Saturday, March 27, 2010

NYT Hit Piece III: More Charges, No Evidence

Source: Doctrine Preoccupied Benedict as Archbishop -

Thus far, the NYT has not provided any evidence for its accusations against the Pope.  Now that the Milwaukee story seems to have been abandoned by the NYT for the farce it is, we continue to see more articles on the Munich case.  Unfortunately, this article contradicts the last one.  Before, they claimed that the Pope was directly responsible.  Now they claim he was negligent on account of abandoning his duties in favor of doctrine and academics.

Like the other stories, we see a claim which is made, with no facts to support it.

The Claims of this Article

This time, the NYT seeks to insinuate that then Archbishop Ratzinger was so focused on doctrine, that he ignored other issues going on in the diocese.  Seemingly recognizing the fact that he did nothing wrong, now the NYT takes the view that Archbishop Ratzinger was like all other clergy of the time:

The case is alarming, wrote the German newspaper Die Zeit last week, not “because Ratzinger was guilty of an exceptional offense.”

“It is the other way around: It is significant because the archbishop acted as probably most other dignitaries in those years,” it wrote. “In 1980 Joseph Ratzinger was part of the problem that preoccupies him today.”

Benedict was a stern disciplinarian on the issue that propelled him up the church hierarchy. An early enthusiast for reform in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s, he soon changed his mind and joined the ranks of those trying to put the brakes on the liberalizing forces unleashed by the counterculture movement.

So, again, where are the facts?  We are told that then Archbishop Ratzinger was ignoring the pastoral issues to merely focus on reactionary issues.

So right off the back, we have the fallacy of the false dilemma.  Just because now Pope Benedict XVI had dealt with serious doctrinal issues does not mean he was uninvolved with other issues.

The problem is, a focus on one thing says absolutely nothing about whether there was neglect of another.  The argument assumes he neglected issues.  That needs to be proven.  Instead we have a collection of claims which need to be proven which masquerade as proof.

The article reports:

Cardinal Ratzinger was already something of a clerical diplomat, traveling as the official representative of Pope John Paul I to Ecuador in 1978. And with two conclaves to select a new pope in 1978, it seemed at times as if the archbishop already had one foot in the Vatican.

“His predecessor as archbishop was simply more aware of the practical problems of pastoral work,” said Wolfgang Seibel, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Munich-based magazine Stimmen der Zeit from 1966 to 1998. “He didn’t have enough time to leave his mark.”

How closely he would have watched personnel decisions, especially with an administrative chief, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, who had been in his post since 1968, is an open question. But the transfer of Father Hullermann from Essen would not have been a routine matter, experts said.

Mr. Englisch, the Vatican expert, said that transferring a problem priest was “such a difficult decision” that it would necessarily have required his opinion.

“I think the guy who handled it would have gone to his archbishop and said, ‘This case of transferring a priest is not common, and we should really have an eye on him,’ ” Mr. Englisch said. Referring to Benedict, he added, “I don’t think that he really knew the details; I don’t think he was really interested in the details.”

There are some assumptions here and some distortions.  Father Hullerman was not transferred.  He was permitted to stay at a rectory while undergoing treatment.  Rev. Gruber did not transfer him.  He assigned Hullerman to do some work at a parish while undergoing treatment.

Should Gruber have informed Archbishop Ratzinger?  Yes.  Did he?  He says he did not.

So to make this claim, the NYT needs to prove Gruber a liar.

This is a part of the problem.  The diocese of Essen (where Fr. Hullerman resided) had the responsibility to bring the case up to the Vatican.  He did not, but reported that the priest was there seeking treatment and needed a place to stay.  So here is where proof is required, not speculation.

Englisch's claims, for all the purported claims of being an expert are indeed speculation.

So we do not have a case against the pope.  We have another story of innuendo and insinuation, which seeks to give the illusion of guilt when there is no basis whatsoever to this story.

Claims that Pope Benedict XVI should have known beg the question here.  How much information was he given?  What evidence is there that he could have known?  If the Diocese of Essen only informed him there was a case of a man undergoing treatment and wanted him to stay in the rectory, then there was a limit to what was revealed.  If Gruber took it on himself to give the priest an assignment and did not tell the archbishop, how would he know?

A discovered act of untrustworthiness requires one to be wary in the future.  However, if there is no evidence of untrustworthiness, how does one reasonably discover this?

Debunking Mr. Englisch's Reasoning

Let's look at the statement again:

“I think the guy who handled it would have gone to his archbishop and said, ‘This case of transferring a priest is not common, and we should really have an eye on him,’ ” Mr. Englisch said. Referring to Benedict, he added, “I don’t think that he really knew the details; I don’t think he was really interested in the details.”

The first statement: "I think the guy who handled it would have gone to his archbishop and said, ‘This case of transferring a priest is not common, and we should really have an eye on him,’" does not mesh with the facts.  Nor does it logically follow.

Regardless of what Gruber could have done has no bearing on what he did do.  This becomes speculation on Englisch's part.  It is a claim to be proven.  Unless it is proven that it was true that the facts were given to now Pope Benedict XVI, this claim is baseless.

Also lacking is what instructions Pope Benedict XVI may have given the priest.  To say he did nothing requires us to know what he was told and what he did in response

Yet instead of prove the point, Englisch goes on to act on the assumption that his claim is true, saying, “I don’t think that he really knew the details; I don’t think he was really interested in the details.” The first part may be true if he was given a limited or a false account of what was going on, but it does not prove the second point at all.  If he found the Bishop of Essen trustworthy, If he found Rev. Gruber trustworthy, would there be a reason to question what he was told?

Yet these questions remain unasked, and until they are answered, the NYT allegations, and those of Mr. Englisch cannot stand.

The Omissions in the Story Are Interesting Too

Who is Englisch?

This article omits things which are important.  Who is this Andreas Englisch?  The NYT calls him a "Vatican Expert."  He is not well known in America, but one can find some limited information on him.  A translation of the German Wikipedia tells us he was a reporter who followed Pope John Paul II.  His beat was the Vatican, not Munich.

So the NYT is citing a reporter, which in this case is an appeal to irrelevant authority.  How the Vatican operates does not guarantee that Munich operated in the same way.

The Authority of the Article's sources

Who are cited as sources in this story?  Aside from one priest, Rev. Wilfried Sussbauer, who commented that Archbishop Ratzinger sent a letter in a tone he didn't like [irrelevant to the charge] and Rev. Thomas P. Doyle (who made a general comment on responsibility), we have Andreas Englisch (reporter and Vatican analyst based in Vatican), John L. Allen Jr (reporter and Vatican analyst based in US), Hannes Burger (reporter in Munich), Wolfgang Siebel (priest and reporter, in Munich) who comment on the story.  Of these, only the latter two could be considered close to the time, and things would depend on what they knew directly and how well they knew the archbishop.

The NYT articles contradict each other

Also interesting is how this story indicates how the NYT has conceded ground.  The claim that "The Pope did this" has been replaced with the claim "The Pope never bothered to find things out."  One claim contradicts the other.  If he was responsible, as the NYT said on the 26th, he couldn't be aloof and uninterested as the article on the 27th said.

The Archdiocese of Munich was huge

What remains of the story is exactly what was before: A priest was permitted to remain in a rectory while undergoing treatment.  Note the NYT tells us Archbishop Ratzinger was "presiding over 1,713 priests and 2.2 million Catholics."  So with 1,713 priests to watch over, is it reasonable to suppose that with the addition of priest #1714, it would be easy to keep track of him?  Would he not need to rely on subordinates who would be responsible for this?

Any organization would be obligated to do so.  Why is +Ratzinger required to be omniscient in this case?  Indeed, in an organization that large, it requires subordinates to keep their superiors informed if the superior is to make the right decisions.

It is interesting to note that the organization of the Munich archdiocese may have worked against keeping the bishop informed.  In the 1985 work, The Ratzinger Report, we see Pope Benedict XVI describe the archdiocese:

…in the Munich arch­bishopric we had 400 staff members and employees, all reg­ularly paid. Now, it is known that because of its nature every office must justify its existence by producing doc­uments, organizing meetings, planning new structures. To be sure, all had the best intentions. But it has often enough happened that the parish priests have felt more burdened than sustained by the quantity of 'auxiliaries' (page 66)

So again, it is not impossible to see that with such a large number of staff, many organizations within a diocese could have acted without informing the archbishop.  Under such a large system, a seasoned staff (Gruber had been working at the archdiocese since 1968 for example) might make decisions on their own.

See how this comes back to justifying the facts already known?  Rev. Gruber said he made a decision and did not involve the Archbishop.  With over 1700 priests and 2.2 million Catholics and 400 staff/employees, this is quite possible, and it makes the allegations of the NYT dubious to say the least.


Ultimately what this comes down to is an issue of credibility.  The NYT is acting as if it is a neutral observer reporting on a dispute within the Church.  However, the NYT is in fact making adversarial claims which need to be proven.

Given that thus far their claims do not have proof, but rather are claims that its statements are true but are abandoned for the next theory when challenged, the NYT does not have a high amount of credibility here.

What needs to be proven is that things are as the NYT claims them to be, not to claim that it might have happened this way, based on the interpretation of certain journalists.  Other interpretations which do not include negligence or deliberate acts are possible.  Investigative journalism requires the elimination of such possibilities before asserting that the Pope was guilty of doing X or Y.

Presenting an unproven allegation as true, and contradicting yourself from one story to another speak against a paper which uses it being a reliable source.  These presentations and contradictions are what the NYT is doing, so it seems to follow that the NYT does things which weaken its claim to be a reliable source.

I do not believe their claims, because frankly, they have given no evidence to justify such belief.

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