Tuesday, February 22, 2005

NCR takes on Catholic Answers

Joe Feuerherd of the National Catholic Reporter has a new piece in his Washington Notebook criticizing Catholic Answers and its Voting Guide for Serious Catholics. Here's a letter I wrote to him about it:

Mr. Feuerherd,

Your piece on the Catholic Answers Voting Guide is disturbing for a number of reasons. Chief among them, though, is the fact that it does not appear that you talked to any "conservative" Catholics. Karl Keating, George Weigel, Robert George -- none of them or any others appear to have been questioned. If they were, you didn't mention it.

NCR has always prided itself on being the newspaper of Catholic newspapers, the one providing the hard news, always getting the best investigative report award at the CPA. If I'm not mistaken, American journalistic doctrine states something about balanced reporting. Yet there's nothing of balance here at all.

I could be misreading the piece, of course, and looking at what seems to be news and you intended as opinion. If so, then accept my apologies. Even with that consideration, though, opinion should still be balanced by hearing from both sides. In this case, both sides have not been heard and the story -- or opinion -- is the poorer for it.

Beyond this, NCR forgot a little aspect of this controversy -- the fact that certain diocesan attorneys who forbade the distribution of the Guide in their dioceses had also been contributing in large sums to pro-abortion candidates, as I reported in CWNews.com.

Feuerherd plays the "not listening to their bishops" card in his column. But that isn't really the question, is it? Notice that while NCR does not listen to the bishops on many crucial issues -- abortion, birth control, same-sex 'marriage', the identity of Jesus -- they expect that those who claim fidelity to the Church to be sheepish little mice and do everything every bishop says. That says a lot about what they think obedience to the Church means.

There are two issues here:

1) If I had been living in the Church during the 4th century and my bishop had gone Arian, would I be obliged to listen to him? Obviously not. In fact, I would be obliged to do everything in my power to oppose him. So when a committee of bishops from the Conference writes a document that suffers greatly from the "written by committee" syndrome, what obligation am I under to listen to what that committee says?

2) There is a conflict here about the authority of the USCCB. Their teaching is not definitive and it never has been. None of the bishops on that committe is my bishop. Even if my bishop was on that committee, unless he specifically stated to his diocese that it is obligatory for his diocese to follow the document, I would still need only look at it as another pronouncement from Washington. And if my bishop was saying that I had to follow this teaching, then I would be under obedience to do so, as long as the document is not in contradiction to the teaching of the Church.

Now there is nothing that really contradicts Church teaching in Faithful Citizenship. But it is not the USCCB's greatest document, either. Its biggest problem is that it lacks -- conviction, certainty, order -- none of this is present.

So when a group of laity -- extremely well-informed, faithful to the Church and known for their orthodoxy -- present a document that helps Catholics understand the constant teaching of the Church, and this document outshines that of a bishops' committee, it's easy to see why there would be competition.

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