Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Hectic Week For The National Catholic Reporter

A suggestion for a new Disqus rating system.

This has been one heck of a week for the National Catholic Reporter.  First they shut down their commenting section, then they announce John Allen is leaving for the Boston Globe, and finally, Fr John Dear announces he is leaving the Jesuits after 32 years.  I would have loved to have commented on all three of those stories, plus Sr Joan Chittister's column, but alas that was not an option.  So I'll have to comment on the first three of these stories on my own blog.  That's novel.

As to the first story, I happened to be on the NCR threads as one particular troll made his appearance.  After his first couple of comments it was painfully obvious he was never going to stop and that he knew NCR did not monitor comments on the weekend.  It wasn't a matter of anyone really feeding this troll.  It was a matter of being totally unable to stop the trolling.  I finally emailed Pam Cohen, as did quite a number of other regular commenters.  I suggested they might consider taking down commenting on the weekends, but have to say, I wasn't really surprised they opted to suspend all commenting.  In the past half year or so, the trolling had gotten to the point it was destroying the community that NCR had built up over the years.  I wasn't too terribly surprised the increase in trolling activity was simultaneous with the rise of Pope Francis.  After Francis' first month I anticipated NCR would be a prime target for upset conservatives and so it was.

This is not to say that all the new voices from the right were trolls.  I really appreciated the efforts of some traditional and conservative commenters with whom I had some very good dialogue.  Unfortunately these voices were totally overwhelmed by those who were not at NCR for any kind of dialogue.  Even though I miss the conversation and the articles seem incomplete without commenting, I applaud NCR for biting the bullet and suspending the commenting.  I sincerely hope they find a better way to insure an open space for all views while insuring it's also a safe space for all who read the articles and comments.

Onto story number two:  John Allen leaving for the Boston Globe's start up effort.  I can certainly see why he would make the switch and why the Globe would want to hire him.  I just don't know that adding his reputation and readership will be enough to make any new Catholic print publication a viable entity.  I happen to think John is taking a fairly big risk, but then maybe he has a 'welcome' back clause if the Globe's attempt is unsustainable.  Or maybe it's an OD backed attempt to take over the publication who brought the global church the unwelcome spot light on clerical abuse and it's cover up.  I have a certain amount of curiosity to see what kind of editorial line this new start up takes.

Now about Fr John Dear.  This one hit hard.  I've met John when I was in New Mexico and found him to be the real deal.  He's as committed to global peace as some right wingers are to banning abortion and gay marriage.  Except he's far more in the Pope Francis mode than the Rush Limbaugh mode.  What hit me hard though was not the fact he left the Jesuits.  That hand writing was on the wall when he was yanked out of New Mexico and ordered to Baltimore.  What hit hard was his take on the current Jesuit mission in the US:

".....Over the course of several meetings, I felt Fr. Shea (John's Jesuit Provincial) was urging me to stop my work for justice and peace and leave the society. He said, for example, that nothing I have done over the last 10 years has had anything to do with the Society of Jesus.

He explained to me that the Society of Jesus has renounced Fr. Pedro Arrupe's groundbreaking vision of justice and the documents of the 31st and 32nd General Congregations, which call for a radical commitment to justice. It no longer advocates for justice or works for justice, he told me. The Maryland Province has closed all its projects that serve the poor. From now on, he said, because the number of Jesuits is in sharp decline, U.S. Jesuits will only serve in our 25 universities and 25 high schools. This direction, it seems to me, differs vastly from the order I entered in 1982, with its visionary call to "accompany Jesus as he carries the cross in the struggle for justice." If I stayed, he said, I would have to work in one of the Jesuit high schools.

After I read these two paragraphs the first thought that came to me was the American Jesuits are taking pages from the Legionaires' book. Forget social justice, concentrate on high schools and colleges and blind obedience to one's supervisors.  What a sad direction for a once mighty order.  I can't help but wonder how Pope Francis the Jesuit can reconcile himself with this view of the Jesuit mission.  I'm wondering if it won't be my fate to wonder how Pope Francis can reconcile himself with any number of Catholic issues whose real lived experience out on the margins is so diametrically opposed to what he says and how he personally lives.  In the end, I found myself feeling worse about American Jesuits than I did John's decision to leave them. He's free at last, thank God Almighty he's free at last.


  1. I suspect that John Allen might have let all of his high Church connections go to his head. He is obviously privy to Vatican inside scoop, but I am sure that he is made aware that this privilege can disappear with the snap of the fingers. His constant "balance beam" act became tiresome to me a few years ago and I have not read him on a regular basis since that time.
    He may also find that at NCR, he was a big fish in little pond. (Appearing on cable news for Church events, etc.)
    The pond is much larger in Boston and the competing fish equally big and bigger.
    By the way, Happy New Year, Colleen. I think that you should brace yourself for the onslaught of right-wing trolling now that NCR has closed commenting. Not being able to comment for these people is like taking their cigarettes from them after having a 40 year/3 pack a day habit.

  2. Hank, that's a good way to put John Allen's more recent writings in perspective 'balance beam' act. That's one reason I am curious to see what kind of slant the Globe magazine takes on all things Catholic. Personally, I see this Globe effort as a way to make hay while the Pope and Catholicism shine. Pope Francis has certainly done wonders for the big Italian media.

    I suspect I'll see a few trolls here as I seem to have a few that follow every Disqus comment I write in order to down vote them. On this blog I'm the moderator and that does give me a certain kind of leverage....such as turning them into Disqus to have them banned altogether.

  3. John Dear is a beautiful man, but he's wrong about the direction of the Jesuits. The men in the California province are doing social justice. Greg Boyle is giving gang members a future re-building their lives, Mike kennedy is working with young boys going to prison, developing their spiritual lives to sustain them and give them the ability to admit truth to themselves. He gives retreats in prisons and does advocacy in collabortion with Human Rights Watch and other organizations to pass legislation which changes sentences, and time in prison for teen agers, gives retreats in prisons. Sean Carroll runs the Kino Border Project to assist people thrown back accross the Border and does advocacy on immigration reform. Scott Santarosa runs a parish in in the poorest part of Los Angeles, empowers undocumented to represent themselves and perform advocacy for immigration reform....and the list goes on. Arrupe's spirit is alive and well in the Jesuits. Pat

  4. He might be right about the Jesuits in his provincial, but your point about the West Coast Jesuits is an important counterbalance.