Under the Glass places both the secular and religious media’s coverage of the Church and other issues of importance under a magnifying glass to uncover what is hidden between the lines.
April 06, 2009

The National Catholic Reporter: Time to sing bye, bye to Miss American pie?

Alas, the days in which the National Catholic Reporter was respected, and even if not respected, then at least feared, are gone. Even the brave Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo would tremble at the idea of Penny Lernoux or Gary MacEoin being in the audience or tracing his steps.

Proudly ideological, unapologetically opposed to the teachings of the Church in most moral or theological matters, the Reporter was for decades the beacon of Catholic dissent in the U.S.

Despite an aging readership that was at times adrift in the flotsam of its dubious interpretations of Vatican II, the publication became as necessary to many Americans as apple pie.

But the latest info-editorial of NCR’s new publisher and editor-in-chief, Joe Feuerherd, leaves one wondering if this is the time to start singing bye, bye to that “Miss American pie.”

Just take a look at Feuerherd’s “Catholic Academic Ayatollah shows true colors.”

It's supposed to be a “gotcha” piece that lays out evidence to demonstrate to readers that Patrick Reilly, president of the Virginia-based Cardinal Newman Society and a leading figure in the campaign opposing Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama, is nothing but a hypocritical mole of radical conservatism, who carefully doses his outrages to meet the interests of the Republican party, making a comfortable living in the meantime.

But Feuerherd’s intention is transparent. Not because of the facts or arguments he pretends to pile on, but because he manages to include in only 951 words, this not so journalistic tirade of adjectives: “Ayatollah, McCarthyite, fundamentalist, self-appointed ayatollah, overseer of false orthodoxy, Catholic madrassa, McCarthyite tactics, fundamentalist agenda, keeper of conformity, Ayatollah Reilly, witch hunts, extremist group and whacky anti-abortion advocate.”

So much for journalistic objectivity.

Feuerherd tries to make the case for Reilly’s hypocrisy here:

In May 2005, for example, Reilly was outraged not only at the pro-choice speakers invited to address new Catholic graduates at campuses across the country, but also that Sr. Helen Prejean, the anti-death penalty activist, was delivering the commencement address at Belmont, California’s Notre Dame de Namur University. Prejean, you see, is a capital punishment abolitionist, while the church leaves some wiggle room for “cases of absolute necessity,” which, in Reilly’s view, makes her a dangerous dissenter. And though Prejean opposes abortion, she has publicly expressed sympathy for poor women in crisis pregnancies – questioning whether our society really gives them a legitimate “choice” – which apparently is a big no-no for the keeper of conformity.

The fact is, Reilly never opposed Prejean for being against the death penalty, but for her well-known pro-choice position. The glossy treatment Prejean receives here from Feuerherd only conceals the fact that the famous Sr. Helen is as “personally opposed but…” a la Cuomo or Kerry. You can criticize Reilly for being relentless, but if Feuerherd thinks he has a case of hypocrisy or lack of consistency, he simply doesn’t.

His next argument is equally unconvincing:

Reilly and the Society, however, were strangely silent when then-Vice President Cheney spoke at the Catholic University of America in January 2005. Cheney (like Obama) opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and has some questionable views on the “intrinsic evil” of state-sponsored torture, but that was apparently of no concern to Reilly. The Society did not protest the vice president’s appearance.

A Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as nice as it may sound, is not a Catholic teaching. It is a proposition about which Christians equally opposed to gay “marriage” can disagree. And “questionable” views on state-sponsored torture are precisely that - questionable. It doesn’t mean that Cheney is a perfect speaker for a Catholic University or that Reilly could have opposed him. But it means far less than what Feuerherd is trying to force the readers to conclude: that Obama, the politician with the most impeccable pro-abortion track record to become President in the history of the U.S., is doctrinally comparable to Cheney, and that Reilly is hypocritical for not reacting against Cheney as he is doing now with Obama.

Feuerherd then delivers a low-blow masterpiece:

Here’s what is really going on. Ayatollah Reilly searches for hot button issues on Catholic campuses -- anything that has to do with gays gets them excited, as do performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and, of course, pro-choice speakers (few of whom actually even discuss abortion in their presentations) – that will energize their base of donors and activists. Then they highlight these offenses on the Web and through direct mail to generate revenue.

It is good work if you can get it: for his efforts Reilly (according to a 2007 financial disclosure report) drew a nearly six-figure salary.

Is he saying that Reilly is some kind of religious con artist concerned only with making an easy living? That is a serious accusation, which not only is completely unsubstantiated, but implies a moral judgment about Reilly’s intentions.

The Reporter’s statement for fiscal year 2006, which ended on June 30, 2007, reports that then editor Tom Roberts made $82,343. It is reasonable to think that Feuerherd is at least, two years later, making something around that figure. Wouldn't it be fair to say that he is also drawing “a nearly six-figure salary”? And doesn't that place Feuerherd under the same suspicion of being a con?

There is no problem with Feuerherd trying to hold Catholics accountable, but he should certainly start with some housekeeping. In an interview with “The Tower,” the paper of the Catholic University of America, Feuerherd said he would “try to carry out NCR’s mission, which is to provide knowledgeable news and analysis of the Catholic Church, especially in the United States.”

His first salvos don’t seem to fit his commitment to that mission, a fact that NCR readers didn't miss, as evidenced by the first two comments posted right under Feuerherd’s online article:

Rarely have I read a mean spirited article in NCR. Sadly this is one. Also this characterization of Persian religion is also offensive. An apology should be made by NCR. Catholics would be offended if Persians were to characterize the Pope in the same manner. Please pray for all concerned. Grace and peace with prayers always in Christ...

Thank you, Anonymous, for this comment. This article has too many problems to waste time listing them all. Its mean spirit is the worst one. Hear, hear. A sincere apology is in order!

It might be too early to say “bye, bye” to the Reporter, especially considering that it still counts on the towering professionalism of reporters like John Allen Jr.

But Feuerherd seems to be headed in the wrong direction, and should he become complacent, he might drive his Chevy to the levee and find that the levee was dry…

--Alejandro Bermudez

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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