In a truly bizarre reversal of roles, in the course of just a week the New York Times has gone from being the Church’s most trenchant detractor to being an ardent enforcer of Catholic doctrine, polling Catholics to find out whether or not their parish priests are preaching about the Pope’s new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.
On Sunday, Times writer Laurie Goodstein, a well-known critic of the Catholic Church, took it upon herself to find out whether priests had absorbed the content of the Pope’s letter and preached about it in their Sunday homilies.
In her article, Goodstein waved a disapproving finger, noting that few priests or bishops “used their own pulpits on Sunday to pass on the pope’s message, according to parish visits, interviews with Catholic leaders and reports from Catholics after Mass.” Such zealous surveillance of the content of Catholic preaching has perhaps never been seen outside of Communist countries such a Cuba, Poland, or China where government spies regularly reported on the content of priests’ sermons in case they should speak against the regime.
The fact that the encyclical only came out on Thursday of last week—three days before Sunday—is a poor excuse for not preaching on it suggests Goodstein, since word that Francis was to release a major encyclical on the environment “emerged months ago” so priests “were primed to preach on it.”
With striking insensitivity, Goodstein criticizes Nairobi’s Cardinal John Njue, who in his Sunday homily spoke not about the environment but about the need for courage after “recent attacks by militant groups like the Shabab and the Islamic State,” one of which took the lives of 147 students. Maybe, just maybe, the Cardinal thought that the young students gathered to receive the sacrament of Confirmation would benefit more from encouragement to stand strong in the face of martyrdom than from a sermon to, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”
Unsurprisingly, in her reference to the Pope’s letter, Goodstein talks of climate change, a heartless global economic system, and corporations that “exploit natural resources,” but manages to pass over Francis’ condemnation of population control policies and his insistence that true environmentalism is simply “incompatible with the justification of abortion.” Is this perhaps what Goodstein wanted priests to preach about?
Goodstein’s uncanny interest in the willingness of the Catholic clergy to immediately fall into line with Francis’ teaching flies in the face of a history of personal hostility toward the Church. She harbored special animosity toward Pope Benedict and went after him like a pit bull, alleging his complicity in the sex abuse crisis in the Unites States with such recklessness as to actually elicit a formal rebuttal from the Vatican.
Remarkably, of the 303 articles written or co-written by Laurie Goodstein in the New York Times between January 1, 2010, and June 16, 2015, nearly a third (93) specifically addressed the issue of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, whereas not a single one dealt with sex abuse in any other religious institution.
The Times has, in fact, never insisted that Catholics fall in line with the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage or abortion or divorce and remarriage, yet when it comes to the issue of the environment, the newspaper is suddenly more Catholic than the Pope.
When Pope John Paul released his 1993 on Christian morality, Veritatis Splendor, did the Times urge its swift implementation and question the orthodoxy of those who didn’t immediately preach the message? Quite the contrary. The headline for their article welcoming the encyclical declared that it didn’t “Stifle Debate.”
Likewise, when John Paul issued his encyclical on bioethical questions—Evangelium Vitae—the Times responded by questioning what sort of reception it would get among Catholics, since many “long ago chose to ignore the church’s teachings on contraception and abortion in their private lives.”
It doesn’t take a cynic to wonder whether the New York Times, with its long-standing cozy relationship with the Democratic party, does not see the encyclical as a rare opportunity to use the Church to attack the GOP’s funding base in U.S. oil and natural gas, and to encourage more government interventionism in the economy.
Just days ago, the Times declared that the encyclical would “add pressure to Catholic candidates” in the next presidential election, and specifically targeted Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as two candidates who “have questioned or denied the established science of human-caused climate change, and have harshly criticized policies designed to tax or regulate the burning of fossil fuels.” The article says nothing of course about the scandalous support of legal abortion from high-ranking Catholic Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.
Whereas established Catholic doctrine holds abortion to be an intrinsically evil action, one that draws down upon practitioners the Church’s most severe sanction of automatic excommunication, climate change is not, nor ever will be a matter of Catholic doctrine, as Pope Francis would be the first to confirm.
Though such unprofessional reporting by the Times is hardly unusual, it does raise the obvious question of how anyone could still take it seriously.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome