Setting the record straight on the Daily News, the Catholic Church and child sex abuse

By NY Daily News Editors
October 27, 2016

Catholic League President Bill Donohue has taken note that the Daily News failed to report that an Orthodox Jewish school in Brooklyn agreed to pay $2.1 million to two former students who accused a rabbi of sexual abuse.

An energetically valuable defender of his faith, Donohue sees anti-Catholic bias in the fact that The News published not a word about the settlement paid as compensation for the serial predations of Rabbi Joel Kolko.

We see something else: human error.

Like any media organization, The News sometimes misses stories. This was one of them — and it was especially significant for a publication that has campaigned for reform of New York State statutes of limitations on criminal and civil cases against those who sexually abuse minors.

Our particular interest aside, the conclusion of the Kolko civil suit demanded attention because his alleged pedophilia extended for years, he had escaped the law before and the settlement was the first of its kind by a yeshiva.

So, we blew it.

Typically when that happens, we lick our wounds, take corrective measures and move on. Here, given the sensitivities and import of the subject matter, we owe our readers more.

In pressing for statute of limitation reform, The News was mindful that the focus on abuse by priests — in an era before society recognized the prevalence of the crime — gave the wrong impression that the Catholic Church was a special font of the evil.

Still worse, some made the perniciously ill-founded leap to concluding that the vow of priestly celibacy bred a climate where crimes against children were uniquely likely to happen.

From parishioners in the pews up to Pope Francis, all agree that some priests did engage in sexual abuse and that the hierarchy often covered it over, leading to extended victimization.

While critics continue to believe that more accountability is demanded, there must be recognition that the church has taken substantial strides in acknowledging what the Pope has described as its painful sins.

Paradoxically, the church’s admirable frankness may at times draw attention away from the truth that sexual abuse against children happens all too often in public schools, in child care centers, in other faith-based institutions, on teams, in homes — essentially everywhere an adult victimizer holds power over a young person.

As a result, The News used a wide lens when writing about the statute of limitations.

Articles and editorials focused on people in all professions and of all backgrounds who were credibly accused of molesting boys and girls.

In fact, The News took up the cause after authorities filed sexual abuse charges against Long Island foster parent Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu — and evidence showed that the courts were shut to many of his alleged victims.

Along the way, we have extensively covered claims, which led to a settlement and apology, that a longtime football coach at Brooklyn’s secular Poly Prep Country Day private school abused hundreds of young boys there over a 25-year period.

We have covered allegations of abuse at Yeshiva University High School, and at Penn State University.

We have reported many times on other rabbis accused of taking advantage of boys.

We have given voice to many young men who allege that hip-hop star Afrika Bambaataa sexually abused them.

As far as Kolko is concerned, we first reported about him in 2006 with a story headlined “Sex-rap rabbi is busted in Brooklyn,” and followed with five stories that concluded in 2012, under the headline “Rabbi off the hook — accused perv dodges leer rap.”

When New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan unveiled a compensation fund for those victimized by priests, this editorial page praised his “remarkable moral courage,” adding that the move was “an inspiring example of fortitude as he set a milestone in the search for justice long denied.”

In other areas, this page has proudly championed causes that happen to be dear to the heart of many of the Catholic faithful.

We have repeatedly blasted President Obama’s attempt to force a contraception coverage mandate on the Little Sisters of the Poor, writing in one editorial:

“A nation founded on the principle that government will keep its hands off religion cannot be a nation whose government commands Catholic nuns to violate their beliefs.”

We wholeheartedly praised Pope Francis’ exhortation “On Love in the Family” for being driven “by deep decency, an abiding sense of forgiveness and recognition of the complicated way real lives are lived.”

We were proud to welcome Francis as “God’s gift to New York” when he graced the city with his presence last year.

And we have been steadfast supporters of a program, stalled in Albany, to extend state education tax credits to help families struggling to afford non-public schooling, calling it “a much-needed lifeline to parochial schools, yeshivas and other private academies serving lower-income kids.”

Donohue’s zeal is understandable, but his claim that the Daily News harbors anti-Catholic bias is simply false.