A top Vatican official has harshly criticized The New York Times' coverage of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis in a lengthy article posted on the Vatican Web site.
Cardinal William Levada, an American who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the newspaper "lacks fairness" and accuses the pope of "leniency and inaction" in dealing with abuse cases.
"I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on," Levada wrote in the article, dated March 26 but posted online late Wednesday.
Levada succeeded the pope in leading the congregation, which oversees Catholic doctrine and issues of faith and morals. When Benedict was in the role, Levada said, he helped enact new church legislation that greatly helped in dealing with abuse cases.
That new legislation included designating the sexual abuse of minors by clerics as "graviora delicta," or most grave crimes; streamlining the administrative process for judgments; and adjusting the maximum age of a minor to 18 to correspond with civil law in many countries, Levada said.
He said the pope's legacy with the congregation has benefited the entire Catholic church.
"It seems to me," he wrote, "that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors."
Though Levada criticized the Times for a "series of articles" that lack fairness and are "rushing to a guilty verdict," the cardinal was particularly angered by a March 26 article about the abuse of as many as 200 deaf boys in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by the now-deceased Rev. Lawrence Murphy.
The Times alleged that top Vatican officials, including the future Pope Benedict, failed to discipline or defrock Murphy despite warnings from several American bishops.
In its article Thursday about Levada's remarks, the Times says its allegations "drew on documents obtained from lawyers suing the church that showed that Vatican officials had at first ordered a secret canonical trial, then asked the archdiocese to suspend it after the priest pleaded for leniency to Cardinal Ratzinger. Wisconsin church officials protested the suspension, but followed it."
Ratzinger later became Pope Benedict.
Levada also takes issue with a Maureen Dowd opinion piece accompanying the article, which he said displays the newspaper's "usual bias."
"Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting," Levada wrote.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki apologized repeatedly Tuesday night for the way his archdiocese handled the Murphy case, and he defended the Vatican, saying the mistakes were made by church officials and civil authorities in Milwaukee, not in Rome.