Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Rod Dreher challenges the conservative Catholic blogosphere

Rod Dreher writes today about the National Catholic Register's decision to fire the man who conducted the disastrous interview with Fr. Benedict Groeschel:

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.

Rod later adds this update:
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.


Joseph D'Hippolito said...

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.

Erin, what does the church consist of but "poor sinners"? I'm sorry but this is just another euphemism for blaming the laity, which has been the hierarchy's way to deflect criticism for far too long.

Besides, saying "sorry" isn't enough. It isn't true repentence. Real repentence means forsaking and rejecting the values that encourage such sin and the tactics that reflect them -- or, as the letter to the Hebrews put it, "let us strip off every weight and let us rid ourselves of the sin which so persistently surrounds us, and let us run with steadfast endurance the course that is marked out for us..."

Those sins -- institutional arrogance and entitlement, isolation from the laity, and the desire for power, prestige and perks -- must be cast off if the Church is to successfully "run its race." Christ's guarantee of "protection" holds only if the Church does not reject him. Yet much of the hierarchy, effectively, has done so.

Fr. Z's reaction, Bill Donahue's reactions, Fr. Groeshel's reaction and Cdl. Egan's reaction are the logical consequences of a theology that equates faith in an ecclesiastical structure with faith in Christ's atoning death. That is nothing but sheer idolatry. Catholics have been brainwashed for far too long by people who manipulate that equation to protect and enrich themselves, and enhance their temporal influence.

Mass, thorough repentence is the only solution. Unfortunately, that won't happen because that would mean the hierarchy would have to reject everything it really values.

freddy said...

Erin, this is an interesting point. I wonder if this "circle the wagons" mentality is an outgrowth of a sort of "Catholics Have Arrived" mentality that seems to have taken root in our country sometime in the 1950's.

I've noticed in the writings of the times and in people now who were largely educated and influenced by those times to equate Catholics and Catholic institutions with the Church Herself. The worship of John F. Kennedy comes to mind, as well as parents who spend $$$ to send their children to a particular Catholic college because it's "Catholic" despite the presence of dubious clubs, classes and professors.

This idea, then, of equating everything Church related as inherently good, results in a great deal of mental gymnastics in promoting and defending those institutions and results in creating a series of "special rules" regarding them. (the possibility of firing a journalist for essentially doing his job, for example)

When this becomes clear, the faithful have the choice of either growing up -- admitting mistakes, apologizing for malfeasance, making restitution, and bearing in mind always that we are sinners -- or blaming the Church for being made up of sinners and becoming Her enemy.

Red Cardigan said...

You know, Freddy, that's a really interesting possibility! I think you may be on to something here...

Pauli said...

Did Rod come back to the Church? Is he once again a Catholic?

Rebecca in ID said...

I was totally horrified by Fr. Groeschel's remarks, there's just no good way to read them. However, after I read the statement of the Franciscan Brothers of the Renewal, I am getting the picture that he has been for the past few months in a care facility and completely relieved of responsibilities not just for physical reasons but also because his mental faculties are failing. If that's the case, then it *could* be that the reporter involved may have exercised poor judgment. I do remember thinking it odd that the reporter would not, if such a thing were said, express surprise and ask for clarification, or re-state the position...the statement just hung there. So I did kind of wonder about whether the reporter was really even paying attention. Now if it is true that Groeschel has been kind of in and out, then it seems that a reporter in the position of interviewing him should exercise some care about determining whether he's really quite all there at the time you're talking to him. I have no idea what actually happened and I don't have a priori notions of the infallibility of EWTN but I'm just posing this as a possible way in which dismissing the journalist involved might have a solid basis.

Red Cardigan said...

Rebecca, I think you're trying to be really charitable here, which is always good. :) Unfortunately, Fr. Groeschel's remarks are substantially the same as things he said ten years ago (Rod has the links). Also, as Rod points out, several people, some of them editors, had to read and approve the interview before it went "live" on the Register's site (it's not the same as a blog post, in other words). So it really does look like Mr. Burger is being scapegoated here.

Rebecca in ID said...

Oh, I see. I should have read Rod's comments first. Gosh, that is just heartbreaking...and no, doesn't look good for the actions of the Register.