The Fishwrap Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

From time to time the better angels of my nature are overcome and, submitting to that most vicious of temptations, I click through to an article in the National Catholic Reporter (which Father John Zuhlsdorf affectionately refers to as the National Catholic Fishwrap). Such was the malign, some may say demonic, influence that brought me, sometime last week, to an article by Roy Bourgeois—formerly Father Bourgeois—arguing, as he is wont to do, for the ordination of women to the priesthood.

His surname is a happy irony, since bourgeois is the perfect descriptor for such facile and frivolous pet causes. You will not find many female-ordination fanatics in the slums of Calcutta. They might have more reason than anyone to consider it, given the recent memory of a certain saint in that city. But they also have more important things to worry about.

The article is particularly malicious and exemplary of NCR’s worst tendencies. For it condemns the Church herself, at whose feet Mr. Bourgeois lays “the injustices that result when institutional power rests solely in the hands of an elite group, in this case, the all-male priesthood.” A reactionary Church is framed as the stubborn antagonist of an enlightened society: “As the world around it struggles toward equality, the church hierarchy clings to its hold on power, trotting out the same tired justifications for women’s subordination [ha, get it?], much of it rooted in pseudoscience and the ignorant musings of medieval philosophers.”

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Mr. Bourgeois displays here, too, that most insidious tendency of progressive Catholic journalists and journals: the lower-case c in “Church.” In that minute insubordination, all others are betrayed.

Mr. Bourgeois’s malignant ramblings lured me down a rabbit hole of sorts. And the National Catholic Reporter is a veritable Wonderland. If Mr. Bourgeois is our White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter will have to be political columnist Michael Sean Winters. Mr. Winters earns this exceedingly uncomplimentary casting precisely because he displays, on occasion, an ounce of sense. In a July 31 column, for instance, he mentions “those of us who believe abortion is an infamy,” and Catholics committed to Catholic political outcomes might be convinced for a second that he is one of us. But we must snap out of this wishful thinking and remember that, just a paragraph before, Mr. Winters was misrepresenting pro-abortion propaganda as “the language of solidarity.” His shtick is a schizophrenic oscillation between Catholic sense and progressive insanity. Mad Hatter indeed.

For Tweedledee, we might pinpoint the regrettably ubiquitous John Gehring. Mr. Gehring popped up in The Washington Post a few years back to lament a conservative Catholic colloquium’s failure to focus on his preferred subjects of “poverty, the environment and the command to welcome migrants.” A year later, in 2018, he took to the pages of Commonweal, where he saw fit to blame not just Brett Kavanaugh, but all students of Catholic male prep schools, for the beyond dubious accusations leveled at the Supreme Court nominee, an absolutely bonkers take, even for a frequent flyer in publications of the nominally Catholic Left. His regular contributions to NCR culminate in a July 23 hit piece on U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, whom Mr. Gehring denounces as a “culture warrior Catholic.” Mr. Gehring finds his particular place amid our dramatis personae thanks to the humdrum nature of his repertoire—always engaged in the quibble of the day, only to be distracted by the next crow swooping in.

For Tweedledum, Jamie Manson can have no competition. The book editor’s columns range from the innocuously moronic to the outright blasphemous. One especially offensive example, April 7’s “You don’t have to believe in God to witness a crucifixion this week,” is appalling in its substitution of the political for the theological. “Trump, Kushner and others are fueled by greed, ignorance and a fear of the loss of power,” Ms. Mason writes. “Their unjust actions are crucifying tens of thousands of people suffering from Covid-19.” Is this the best a supposedly Catholic newspaper can offer in honor of Holy Week?

In fact, it is the kind of sludge that demands we question a publication’s identity as “Catholic.” And people of goodwill have been doing just that for decades. In October of 1968, Richard Helmsing, then bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, in which the paper is headquartered, issued a scathing rebuke of NCR’s anti-Catholic direction. The bishop’s command was clear:

Inasmuch as the National Catholic Reporter does not reflect the teaching of the Church, but on the contrary, has openly and deliberately opposed this teaching, I ask the editors in all honesty to drop the term “Catholic” from their masthead. By retaining it they deceive their Catholic readers and do a great disservice to ecumenism by being responsible for the false irenicism of watering down Catholic teachings.

It is plainly apparent that the “Catholic” moniker has not been dropped. Has the deliberate opposition to Catholic teaching at least been toned down? Hardly. As late as 2013, then-Bishop Richard Finn was forced to revive his predecessor’s admonitions, observing plainly that “NCR’s positions against authentic Church teaching and leadership have not changed trajectory in the intervening decades.” It seems, in fact, that the situation has actually worsened in the intervening seven years, and now, heading into the 2020 elections, NCR’s rebellion has ramped up to a higher intensity than ever.

Which brings us to our Queen of Hearts. It is not, as some might expect, bumbling executive editor Heidi Schlumpf, but rather her newfound idol, radical freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

After Ms. Ocasio-Cortez delivered an admittedly effective speech on the House floor denouncing Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) for allegedly calling her a disgusting word on the Capitol steps, Ms. Schlumpf could hardly contain her excitement. Taking her cue from the numerous and tiresome “AOC is the future of the Democratic Party” write-ups of the last two years, Ms. Schlumpf went above and beyond  the call of duty to inflict on us “AOC is the future of the Catholic Church.” Her argument is that AOC, being vaguely concerned with justice and goodness, is therefore the incarnation of Catholic social teaching.

It is a bait and switch. Readers come for Catholic reporting and end up instead engrossed in a propaganda sheet for the Democratic Party and the secular progressive movement. This is, and always has been, the paper’s vision: an American Church indistinguishable from the American Left. Their tireless footwork on behalf of the Biden campaign makes their real mission apparent.

It is an infiltration of explicitly anti-Catholic doctrines into the minds of American Catholics and the public image of the Church in the United States. It’s the wildest dream of the Church’s last-century enemies brought to bear under a “Catholic” banner. It’s a substitution of the true Church for a secular one, whose queen is not the Virgin Mary but a fallen-away fanatic calling for the head of noted colonial oppressor Saint Damien of Molokai.

This will most certainly not be the future of the Church, given our Lord’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. But the gates of hell may well prevail against the National Catholic Reporter, which, in reality, is anything but Catholic. They may, in fact, already have prevailed. I can do no better than to reiterate the late Bishop Helmsing’s plea: “I further ask the editors and the board of directors, for the love of God and their fellow men, to change their misguided and evil policy; for it is evident to me that they have already caused untold harm to the faith and morals not only of our laity, but of too many of our priests and religious.”


  • Declan Leary

    Mr. Leary is associate editor of The American Conservative.

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