Rod later adds this update:
Several readers have e-mailed to say that John Burger, the veteran National Catholic Register writer and editor who conducted that controversial interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel (it’s been removed from the site; story about the controversy here) was fired by the EWTN-owned newspaper because of it. I confirmed with Mr. Burger that he was let go because of the incident, but he did not wish to comment further.
This is disgraceful on the Register‘s part, just disgraceful. I hope somebody in Catholic media with a job to offer will contact John Burger and talk to him. In 2002, when the Register was owned by the Legionaries of Christ cult, I was at a Catholic media seminar in suburban Washington. The event had been planned before the sex scandal broke, but by the time we all got there, that’s all anybody wanted to talk about. The LC priest who was then the publisher of the Register spoke on a panel, and praised his own newspaper for not dirtying its hands by reporting these scurrilous stories about clerical sex abuse. During the Q&A, I stood to challenge him, saying that this isn’t journalism at all, but a form of propaganda. As I recall, he did not really know how to respond. He must have assumed that because everybody in the room was a conservative Catholic, we would agree with him.
I had hoped that after the Register left LC hands and went to EWTN’s, that unprofessional mentality would depart as well. Apparently not. I don’t know John Burger, but this situation strikes me as EWTN scapegoating the messenger for the message. From what I can tell, Burger was sacked for not editing out comments from Groeschel that later proved embarrassing — in other words, for not protecting Groeschel from himself.
UPDATE: It will be telling to see if the conservative Catholic blogosphere speaks out against this sacking of John Burger, or at least raises critical questions about it.I think it's fair of Rod to raise that question, because I think that the "circle the wagons" mentality exists both on the conservative Catholic blogosphere side and on the liberal Catholic blogosphere side; that is, while some conservative Catholic bloggers would hesitate ever to question or criticize the National Catholic Register or, indeed, anything owned by EWTN (because, let's face it, EWTN makes it possible for some Catholics to earn livings with their writing, speaking, and blogging efforts), some liberal bloggers would feel the same way about criticizing the National Catholic Reporter.
Speaking for myself, I can truly say that firing someone over an interview that turned out to be embarrassing to the interview subject--if that's what happened--is a bad sign. Why does it seem, sometimes, as though conservative Catholic groups, organizations, orders, etc. simply can't handle bad publicity of any kind, and will go out of their way to "punish" those from whom such bad publicity arises? Surely it is not necessary for the good of the Church that every single Catholic organization or apostolate maintain a facade of untouchable, error-proof serenity. People are human and make mistakes, and nobody expects the National Catholic Reporter, or even EWTN itself, to be infallible. Even someone like Father Benedict Groeshel, who deserves much praise for all the good he has done in his life, is not infallible; the interview he gave does not make him evil, but it certainly does make him human, and perhaps sheds some light on the thinking inside the American church that led to the Scandal being allowed to fester in silence for so long.
Can we not, as mature, adult Catholics, begin to grasp that the reflexive "protect the Church at all costs!" mentality actually hurts the Church more than honesty, forthrightness, charitable correction, and sincere contrition for past wrongs does? Our most recent few popes have not hesitated to apologize on behalf of the whole Church for wrongs and sins her past (and even present) leaders have committed, facilitated, or ignored, to the detriment of the whole Body of Christ. The capacity to say clearly, "This was wrong, and we are sorry for it!" does not weaken the Church at all; if anything, it shows her to be full of rightful concern for those harmed by any failure on her servants' part to live according to her fullest principles which come from Christ.
It's a form of pride, I think, to believe that the Holy Church needs our protection. She has been promised that protection by Christ Himself, and if her members err or sin, that does not in itself reflect badly on her--only on us poor sinners. Maybe it's just ourselves we're so anxious to protect.