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Recognizing the National Catholic Reporter for what it is (actually, for what it isn’t)

January 25, 2013

Bp. Robert Finn (KC, MO) has a very good column on a local bishop’s responsibility over local media in regard to the promotion and protection of the Catholic Faith. Most folks, however, will likely skim the first part of the essay, and go right for Finn’s critique of the National Catholic Reporter in the second.

In my opinion, Finn was too kind to them.

NCRep has carried on a steady tirade against ecclesiastical authority in general, and against numerous Church teachings in particular, for several decades, but the last few years have seen a shrillness that should discomfort even its dwindling number of friends. Besides my own efforts to reply to them (e.g., July 2010, October 2009, March 2009) Fr. Z’s blog has long served as a clearing house for reasonable, Catholic responses to the NCRep (what a thankless task that is). I won’t try to summarize his efforts here, but I will recall my own experiences of the unprofessionalism of the NCRep (March 2011, January 2011) and wonder again whether its one-time editor Joe Feuerherd ever retracted his 2008 “bishops be damned” screed in the Washington Post. If he did, I missed it.

Finn’s remarks re the NCRep focus on their use of the name “Catholic” in their title and it is here that he goes too gently, I think, against their continued use of that title. Finn writes: In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name “Catholic.” While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence the National Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the Church seems limited to the supernatural level.

First, I would have expressly argued that NCRep’s use of the word “Catholic” in their title is canonically illicit per Canons 216 and 300. There is simply zero question about this assertion, for they “claim the name Catholic without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority.” Second, once one is shown to be acting illegally under canon law, a number of canonical responses to illicit activity come into play including precepts, the invocation of penal law, and certain sacramental consequences for organizational leadership. Not to mention, of course, those supernatural tools that a prayerful bishop thinks of first in times of trial. Thus, my opinion that Finn is being too kind; at the very least, there are more arrows in his quiver than a quick read of his essay lets on.

Anyone who follows American Catholic media issues knows that, over the years, some other groups using the name “Catholic” for their operations—groups with, frankly, a better claim to be Catholic than the NCRep could ever assert—have dropped that name when asked or directed to do so by ecclesiastical authority. Such actions speak directly to and well of their sensus Ecclesiae.

The most notorious and neuralgic refusal to comply, however, remains that of the National Catholic Reporter.

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