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Is the National Catholic Reporter (aka Fishwrap) out to get Fr Z? If so, they would be wise to think again

Persecuting orthodox bishops is one thing: but this target bites back

By on Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bishop Finn: attacked by a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter (CNS photo)

Bishop Finn: attacked by a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter (CNS photo)

Are we now witnessing the beginning of a development towards mounting persecution mania – not only (with some justification) against those Catholic bishops who have, in one way or another, conducted sustained operations to shield abusive priests from justice, thus allowing their abuse to continue (as revealed by the Cloyne report) – but also against any bishop who has failed to act decisively enough in some isolated case, through simply failing (as anyone might in his position – I include myself) to spot its seriousness? And does this persecution mania extend also to any priest who defends the bishop in question, who then himself becomes the object of the same hysterical persecution?

I am, of course, referring to a particular case, that of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas, Missouri, who was recently defended by Father Z, a regular columnist in this newspaper, against an egregious slur by one Phyllis Zagano in the National Catholic Reporter. Fr Z is now (he thinks as a consequence) being threatened by this same Zagano, who he has been told is currently phoning around trying to get something on him.

This is the opening of Zagano’s attack on Bishop Finn (whom she then goes on to excoriate at length – referring to him throughout with calculated disrespect simply as “Finn”, as though he were a convicted criminal – for being excessively traditionalist, in favour of celibacy, against women priests and the like):

Who are these guys and where did they come from?

Testosterone is in the news again from coast to coast. The new reality TV follows the misadventures of over-sexed men, their victims, and their defenders. It looks like a cartoon about a dysfunctional high school.

Reading from the left, in California Arnold Schwarzenegger (football coach), gets a housekeeper pregnant and lies about it for 15 years or so while his wife raises their son, born a few days earlier.

In the Mid West, Kansas City-St Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn (chaplain) earnestly defends not reading a year-old, four-and-a-half-page Catholic school principal’s memo detailing weird behavior by one of his priests, even after finding pornography on the priest’s computer.

In the nation’s capitol, Congressman Anthony D Weiner (assistant principal) weepingly admits he is so enamored of his physical endowments that he Tweets photographs of them to total strangers.

And, in New York, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar (language department) strenuously defend against sex abuse claims by hotel maids.

As we watch the stories unfold, we are left sitting in the school cafeteria wondering how these stereotypes got in charge in the first place.

This was answered very adequately by Louie Verrecchio on the Catholic News Agency website who established that Zagano’s accusation that Bishop Finn ignored a report on a priest’s unhealthy apparent attraction to schoolchildren, even after pornography had been found on his website, was a gross distortion. The bishop’s failure, reported Verrechio, was that: “As he has publicly and with great humility maintained, he failed to act as decisively as he could have… Hindsight recently made this clear when the priest was eventually discovered to be in possession of child pornography at which point he was promptly arrested.”

One case of indecisiveness; and the bishop is accused by Zagano of being driven by testosterone, of being “over-sexed”. As they say in America, “Pardon me?”

But this isn’t a defence of Bishop Finn: others have done that better and more bitingly than I could, including Fr Z, who quoted the passage with which I began this piece, and responded thus:

This is disgusting and unworthy even of the Fishwrap [this is Fr Z’s amusing name for the National Catholic Reporter; he features a photo of a copy of the NCR wrapped around a raw fish]. Schwarzenegger, Wiener, Strauss-Kahn, Omar and Finn?

National Catholic Fishwrap owes Bishop Robert Finn an apology for this insult.

The rest of her column, obviously condoned by the editors, is also an insulting personal attack.

They should not run Zagano’s stuff and nonsense again until she apologises for drawing a moral equivalence between Bishop Finn and those other three figures.

Stuff and nonsense is one thing, and in stuff and nonsense Zagano’s and NCFishwrap‘s columns will surely abound. We can differ and even bicker about stuff and nonsense.

This was a vile smear.

As I say, I write this morning less to draw attention to the case of Zagano’s vile smear (Fr Z is of course right) against Bishop Finn than to its apparent sequel: well, it is at least post hoc, and it may well, as Fr Z thinks, be propter hoc. Here’s Fr Z again:

Zagano didn’t like my call for an apology to her yellow smear of Bp. Finn. So now it is my turn. It’s payback. She is going to write a piece to smear me, because I called her on her smear of Bp. Finn. …

“But Father! But Father!”, you are now asking. “What dirt is Phyllis digging for?”

She has been calling everyone under the sun asking mainly, it seems, about my canonical status. Am I really a priest? Am I in good standing? Why do I live where I live?

She has been threatening in her phone calls to people I know that she is going to write about me.

For why she would do that, see Fr Z in the same post; I haven’t the space for it, but it’s well worth reading in full. Zagano is obviously hoping to demonstrate that because Fr Z doesn’t live in the Italian diocese where he was ordained (he’s in the US, completing a PhD as well as writing and preaching when asked) there must be something fishy about him. As I say, have a look at Fr Z’s response: if I were Phyllis Zagano or the editor of the NCR, I would draw back before I found that I had bitten off a lot more than I could chew – rather as the Tablet found when it tried to discredit Fr Finigan (a somewhat reminiscent case).

Bishop Finn is in no position to defend himself. But Fr Z is, and he will.

Watch this (and Fr Z’s) space.

  • Bobbo

    Can we have a link to the Tablet’s slur on Fr Tim?  I don’t remember the case.

  • Marie

    Mr. Oddie,

    You will want to correct your article to replace, “National Catholic Register” with “National Catholuc Reporter”. The Register is a good Catholic publication, faithful to the Maigisterium; the Reporter features daily dissent and heterodoxy, with the exception of John Allen’s fine work.

  • Marie

    Mr Oddie,

    It’s a common error, but it will need to be corrected. There is at least one place where you refer to the National Catholic Register. It is the N.C. Reporter which puts out a daily dose of dissident drivel (exception being the fine work of John Allen). The N.C Register is now owned by EWTN and has been faithful to the Magisterium.

  • http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/ The Catholic Herald

    Dear Marie, 
    Thank you for spotting that. It should now read correctly.

  • Rory Pengel

    Phylis Zagano may be a legitimate theologian, but her writing style is reminiscent of the NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd…sarcastic and mean-spirited riddled with distortions of the truth. Her extreme feminist views appear to cloud her ability to look at a situation with objectivity.

     I often get the impression that she has an agenda and then writes a critical article with a particular conclusion in mind before she has all of the facts. This was evident in her reaction to Pope Benedict’s comments about condoms in his book interview “Light of the World”, where she lamented that the pope was only concerned about male prostitutes because of his apparently misogynistic world view. It was obvious that she hadn’t read the book.Unfortunately, there are many people who will believe whatever she says regardless of it’s veracity.

  • Marie

    You can delete my two comments about the error. It did not look like my note was getting thru which is why I posted again.

    Thanks for fixing. And thanks for writing about this. It does remind me of what happened with Fr. Finigan and that bitter pill, The Tablet.

  • Patt

    If you want to follow the write path–exclude the National Catholic Reporter. Why do they even use the  word “catholic” in their name–they go against everything the Church stands for in a combative, in your face attitiude. Nasty. Wise to not read their scribbling nonsence, let alone believe it.

  • Anonymous

    Because of their culture of secrecy and their use of “mental reservation”, one cannot fully trust priests and church officials. There have been too many years of lies and self-serving cover-ups. Our children are too vulnerable.

  • Michael, Boston, MA, USA

    Thank you Mr. Oddie for your thoughtful, timely defense of Fr. Z and your telling-it-like-it-is about the likes of Phyllis Zagano.  Simply no evident charity in her works. As Michael Voris of RealCatholicTV recently pointed out, we Catholics may be entering into a new phase of persecution. Prof. Zagano reminds me greatly of a Religious Studies professor back in ’82 at a “Catholic” college in suburban Boston. This woman instructor was a true disciple of the infamous Boston College feminist-theologian Mary Daly.By the time I completed this required class of my first semester at college, I had been “informed” by the self-professed agnostic  that the Virgin Birth was a myth, that the Red Sea never parted, that to call God “Father” is unjust / ignorant, and that throughout history to this day women have it worse than any African slave ever had it. This same woman later surfaced as a instructor in a diocesan deaconate formation program in another region of the United States.  I will keep you and other good Catholic authors, editors, bloggers in my thoughts and prayers. Deo Gratias!  Best wishes, Michael

  • W Oddie

    Sorry. I don’t know how that happened

  • Michael McManus

    So Patt If you were as intellegent as TRY you make out, YOU WOULD NOT BE PRAYING TO A BABY KILLER

  • Michael McManus

    So Patt If you were as intellegent as TRY you make out, YOU WOULD NOT BE PRAYING TO A BABY KILLER

  • Michael McManus

    And Rory you can look at things objectivly, Answer this why do you think its ok support people who covered up the rape and abuse of children, When the bibles says those who harm children should be DEAD

  • Killianln

    There is NO (none nada) excuse for transferring a know child pornographer to a position where he is around children. Even the condition of having a priest shortage is insufficient  (this was Finn’s excuse). This was not a mistake this was malicious. See the following link (or bury your head in the sand)
    http://www.pitch.com/plog/archives/2011/08/10/catholic-priest-shawn-ratigan-facing-federal-child-porn-charges

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    Bishops who move sick Priests around should be removed.
     But no -one should take the slightest notice of anything said in the “Catholic” reporter. Starved of the oxygen of publicity it will wither and die. Hopefully soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    I would totally tust our local Priests. But you are correct about Church officials.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    I would totally tust our local Priests. But you are correct about Church officials.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    I would totally tust our local Priests. But you are correct about Church officials.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    Disqus happened. It is a total disaster. See what I mean, this should de below Dr Oddies reply

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    Disqus happened. It is a total disaster. See what I mean, this should de below Dr Oddies reply

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    Disqus happened. It is a total disaster. See what I mean, this should de below Dr Oddies reply

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    Disqus happened. It is a total disaster. See what I mean, this should de below Dr Oddies reply

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • Annepardee

    N o matter what referring to the NCR as “fishwrap” is inappropriate!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ken-Purdie/1162381995 Ken Purdie

    No its not, its right on the mark

  • Anonymous

    Just so you know, Finn is the Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City / St. Joseph MO and NOT the Bishop of Kansas, Missouri as stated in this article.  Also, the Federal Grand Jury yesterday (08/09/2011) returned 12 counts against the “priest” Ratigan re child pornography.  Finn had evidence for over a year that Ratigan was a serious problem and moved him three to four times to protect him.  Please, get your stories straight before defending a man who has placed children in harms way on multiple occasions.  The NCR is not fishwrap, but some leaders in the church behave in a manner that could be described as fishwrap.  Truth and justice say it all.  It would be nice if the authority of the church believe in using same.  Apparently, they suffer from global darkness.

  • d.v. andrews

    I always have a bit of a chuckle when hearing about journalists who make a career out of their lack of ethical reporting a matter of self-offered publications have to go scrapping for evidence of a lack of ethical responsibility where they will find no such evidence…as far as I see as a regular reader, Father Zulsdorf is already as transparent about his responsible ethics and obligations as they come. The Reverend has built his reputation on responsibility of authority as opposed to sensationalized ideological ad hominem propaganda to insight hostility to keep people reading. In my humble critical and scholarly opinion, of course.

  • Donal Mahoney

    I agree that it is inappropriate to refer to NCR as “fishwrap.”

    No decent fish, deceased or not, should be treated that way. 

  • TheAltonRoute

    A classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.  The behavior of Finn in Kansas City is bad and there are no excuses for it.  Having said that, many an NCR columnist ignores the cover-ups and abuse perpetrated by their favorite Vatican II-style bishops, priests, nuns, etc.  People such as Zagano constantly blast the “clerical culture”, but the reality is that they’re part of the same culture.  The idea that Vatican II somehow holds the key to bringing justice to victims is a total farce.  You’ll get more out of reading about St. Peter Damian than any of the screwballs who founded Call to Action. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CIC3RWXRB36OC3KNXZMNBH3DIE Gerry

    The NCR is a parody in terms of it’s supposedly “Catholic” credentials.  It seems to form a gathering point for all the dissenting “Spirit of Vatican 11″ malcontents  and militant feminists who still ply their trade as “Catholic” commentators within the US Church.  Their weekly opinion pieces are replete with venomous, mean-spirited remarks concerning Church figures who are orthodox and traditional in their teachings.  The commentaries left by online readers are not much better.  Publications like this, promote a gospel based on temporal, worldly mores which hollows out the Faith from the inside and leaves behind an empty gourd.

  • Michael McManus
  • Tim Moyle

    I understand all too well what Fr. Z is experiencing. Due to columns on my personal blog and others published by the National Post in Canada I have ‘contracted’ my own personal trolls and malfeasants. One trolled for emails for people from my parish to send out malicious and slanderous emails. (Canadian police traced them back to northern California, but it’s not considered a serious enough of an offense to have the matter prosecuted in another country without real, tangible ‘damages’.) Others hurl invective and insult in lieu of argument in the comment threads where ever I choose to participate or publish.

    These new medias are difficult and dangerous waters for voices of faith to navigate… but I believe the work is worth it, especially when the reward is measured in souls saved, won, or recovered.

    Fr. Tim Moyle
    Diocese of Pembroke
    http://www.frtimmoyle.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/markduch Mark Duch

    You’re right.  I wouldn’t let my food touch that trash rag from Satan.  

  • Ghostoftheenglishlanguage

    Just a couple of points:

    1. The Ghost of the English Language called – can he have your keyboard back please? Its bad enough having people shouting when they have a valid point to make please don’t do it when you have nothing.

    2. Baby killer? What fevered dream brought on by excess sugar did that come out of may I ask? I don’t suppose you actually have a theological justification for that viewpoint?

    Yours sincerily,

    The rest of the world.

  • Joxxer

    What drugs are you taking or forgetting to  take, Dude? Your comment makes no sense “praying to a baby killer”–Huh??? What baby killer (Obama?)..
    Hope you come down off your high so you might make sense..

  • http://syrophoenicianwoman.blogspot.com/ Bethanie Ryan

    This mania is madness. Yes, the system is flawed when pedophile priests can keep their jobs. But we need to work on fixing the system, not attacking one another.

  • Anonymous

    I find that any journalistic effort coming fom th UK to be tanted with the stain of unbelievability.  Does every writer in the UK have a broomstick up his, her, shems butt?  Great shades of Rupert Murdoch must infect each of these twits!

  • Parasum

    This is a difficult one. In itself, the use of mental reservations, for a *sufficient* cause – not for a trivial reason, & not when straightforward truthfulness is possible -  is perfectly sound morality. It’s a way of avoiding the sin of lying, without giving information that it would be sinful to give, because harmful,or wrong in some other way. It’s not a form of lying, but a means of avoiding lying. As applied to knowledge gained in confession – such knowledge cannot be used at all; the only way to discuss a past confession, is for the penitent to remind the priest; the priest can’t raise the matter. The regulations governing knowledge gained in confession have become ever stricter; a priest is not even to allowed to use knowledge from a previous confession to him to counsel the same penitent later on. 

    There is as much reason to distrust one’s doctor, or anyone else working in a profession in which secrets have to be kept from those who have no business to know them, as – in this matter at least – to distrust priests and church officials.

    .

  • Parasum

    “…that the Virgin Birth was a myth, that the Red Sea never parted…”

    - However distasteful or unbelievable these two positions may seem or be, neither of them is an extravagance, both are part and parcel of Biblical scholarship (except among Fundamentalists), and even though no Catholic is at liberty to deny the Virginal Conception of Jesus, Catholic scholars as free as any others to conclude that it lacks a Biblical foundation, if they are satisfied this is s.; they would then be believing it, not because it is in the gospels, but on other grounds, such as its being part of Tradition.

    That the Red Sea – which may or may not be the Gulf of Aqaba – parted, is asserted. But as what ? As a real event in history ? Or is it a piece of theological elaboration to bring out the meaning of something else, such as the departure from Egypt ? There are two different narratives here: in one, Israel flees from Egypt; in the other, Israel is expelled. The “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15 presents the sea as the primeval sea, to the botton of which the charioteers sink like a stone; the account in 14 is quite different. It’s entirely possible that the accounts of the crossing of the sea are back-formations from the narrative of the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land. The question is, what position best accounts for all the details of all the texts in all the books, consistently with external evidence such as that of history and archaeology ?  The interpretation of the text has to take into account the ascertainable history of the tradition that has formed the texts we have in our Bibles – they are the end of a long process, & that history  needs to be reconstructed from the evidence they give; which is easy to miss, if one is not expecting to notice it.

    Not a word of this affects the theolgical judgement that the gospels & Exodus is inspired & canonical & sacred Scripture – theological judgements are based not on history, but on faith. The Bible can be studied from an historical POV, or from one of faith – these are aspects of the same literature, but they are not the same aspect. 

  • Michael McManus

    The god you pray to all catholics pray to a baby killer same as all muslims

  • Parasum

    “Are we now witnessing the beginning of a development towards mounting
    persecution mania – not only (with some justification) against those
    Catholic bishops who have, in one way or another, conducted sustained
    operations to shield abusive priests from justice…”

    ## Isn’t persecution mania what people feel when they believe they are being persecuted ? Maybe I’ve missed something, but I’ve not seen anyone being maniacal in persecuting the Church. OTOH, a lot of Catholics seem to suffer from the idea they are being persecuted, when often enough they who deal some very hard knocks to others.

    When the Church in the West is being treated like Church in China, it will the right to complain of persecution. And what happened to this ?

    2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,    3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
        4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
        5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
        6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
        7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;
        8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James%201:2-8&version=NIVUK

    If the trial of persecution is a reality, there should be joy – so, where is the joy ?

     

  • http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com berenike

    It also says adulterers should be dead. 

  • Michael McManus

    From the bible , And following on from that if your god made the world, He cannot be any thing else but a baby killer