Usually before I dash off in the mornings, I glance at what we call the Other Paper to see if I’ve been scooped on anything or to compare theirs and my coverage on a religious topic. The way both papers treated yesterday’s death of Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest whose book title “The Naked Public Square” became part of the popular lexicon shows the wide philosophical gulf in between the two papers.
Our piece, which appeared on the front page and most of which was written by our assistant national editor Victor Morton (I contributed little bits here and there) can be found here. It was 55 column inches. The other piece, which was much shorter, appeared on the seventh page of their B section, an odd spot for someone who was one of the earliest voices in the culture wars. Do they suppose that conservative Catholics and Protestants no longer read their paper; thus something of huge news to this group belongs in the back? Their recent ombudswoman, Deborah Howell, has suggested as much, but she also urged the paper to try to reach out to this group. Fortunately many folks in that demographic have switched to us.
Anyway, it was widely known earlier this week that the priest was dying, so writers had plenty of time to prepare obits. Their article called Neuhaus “too rigid” for many conservatives. Other than a handful of prominent neocons, the priest was not too conservative for anyone. In fact, he was liberal - with a small “l” - in making sure Catholicism was open and welcoming enough for all seekers while stressing some of the boundaries that sets the Catholic Church apart from other faiths.
I am not going to pick apart the entire piece but one wonders if the writer understood Father Neuhaus at all. Does his paper’s treatment of the Lutheran-turned-Catholic-priest have anything to do with Neuhaus’ adamant opposition to abortion? Maybe they need to order several dozen copies of this book - “Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion.”
Personal note: I was not really a friend or acquaintance of John Richard Neuhaus. In fact, he was quite short-tempered with me the last time I tried interviewing him several years ago.
One more personal note: I will be signing copies of my book “Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to do about it” from 7-8 p.m. tonight (Friday) at the Tyson’s Corner Barnes & Noble store (in the L section of the mall). Do come.
- Julia Duin, religion editor