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Because GetReligion’s Mollie Hemingway is gracious enough to concede that I’ve offered the “best defense” of the Goodstein/Halbfinger NYT article on Pope Benedict’s performance as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and because I was perhaps ungracious enough to smack her around a little in a subsequent post, let me acknowledge the validity of her latest grounds for criticism.

First, G/H may fairly be charged with taking a swipe at then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s position on Liberation Theology. Here’s what they wrote:

As Father Gauthe was being prosecuted in Louisiana, Cardinal Ratzinger
was publicly disciplining priests in Brazil and Peru for preaching that
the church should work to empower the poor and oppressed, which the
cardinal saw as a Marxist-inspired distortion of church doctrine.

OK, if I’d been their editor I would have changed that to read “…for preaching that empowering the poor and oppressed was the church’s central mission….” In the context of the article as a whole, I count this venial sin.

Second, and more importantly, Hemingway claims that the G/H time-line regarding when the CDF “dithered” is “a mess.” With respect to the paragraph above, for example, her point is that the prosecution of Father Gauthe and the crackdown on liberation theologians took place in 1980s, but that knowledge of the CDF’s full responsibility for abuse cases indicated in a letter from 1922 didn’t surface until some time in the 1990s.

I’ll stipulate that there is indeed considerable fuzziness about when the 1922 letter came to be known inside the Roman Curia. For all we know, the CDF’s staff canonists may have been aware of it all along. But that’s not the point. The CDF had some considerable responsibility for abuse cases all along. And we know in detail from the Kiesle case in the early 1980s that the CDF under Ratzinger didn’t merely dither; it brought to a standstill a proceeding that had been moving forward. As I noted, G/H allude to the Kiesle case (which Goodstein and Michael Luo looked at earlier this year). Had I been the editor, I would have made a little space to name and describe it.