Gail Deibler Finke, who recently reviewed the pro-priestette "documentary", Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, for Ignatius Insight takes a look at the cozy relationship between The New York Times and Call To Action:
Call to Action may be dwindling in numbers, budget, and influence, but apparently it’s still got the ear of the “newspaper of record.”
In late July the New York Times ran two stories (here and here) featuring a letter of support for excommunicated Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, supposedly signed by 157 “priests in good standing,” but not giving the text of the letter or the identities of the priests.
Here is what may be the text of the letter:
Dear Father Dougherty,
As priests in good standing within the Roman Catholic Church, we want to make clear that we support our brother Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM in his priesthood and his right to speak from his conscience.
This text is on Call to Action’s web site, at the top of a form for priests to fill out. It requires signees to fill in their first and last names, dioceses, and email addresses.
Good enough for me!
What’s that? Not good enough for you? Well, that’s all you get. Take it or leave it. Call to Action told me it will release the text and the identities of the 157 priests at its national conference in November -- after staff has tracked down all the men who signed it and made sure that they’re okay with their names being known.
It seems to me that they should have done so before sending out the press release, but hey, that’s just me. Due diligence, journalistic ethics, and all that still mean something to me.
But not the New York Times, which pretty much ran with the CTA press release (PDF file) for its July 23 story -- reporting the CTA’s view that goings-on Ireland and Australia are tied into Fr. Roy’s supporters in the USA and indicate a current of dissent in the Catholic Church.
Imagine that! Dissent in the Catholic Church!
Sorry, I got carried away. The second story is at least more honest: it openly profiles Call to Action and its views, outlines its changing acceptance (or lack of such) by the current bishop of its home city of Chicago, and even includes a zinger of a quote from what it calls an “outspoken conservative and critic” of the group.
But what it doesn’t do is tell you who signed the letter, a key point in being able to evaluate what the letter means. CTA’s spokeswoman told me that the Times has a copy of the letter and the names of all the priests who signed it. She also said that CTA provided the paper with contact information for the priest who headed up the letter project, which she said was conducted by phone and not by mail or through its web site.
And that may be all the information one needs to know. The Sunday piece quoted one of the signers, a retired Chicago priest the Times says is “unfazed by possible reprisals,” Fr. Bill Kenneally. He told the Times that “since I’m retired, it’s not like they can take a church away from me” for speaking out -- not exactly a rare voice of moral courage, but presumably an honest one.
If Fr. Kenneally is indeed representative of the men who signed the letter, it would not be surprising. Most of Call to Action’s clergy and religious members are close to retirement or retired. If all they did to get people to sign the letter was call up their priest members, or priest friends of members, then it would be no surprise if the result was 150 or so retired priests. Anyone with a list of CTA members could probably predict most of the names.
But it is not a news story that members of a dissident group signed a letter supporting a dissident priest, especially if they are men who have been dissident priests since the 1970s. Moreover, if the real letter is the same as the letter CTA has on its web site, they don’t even have to be all that dissident to sign it. I’m sure a lot of priests “support Fr. Roy in his priesthood and his right to speak from his conscience,” no matter what wacky things he does. He is a hero of the anti-war movement and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Many people who believe in his work with School of the Americas Watch -- which gets plenty wacky at times -- are willing to cut him a world of slack.
The problem is, Fr. Roy went way past “speaking from his conscience” to doing something wrong. Maybe all those giant puppets and theatrics at School of the Americas Watch made it seem like no big deal, but what he did was participate in the “ordination” of his friend and protege, Janice Sevré-Duszynska. Canon law says that anyone who does so automatically excommunicates himself or herself. Given the chance to recant (Rome is actually amazingly lenient on this kind of thing) Fr. Bourgeois metaphorically thumbed his nose at the Church and is currently awaiting laicization while on what the NYT calls “a 34-city speaking tour” explaining his personal gospel of social justice.
It’s sad. It’s sad when someone who started out trying to dedicate his life to peace ends up dedicating it to his own pet theories. It’s sad when people intoxicated with what they think is life and freedom and newness end up forty years later as rabble rousers incapable of rousing any rabble but themselves. It’s sad when an organization that says it wants to renew the Church sends out press releases attacking it. And it’s sad when a newspaper that once prided itself on providing “all the news that’s fit to print” finds it fit to print any old club to hit the Catholic Church with, even if that club is a story so flimsy a volunteer writer for a radio station can tear it apart from her home office with half an hour of research and a few phone calls.
Read Gail's July 29th piece, "Pink Smoke Gets In Your Eyes".