Nearly a month ago, Maureen Dowd took Pope Benedict and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy to task for her perception of the treatment of nuns as well as women in general. And she did it in her inimitable style. Here is but one example:
Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative pope, who was christened “God’s Rottweiler” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.Needless to say, this did not sit well with Church leaders. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, took issue with a great deal of recent bad press coverage, including Dowd's piece, and submitted it as an over-the-transom Op/Ed piece. When the Times rejected it, he published an expanded version of the screed on his blog (how very high tech of them). While it takes shots at a lot of targets, here is the part directed against Dowd personally:
Finally, the most combustible example of all came Sunday with an intemperate and scurrilous piece by Maureen Dowd on the opinion pages of the Times. In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic, Jewish, or African-American religious issue, she digs deep into the nativist handbook to use every anti-Catholic caricature possible, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, condoms, obsession with sex, pedophile priests, and oppression of women, all the while slashing Pope Benedict XVI for his shoes, his forced conscription — along with every other German teenage boy — into the German army, his outreach to former Catholics, and his recent welcome to Anglicans.Yikes. To call Maureen Dowd, a product of parochial schools and Catholic University in her native DC, an "anti-Catholic...nativist" is nothing short of reprehensible slander. This tone was captured on many Catholic blogs including this bit from NRO's Kathryn Jeal Lopez:
The Benedict whom Maureen Dowd scorns speaks a different language than the New York Times typically does. But it’s a liberating one — much more liberating than the tired and angry gender politics that offers little hope to the anxious men and women of our time.About the only person to come to Dowd's defense was Kelly Fincham of Irish Central:
Dowd's crime? She had the temerity to question why women religious — nuns — are still treated as second-class citizens by the Church. She could have widened the discussion to ask why the Church treats all women as second-class citizens, but she confined it to nuns, saying the Vatican was trying to herd this elderly population back into their "old-fashioned habits and convents."The drumbeat reached Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor (read ombudsman) of the New York Times who has been very critical of Dowd in the past. His verdict is that she was well in the realm of valid punditry.
She pointed out how nuns, for the most part, were ministering to the poor and vulnerable, while a plague of pedophilia ran unchecked through the Church.
Dolan calls Dowd's column "anti-Catholic," but what on earth is anti-Catholic about asking the same questions that women have been raising in the Catholic Church for generations — if not centuries?
Why are women second-class citizens in the Church? Why can't we become priests? Why can't priests be married?
And how can the Archbishop of New York accuse Maureen Dowd of damaging the Church, when the greatest damage ever inflicted on the Church has been done from within — by its own male priests?
Dowd said the issues she raised went to what she sees as the pope’s extreme conservatism and his judgment. “Should I blandly express outrage at the church continuing to treat women as second-class citizens?” she asked. Bland is not what Dowd does. I thought she was well within a columnist’s bounds.Appealing further up the chain, Hoyt in an online item gets Andrew Rosentahl to explain what an "opinion" piece is allowed to do.
While columnists must adhere to The Times’s high standards of factual accuracy, they are allowed great latitude in characterizing events, people or issues in a way that expresses an opinion. They are free, for example, to say that they believe that the Catholic Church’s hierarchy treats nuns unfairly, even if the members of that hierarchy deny it. They are not even required to include that denial in their columns. Columns are not required, or intended, to be fair and dispassionate accounts of events. They are by nature one-sided. Columnists may find it useful to give the opposing views on any position they take, or they may not, and it’s entirely up to them.Maureen is definitely most of those. Since this controversy is still raging a month after the original item, it is clear that she rattled some cages. And perhaps they need to read some of those Bible verses about motes in eyes or turning the other cheek, or perhaps most of all, going and sinning no more.
A columnist can be tough, acerbic, playful, joyful, angry, chagrined, outraged or anything else — within the general bounds of decency that are embodied in the values of The Times.