing to believe that the Times report is accurate. It is, regrettably, easy to believe that some Catholic priests are giving their blessing to homosexual unions. But if that is the case, these priests are clearly acting in defiance of the Church: the institution they claim to serve. That defiance would constitute a major news story, not merely an observation to be made in passing.

Mattingly argues that the Times should tell readers something about the information upon which the newspaper bases its report. He’s right. But I would add a different observation about this remarkable story: The Times appears to be protecting dissenting priests from ecclesiastical discipline.

Any Times reporter who actually witnessed a Catholic priest blessing a homosexual union, or heard a credible first-hand report of such an event, should have written a news story about it, and that story should have appeared on the front page. That didn’t happen. Why not? I can think of only 3 possible explanations:

  1. The Times reported something as fact when it had no solid evidence. Terry Mattingly and I agree that’s unlikely.
  2. The Times had solid evidence of priests blessing gay unions, but withheld that evidence because the priests demanded anonymity. That’s possible. But as Mattingly points out, the Times ordinarily informs readers when a report is based on information from someone who requests anonymity.
  3. The Times knows of priests who have blessed same-sex unions, and those priests have not requested anonymity, but the Times has decided not to identify them anyway. This seems to me the most likely explanation.

Update

See my follow-up thoughts on this curious issue here.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: hartwood01 - May. 18, 2012 9:39 PM ET USA

    Not surprising the NYT would keep these priests anonymous,it has no love for the Church and certainly would not assist her it getting these guys in line.

  • Posted by: thx1688 - May. 17, 2012 2:22 AM ET USA

    In the Archdiocese of Vienna, in Austria, not only does the rector of the Cathedral of St. Stephansdom bless homosexual unions, he does so with the full knowledge and consent of Cardinal Schönborn. And there is no way whatsoever Rome is not fully aware of this. So if Toni Farber is "blessing" homosexual couples with Schönborn's knowledge and consent, and Schönborn is allowing it with Rome's certain knowledge and consent through inaction, what can be done?

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - May. 16, 2012 9:38 PM ET USA

    This tactic happens a lot. Some of the other clues to look for are 'some experts say' and then no names of those experts. Or 'research suggests'! You'd be amazed how often research suggests things that later turn out to be totally false. http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=157268&print=1 According to that link, nearly 3 out of 4 scientists have witnessed colleagues engaged in questionable practices! One can only wonder at the rate for journalists.

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