A canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America says that a recent column by Bishop Robert Finn serves as a strong urging to the National Catholic Reporter to re-establish its fidelity to the Church.
“What he's doing here,” Dr. Kurt Martens said, “is he's giving them a warning, saying 'Be careful, because...I've looked into the NCR's positions against authentic Church teaching on a number of issues.'”
“He has, as a diocesan bishop, not only the right, but the duty or obligation to oversee what is happening in his diocese,” Martens told CNA in a Jan. 30 interview, and “to make sure that the name 'Catholic' is not used in vain.”
Bishop Finn shepherds the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, where the National Catholic Reporter is headquartered.
In a Jan. 25 column for his diocesan paper, “The Catholic Key,” Bishop Finn wrote that “in light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name 'Catholic.'”
In his column, the bishop did not take issue with the paper's reporting, but with its editorial stances.
“In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.”
Martens, who works as an associate professor of canon law at the D.C. university, said that the gravity of the National Catholic Reporter's editorial stance of supporting the ordination of women is significant – and that the issue goes so far as to address Church unity and the Sacraments.
“Bishop Finn is...exercising vigilance over the use of the title 'Catholic' in his diocese. And if there is a need, he intervenes by first warning, and ultimately taking away that title 'Catholic.'”
In his column, the bishop noted that in 1968, his predecessor Bishop Charles Helmsing condemned the publication “and asking the publishers to remove the name 'Catholic' from their title – to no avail.”
Martens said, “it is correct that the title 'Catholic' can only be used with permission, explicit or implicit, of competent ecclesiastical authority” – who in the National Catholic Reporter's case, is Bishop Finn.
“His authority as local bishop is that he has indeed that right and obligation to verify that every organization that calls itself Catholic, is indeed Catholic.” He said this is important so that the faithful are not “misled” by writings in disagreement with Church teaching.
Martens said that the bishop's warning also serves as an invitation to a “substantive and respectful discussion” for the Reporter's representatives.
He also speculated that Bishop Finn's final step could be to remove the publication's permission to use the name “Catholic,” which is “perfectly within his rights.”
If the National Catholic Reporter is not open to dialogue with Bishop Finn, Martens said that the bishop “might have no other option but to take away their right...to use the title 'Catholic.'”
In doing so, Bishop Finn would be exercising his responsibility of governing his diocese.
Martens observed that the bishop “has not only the right to do so, but he has the obligation. If there is indeed a problem with the editorials, as is the case here, and you see that someone uses the term 'Catholic,' yet is constantly undermining the Magisterium of the Church, then a bishop cannot just sit back and relax and enjoy a drink.”
“He has to intervene. It's not only a right to intervene, but an obligation also. The combination of the two is important. What Bishop Finn does here, is what he has to do as a bishop.”