By Fr. Gordon J. MacRae
(These Stone Walls) ...The latter part of Father Z’s title, the “National Schismatic Reporter” is his newest nickname for NCR. There are other pseudonyms – some used with far less dignity – but my own name for NCR is the “National Catholic Distorter.” That one has fallen into disuse, however, because it retains the name, “Catholic” in the title, and undeservedly so. On February 27, the day before Benedict’s resignation took effect, NCR editor, Torn Fox offered up this little gem of reflection to his readers:
“With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI at 8:00 p.m. tomorrow Rome time, his pontificate comes to an end, Roman curial heads resign, and the Vatican shuts down. We all become adults again, at least until we have a new ‘Holy Father.’ “Note Tom Fox’s use of “scare quotes” framing the words, “Holy Father.” He utters that title with typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, with a wink and a nod to his “trapped-in-the-sixties” readers. The editorial was embarrassingly juvenile. It is a common trait of adolescents to believe that theirs is the only voice in the house worth hearing.
I have an NCR story of my own to tell. When I was a young priest in the early 1980s, NCR was seen as the coolest Catholic thing in print. Among many priests and Catholic leaders, it represented a voice on the left, growing ever further left as the Sixties moved on. NCR saw itself as representing the Church’s social justice arm while independent of any one bishop. By the time I was ordained in 1982, every priest I knew subscribed to NCR. A stack of copies appeared as the sole Catholic newspaper in many parish vestibules in the Northeast where I grew up (or didn’t grow up, depending on one’s point of view). NCR was vastly influential in the American Catholic priesthood. I recall reading back then that it had a subscriber base of 60,000 or more – unheard of for an American Catholic publication.
I first noted a problem with NCR when I found myself at or near the center of some important Catholic news stories. This happened three times in my priesthood, once in the early 1980s, once in the early 1990s, and once again in 2002 when the scandal in the Catholic priesthood was launched nationwide by The Boston Globe (may it rest in peace).
In all three instances, I found that the National Catholic Reporter was not so much reporting on these stories as shaping public perception of them. Many attempts to present another side of these stories were ignored by NCR, or flatly rebuffed, if the facts challenged the editorial positions of the paper. Over the last few decades, NCR has been shockingly one-sided, and offers no apology for that. From a journalistic standard, it presents no news at all, but is merely an extended opinion outlet for only one type of opinion on the Catholic far left. NCR is not at all worthy of its one good journalist, John Allen.
The problem was that I could not find another Catholic prisoner willing to read it. NCR prides itself on what were then “leftist” issues such as prisoner rights. As I attempted to circulate a few copies, the comments I received from other prisoners were remarkable. I kept a short list of representative samples. This is what Catholic prisoners had to say about NCR:
“No thanks! Too negative. I have enough negative in my life.”… and so on and so on. You get the point... (continued)
“Thanks, but no thanks. This is just nasty!”
“Wow! This is awful. Does the Church do ANYTHING right?” “What an ugly, nasty, negative paper!”
“UGH! Why did you give me this?”
“Why are they Catholic if they see nothing good in the Church?”