Samuel Butler once remarked that, “Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.” The New York Times has been determined to improve upon this method by combining insufficient premises with false ones in order to draw — and then publish — erroneous conclusions, and it has succeeded admirably in the effort within just the past few days.
March 25th saw two articles attempting to taint Pope Benedict with decades-old sex abuse cases involving Catholic priests, one in Wisconsin and one in Germany. The article about the German case bore the title, “Memo to Pope Described Transfer of Pedophile Priest.” We learn ominously that a key priest dealing with the accuser was, “according to his obituary… a close friend of Cardinal Ratzinger.” Why not of Pope Benedict XVI? Because the memo was never to the pope at all as it was 20 years before he became pope — but we don’t want to spoil a nice headline with facts. And as for the smoking gun memo itself, one had to read deeply in this article to find the admission that those familiar with the situation “could not rule out that Cardinal Ratzinger had read it.” Oh.
I get it — the pope, or someone close to him is supposed to prove a negative. Denying the pope’s knowledge is clearly insufficient for the Times because while no one recollects a conversation with him about the reassignment they are unable to “rule out that ‘the [abuser’s] name had come up.’”
The article about the heinous Wisconsin case relies just as much on innuendo and guilt by association. Its entire time line and “when did you stop beating your wife?” line of accusation has been analyzed and the Times‘ conjecture debunked here and refuted even by the Judicial Vicar handling the case who was never contacted for the Times‘ story!
What if we ever do find out that prior to becoming pope, say while he was archbishop, Ratzinger had erred in his judgment regarding the handling of a child abuser? What then?
I mean, wouldn’t that be it? How could all of us possibly continue to be Catholic after that?
Wouldn’t everything we know just be… well, wrong? Wouldn’t we need to find some other diversion on Sundays instead of Mass? And that whole giving to the parish thing, I mean how in good conscience could we?
We wouldn’t know what to believe anymore, would we? “Truth” or “heresy” — they would just be mere words, devoid of meaning. After all — the pope was wrong about something and if that, then why not the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection? And hey, while we are on the subject of stuff the pope — and by implication, the Church — could be wrong about, let’s not forget all the Times‘ favorites: fornication, sodomy, contraception, abortion….
Theoretically of course, the pope could be wrong, be in error, and make mistakes about all manner of things. After all, all manner of things are not covered by the charism of infallibility — only matters of faith and morals.
We Catholics have to admit that the pope could have been and might still be wrong about trusting certain people, use poor judgment about personnel, confuse facts, draw erroneous conclusions from incomplete or faulty evidence. Indeed he could.
And if he did, he would have something in common with the New York Times.