Answering the Boston Globe
By Deal Hudson
November 3, 2003
It was just a matter of time. When Charles Pierce showed up at our September 8 meeting with the bishops, he said he was working on a story for the Boston Globe Magazine.
Days went by. Then weeks, then months. The stories from the other reporters present were written and printed (and were actually quite fair). But nothing from Pierce.
If you don't get the Globe, let me give you a quick rundown: Yesterday's edition of the Boston Globe Magazine had a cover story called "The Crusaders." As you've probably already guessed, it was a feature-length assault on faithful Catholicism in general and faithful Catholic leaders in specific (Fr. C. John McCloskey received the brunt of the abuse; Opus Dei, Tom Monaghan, George Weigel, and I received our share as well).
Normally, I would have simply ignored the piece. After all, you won't last long in this business if you get upset every time a liberal reporter does a hatchet job on you.
But this article contained a claim that's simply too outrageous to let pass. If you've read the piece, you know exactly what I'm referring to. If you haven't, you'll find out in a moment.
First, let me say that there's something oddly refreshing about a reporter who forgoes even the appearance of objectivity. When Charles Pierce put pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard), he clearly had no intention but to write a one-sided, liberal critique of "conservative" Catholics. How else can we explain outrageous statements like this:
"Vatican II is now a towering historical event, representing for some the ongoing spirit of reform in the church and for others a kind of theological breeder reactor, constantly on the edge of going out of control. While favoring the latter view, Pope John Paul II, who has led the Catholic Church since 1978, also has reinterpreted the events of the council in such a way that they support his traditionalist view of the church."
John Paul II has "reinterpreted" the council to support his "traditionalist" views? Obviously, Charles Pierce has never read the documents of the Second Vatican Council or he'd be too embarrassed to make such a statement.
Furthermore, he seems to have no idea what a traditionalist is. In fact, in the very next paragraph, he makes the astonishing claim that "Over his lengthy pontificate, John Paul II has allied himself with the traditionalist side of every ongoing dispute within the church."
Traditionalists would certainly be surprised to hear this.
But Pierce's bias is apparent in other ways as well. The extremely liberal Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame is laughably presented as mainstream; the Ethics and Public Policy Center -- a conservative think-tank -- is criticized for receiving money from (gasp!) some conservative foundations. (Does Pierce criticize liberal think-tanks for receiving funding from liberal groups? Hardly. I guess it's only wrong when conservatives do it.)
Our September 8 meeting with the bishops comes in for similar treatment. Pierce begins by seriously mischaracterizing the earlier secret meeting between the bishops and a group of dissenters, making it sound like a small, harmless meeting of bishops and laypeople genuinely concerned about the sex abuse crisis (no mention that the attendees were almost exclusively dissenters, nor that vital "sex abuse" topics like birth control and women's ordination were covered).
In regards to our own meeting with the bishops, Pierce takes a much different tone:
"Almost immediately, the conservative network reacted strongly to what it termed a 'secret meeting' between the bishops and 'dissenters' and organized its own meeting at the Cosmos Club in September, which Gregory and the other bishops could hardly refuse to attend. Ironically, the conservatives were being more forceful in their invitation than deference to episcopal authority might previously have allowed."
Actually, we simply (and quietly) invited Bishop Gregory and the others to a meeting. There was no force, no threats, no bluster -- nothing at all. The bishops graciously accepted and we had a very productive and positive meeting. But this doesn't fit into the "angry conservative" stereotype Pierce is trying to assemble.
Finally, near the end of the article and after a host of other small errors that any fact-checker should have picked up (First Things is NOT a Catholic magazine... it's ecumenical; the 26-year-old Christendom College is not "new"; etc.), Pierce makes a truly shocking statement:
"Deal Hudson does not like John McCloskey. Before saying anything about him, and nothing that's good, Hudson turns off a reporter's tape recorder. After all, if one is trying to simultaneously renew the universal church and build a conservative Catholic political movement out of the ashes of scandal, it does not help to have someone baptizing leading political conservatives while waxing affably about the religious dissolution of the country."
I don't like Fr. McCloskey? Well that's certainly news to me. After all, we've been friends for years... he was the first guest on my EWTN show (he and I inaugurated the theme of Church and culture on that episode)... I've attended several retreats with him... he's a long-time supporter of the magazine and attends most of our events... in fact, we often have him offer the prayers at our annual fundraising dinners. And to cap it all off, I recently asked Fr. McCloskey if I could hold the release party for my new book at his Catholic Information Center in two weeks (he generously agreed).
Make no mistake: I like Fr. C. John McCloskey. We've been friends for years, and that friendship will continue.
But if that's all true, what on earth is Pierce referring to? Actually, it's quite simple and undeserving of the sinister treatment he gives it in his article. At one point in our interview about faithful Catholics in the Church, Pierce asked me what I thought of Fr. McCloskey's take on the sex abuse crisis. Since Father McCloskey and I have a friendly disagreement over the role of the media in the scandal, I turned off the tape recorder (I didn't want to be quoted as disagreeing with him). It's an in-house debate, and we can argue over it privately as friends, but I didn't want anything I said to be used as ammo for an anti-McCloskey hit-piece.
I guess I was a bit na?ve.
Regardless, my comments were confined to our relatively minor difference of opinion on the sex abuse crisis. Nothing I said could possibly be understood as evidence of ill will. So for Pierce to claim that I don't like Fr. McCloskey is simply dirty pool... a clumsy attempt to sew division among faithful Catholics.
In the end, Pierce's article is a mess -- an agenda-driven mishmash of distortion and error. It's certainly not uncommon to see attacks like this against faithful Catholics. But rarely are they so obvious.
I'll talk to you again in a couple days,
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