A scrappy newspaper with less than ten full time staff, the National Catholic Reporter continues to show its outsized influence as a respected source for breaking news and savvy analysis. The weekly based in Kansas City, Mo., is fiercely independent, covering the global institution of 1 billion souls that make up the Catholic Church with persistence and an expertise valued by an increasing number of national secular news outlets.
Nicholas Kristof leads his New York Times column today by quoting from a Jan. 4th NCR commentary about Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, who recently stripped St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status after an ethics panel determined a mother’s life could only be saved by performing a surgical procedure that resulted in the termination of her pregnancy. (See my earlier post for more details). Kristof’s piece goes on to quote NCR editor Tom Fox:
Catholic hospitals like St. Joseph’s that are evicted by the church continue to operate largely as before. The main consequence is that Mass can no longer be said in the hospital chapel. Thomas C. Fox, the editor of National Catholic Reporter, noted regretfully that a hospital with deep Catholic roots like St. Joseph’s now cannot celebrate Mass, while airport chapels can. Mr. Fox added: “Olmsted’s moral certitude is lifeless, leaving no place for compassionate Christianity.”
The Times isn’t the only major news outlet paying attention to NCR. NPR aired a lengthy profile of the newspaper last spring that cited its enterprising reporting on the clergy sex abuse scandal, as well as the paper’s edgy editorials challenging a notoriously guarded Vatican bureaucracy. Not everyone is a fan, of course, and NCR’s consistently fair-minded journalism also comes with an unapologetic progressive flavor.
But no matter your political leanings, this understaffed newspaper far from the media centers of gravity deserves the growing national attention it’s receiving for being one of the few Catholic publications offering independent reporting, informed opinion-making and an old-school approach to news that’s not afraid to ruffle some collars.
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If you’re the pope, every year you deliver a dizzying array of speeches that range in tone from densely theological to the surprisingly topical. In his annual message for the church’s World Day of Social Communications earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI ventured into the digital jungle of new media with a plea for Catholic bloggers and Facebook users to adopt a “Christian style presence” online. This call for greater civility is hardly big news, but in comments to the Associated Press, a Vatican official made things a bit more interesting. Here’s the AP description:
Benedict didn’t name names, but the head of the Vatican’s social communications office, Archbishop Claudio Celli, said it was certainly correct to direct the pope’s exhortation to some conservative Catholic blogs, YouTube channels and sites which, with some vehemence, criticize bishops, public officials and policies they consider not Catholic enough.”The risk is there, there’s no doubt,” Celli said in response to a question.
This is noteworthy because Church officials usually save their finger wagging for progressive Catholics. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, for example, just days before the 2008 presidential election said in a well covered public address that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United “have done a disservice to the church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue. (Tell us what you really think, archbishop!)
But I sense a growing willingness among some in the Catholic hierarchy to push back against the aggressive tactics from the Catholic right. Consider the Archdiocese of Boston, where according to another AP story Catholic bloggers are digging through campaign finance records to expose staff of Catholic agencies who donate to pro-choice politicians, and the blog “Bryan Hehir Exposed” accuses a top adviser to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of being a Marxist sympathizer who undermines Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage. When Sen. Ted Kennedy died, the American Life League – a group that bills itself as a “Catholic pro-life education organization” – fired off an e-mail to supporters asking them to buy “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy” signs. Cardinal O’Malley was criticized so harshly by the Catholic right for participating in Sen. Kennedy’s funeral that he took to his blog to urge Catholics not to let zeal and harsh judgments “impute the worst motives in one another.”
Other examples of the More-Catholic-Than-Thou Industrial Complex? Deal Hudson, the former Catholic outreach coordinator for President George W. Bush, routinely lashes out on his InsideCatholic.com and other venues at “fake Catholics.” RealCatholicTV.com, from a studio in suburban Detroit, is on the look out for “traitorous” Catholic nuns and priests. And on it goes.
Progressive Catholic bloggers and advocates are not exempt from reflecting on the pope’s wise admonition. But it’s nice to see the top brass of the church looking over their right shoulder for a change.
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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops received considerable attention and criticism for their opposition to final passage of the Affordable Care Act last year. Given the stakes of the debate and flaws in the USCCB’s analysis of the bill’s restrictions on federal funding of abortion, some questioned the strength of the bishops conference’s stated commitment to universal health care. So it struck me as noteworthy that the bishops did not support House Republicans’ effort to repeal health care reform. RNS’s Daniel Burke filed a story on this today:
The U.S. Catholic bishops will not join efforts to repeal the new health care law, even though they staunchly opposed the bill last year after concluding it permits federally funded abortions.
Instead of pushing repeal, the bishops said Tuesday (Jan. 18) they will devote their energy “to correcting serious moral problems in the current law,” according to a letter sent to Capitol Hill from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop Stephen Blaire, and Archbishop Jose Gomez, who all chair political committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, echoed that message in a separate letter to all 535 members of Congress outlining the bishops’ top political priorities.
By not supporting House Republicans’ campaign to repeal the health care law, the bishops averted another clash with Catholic health care workers and nuns, who had bucked the hierarchy last year by publicly backing the bill.
I don’t want to read too much into this, but the bishops’ divergence from the GOP’s commitment to wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act signals a serious weakening of the bloc of religious groups that aligned against the legislation last year. Imagine for a moment that a major protestant denomination that supported health care reform last year turned around and backed repeal on the grounds that the Affordable Care Act did not provide truly universal coverage. That would send shockwaves among faith groups that worked hard to pass health care reform. I wonder what Christian leaders who opposed reform last year have to say about the USCCB’s new position. Given the contrast between the Catholic church’s longtime support for the principle of universal health care and the religious right’s rejection of this priority, this division was bound to come back to the surface sooner or later.
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In anticipation of the House’s vote to repeal health care reform today, a coalition of over 150 groups America held a rally and press conference announcing their opposition to Congressional Republican leaders’ efforts to repeal health care reform.
People of faith were well-represented in the coalition, with members of Catholics United, Faithful Reform in Health Care, PICO National Network, and Faithful America joining.
The Catholic Health Association, whose tireless work for healthcare reform earned their president, Sr. Carol Keehan recognition as “Person of the Year” by National Catholic Reporter, was featured prominently. CHA Senior Vice President Mike Rogers spoke at the event and outlined the case against repeal.
Lamenting that “rather than working on implementing the valuable provisions of the law, we find ourselves defending it,” he went on to remind those in attendance of the moral imperative for keeping health care reform in place:
“For CHA and our over 2000 members, health care coverage for everyone, especially for the poor and the vulnerable in our society is a moral priority. It builds on the foundation of the common good. When individuals and families go without health care coverage it’s an affront to their human dignity.”
The message is clear: those who have worked hard for decades to ensure that all Americans have quality, affordable health care are not going to sit on the sidelines while opponents try to play political games with this issue and repeal the important benefits now being enjoyed by millions of Americans.
Today’s repeal vote in the House was largely symbolic, but the activism and commitment of the faith community was very real and will persist until the long-term effort to dismantle or de-fund reform is defeated.
Watch Mike Rogers’s full statement below:
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We had an exciting year here at Bold Faith Type. New authors gave us the opportunity to write more posts on a wider array of topics, and our readership numbers continued to climb.
Here’s a round-up of some of our top posts from this past year. Feel free to remind us of your favorites in the comments.
In no particular order:
Working After Christmas? WWJD – Nick showed why Sens. DeMint and Kyl’s complaints about working the week after Christmas ring hollow, with responses from faith leaders.
Donahue defends Beck, but who’s the “phony”? – Beth explained why Catholic League President Bill Donohue’s defense of Glenn Beck’s anti-religious statements misrepresents Catholic teaching.
Faith leaders support Cordoba House, Denounce Anti-Muslim rhetoric – Dan featured the statement of over 40 diverse faith leaders in support of the Cordoba House project and against religious bigotry.
Misinformation in Action: Fox News and the TSA “Muslim Exemption” – Nick tracked down the myth that TSA was exempting Muslims from security screenings at airports.
Keeping our faith in our sights – Kristin highlighted a report from ABC Nightline news that a gun manufacturer was inscribing rifle sights for U.S. soldiers with Bible versus.
Faith Gets Better – Inspired by Gene Robinson’s “It Gets Better” video in response to the rash of LGBT teen suicides, we invited people of faith to submit their own videos to be featured.
Tea Party, Evangelicals and Race – Beth highlighted one of the American Values Survey’s most interesting (and troubling) findings: regressive racial attitudes are widespread among Tea Partiers.
The Real Stephen Colbert – Nick highlighted Stephen Colbert’s powerful testimony on Capitol Hill about his day working with migrant farm workers.
An authoritative analysis of the Senate health care bill’s abortion policy – Dan posted legal expert Tim Jost’s in-depth analysis of why claims that health reform would provide federal funding of abortion are untrue.
Post-Election Breakdown: Religious Voters, the Economy and Moral Values – John crunched the numbers on exit polls from the mid-term elections.
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