I was quite heartened yesterday to see an established New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, go after Catholicism—and faith in general. After all, the good gray Times isn’t known for criticizing religion: it’s the home of Ross Douthat, of Tanya Luhrmann, and various others who osculate the rump of faith. The lesson the paper and its writers seem to have learned is that you make no enemies (even among atheists) by coddling faith, but criticizing it brings you ostracism and hatred. I can’t in fact remember ever seeing any NYT op-ed that goes after the unwarranted privileges, like tax breaks, that religion enjoys in the U.S.
But Bruni’s latest piece, “The Catholic Church’s sins are ours,” doesn’t pull any punches.
Although he concentrates on the sins of Catholicism, especially the Church’s coverup of child rape, I was heartened to see him criticize the privileging of faith in general. It may help understand Bruni’s animus against Catholicism that, according to Wikipedia, he’s openly gay; and the article says this:
While on the staff of the Free Press, Bruni was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing for a portrait of a convicted pedophile.
His nominal excuse for the column is the release of the new movie “Spotlight“, about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning coverage of how the Boston diocese covered up pedophilia inbypriests (more about the movie below); but Bruni also says things like this:
It’s fashionable among some conservatives to rail that there’s insufficient respect for religion in America and that religious people are marginalized, even vilified.
That’s bunk. In more places and instances than not, they get special accommodation and the benefit of the doubt. Because they talk of God, they’re assumed to be good. There’s a reluctance to besmirch them, an unwillingness to cross them.
The new movie “Spotlight,” based on real events, illuminates this brilliantly.
When the cookies finally went away, many Catholic leaders insisted that the church was being persecuted, and the crimes of priests exaggerated, by spiteful secularists.
But if anything, the church had been coddled, benefiting from the American way of giving religion a free pass and excusing religious institutions not just from taxes but from rules that apply to other organizations.
That last sentence is quite “strident”—at least for the Times!
And this, the ending of his piece: (do have a look at Bruni’s link to this week’s Times article about mandated religious arbitration, an eye opener):
A story in The Times this week described how various religions are permitted to use internal arbitration procedures to settle disputes that belong in civil court. It cited a federal judge’s ruling that a former Scientologist had to take his claim that Scientology had defrauded him of tens of thousands of dollars before a panel of current Scientologists.
To cloak sexual abuse and shield abusive priests, Catholic leaders and their lawyers routinely leaned on the church’s privileged status, invoking freedom of religion, the separation of church and state, and the secrecy of the confessional. They thus delayed a reckoning.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one,” says a character in “Spotlight.” Indeed it does: a village too cowed, and a village too credulous.
Cowed and credulous: an apt description of the American village!
I’ve written about “Spotlight” before, quoting a film-festival screening seen by reader Tom C., who gave the film high marks:
I’m in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival sans socks because they have been blown off by a movie I felt I should give you a heads-up about as it doesn’t open in the states until Nov. 6. “Spotlight” is the story of six Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the cover-up of child molestation by the Archdiocese of Boston. To say the movie is powerful is to damn it with faint praise. Beautifully understated with great acting, particularly by Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, I emerged furious at the mendacity of the church and heartbroken for the victims. I look forward to seeing Bill Donohue’s (Catholic League head goon) head explode when this film opens nationally. I’ve linked (I hope) a review from the Toronto Star. [JAC: I lost the link, but here’s one review from the Star.]
The movie opens tomorrow, and for readers of this site—or any movie-lover—it will be a must-see. My New Yorker that arrived yesterday has a very positive review (free online) of “Spotlight” by one of my favorite movie critics, the captious Anthony Lane. And Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 94% rating based on 50 reviews. Here’s the trailer:
h/t: Greg Mayer