Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is now Pope Francis, and Thursday's New York Times front-page "Man In the News" profile by Emily Schmall and Larry Rohter, "A Conservative With a Common Touch," opened respectfully. But after a dash of local color and historical context, the Times quickly mounted its old hobby horse: the Church's positions on liberal issues like abortion and gay marriage:
But Cardinal Bergoglio is also a conventional choice, a theological conservative of Italian ancestry who vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues -- leading to heated clashes with Argentina’s left-leaning president.
Pope Benedict XVI served his final day as pontiff on Thursday, and the New York Times' Rome bureau chief Rachel Donadio sent him on his way from Vatican City under a dark cloud: "As Pope Departs, Discord Remains at Vatican."
As the sun set on Rome and on his turbulent eight-year papacy, Pope Benedict XVI, a shy theologian who never seemed entirely at home in the limelight, was whisked by helicopter into retirement on Thursday.
But while Benedict, 85, retires to a life of prayer, study, walks in the garden and piano practice, he leaves in his wake a Vatican hierarchy facing scandals and intrigue that are casting a shadow over the cardinals entrusted with electing his successor in a conclave this month.
The New York Times coverage of the Pope's trip to the dictatorship of Cuba has a strange, cheap-shot emphasis on how the Cuban people are coerced to attend such rallies, an authoritarian power play, but one the paper rarely if ever bothers to address during Cuban May Day rallies held in celebration of communism. A nytimes.com search suggests the Times has never previously used the words "orchestrated" or "intimidation" to describe the Cuban government coercing people to attend May Day parades.
So why use that explanation for the crowds surrounding the Pope, but leave that obvious explanation off when talking about crowds listening to dictator Fidel Castro's latest multi-hour-drone-a-thon of a speech?
The New York Times is not known for delicate restraint in its treatment of the Catholic Church. Executive editor Bill Keller (despite somehow marrying his second wife in the Church) trashed Pope John Paul the Great in 2002: "One paradox of the Polish pope is that while he is rightly revered for helping bring down the godless Communists, he has replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church."
The memory of that fusillade was rekindled in a New York Times story on Thursday about the sex scandals of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and how they're outraging women in Italy. Times reporters Elisabetta Povoledo and Rachel Donadio include this loaded sentence: "By some lights, Italian women have come far in a country whose most entrenched power structures — the Roman Catholic Church and organized crime — remain male and secretive."
This is a little like saying the NAACP and the Ku Klux Klan are both fraternal organizations based on race. But that wasn't the only example on this day. Kathryn Lopez of National Review found the Catholic Church was also compared to the terrorism-endorsing Muslim Brotherhood by reporter Scott Shane:
Pope Benedict XVI may be touring Israel, but the New York Times is barely paying attention to anything he’s saying in favor of sounding doom-filled notes about the fate of Christianity in its own birthplace.
On Wednesday’s front page, Ethan Bronner reported a story headlined "Mideast’s Christians Losing Numbers and Sway." Bronner says the number of Christians is rapidly falling due to "political violence," among other reasons. A word he doesn’t use: "persecution." The idea that Muslims are intolerant and unwilling to embrace any notion of religious liberty is present, but more accepted than scorned. Bronner quoted the pontiff only to underscore the doom:
The pope, in a Mass on Tuesday at the foot of the Mount of Olives, addressed "the tragic reality" of the "departure of so many members of the Christian community in recent years."
He said: "While understandable reasons lead many, especially the young, to emigrate, this decision brings in its wake a great cultural and spiritual impoverishment to the city. Today I wish to repeat what I have said on other occasions: in the Holy Land there is room for everyone!"