Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine and, until recently, a top Bush political adviser on outreach to Roman Catholics, will resign from the magazine at the end of the year after five of his most influential columnists pressured the board to get rid of him.
The columnists, who include some of the nation's best-known Catholic scholars, told the board in a letter that they would leave the magazine unless the board ejected Mr. Hudson, 54.
According to two scholars familiar with the letter, the columnists were angry about an Aug. 19 National Catholic Reporter (NCR) expose on Mr. Hudson's sexual liaison with an 18-year-old student in 1994, an action that cost him his tenured professorship at Fordham University and a $30,000 settlement.
In addition, specific accusations of more recent sexual misconduct had come to the board's attention, one scholar said.
"This was not about one incident 10 years ago," he said. "It's surprising it was held down as long as it was. I haven't gone out of my way to track Deal Hudson's improprieties -- I could be doing nothing else. But you began to wonder after a while if they are true."
The five columnists include the two founding editors of the magazine: Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and University of Notre Dame philosophy professor Ralph McInerny.
The other columnists were Claremont University political science professor Michael Uhlmann; Faith & Reason Institute President Robert Royal; and Russell Hittinger, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Tulsa.
"He withdrew from being an adviser to the White House, so one could conclude he should leave Crisis," Mr. McInerny said. "If his presence had a negative effect on a Catholic campaign effort, certainly it'd affect a Catholic magazine."
Mr. Hudson issued a press release yesterday afternoon, saying he would direct book publishing and seminars for the newly formed Morley Institute, part of the Morley Publishing Group that owns Crisis. In a separate e-mail to supporters, Mr. Hudson said he will help raise funds for Crisis at his new post, which he will assume Jan. 1.
In the e-mail last night, Mr. Hudson said the decision to step down as publisher was his and that he told the Crisis board of his plans on Friday. Still, Mr. Hudson acknowledged that he was "tired of being a lightning rod."
"There's no doubt that the recent adverse publicity about me, and the criticism that followed, influenced my decision. As long as I remain publisher of Crisis, I'll be a source of controversy," he said.
According to a 2002 tax document filed by the organization, Mr. Hudson drew a $125,000 salary as publisher of Crisis.
He had been in almost daily contact with senior Bush presidential adviser Karl Rove as an unpaid adviser to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign's effort to win votes among the nation's 63 million Roman Catholics.
His magazine's series on the Catholic vote in 2000 attracted the attention of the Bush election campaign and propelled Mr. Hudson to the influential advisory post. This past year, Crisis' circulation rose from 27,000 to 32,000 paid subscribers.
In an Aug. 28 letter to supporters, he expressed contrition for "a serious sin with an undergraduate student of mine," adding that he hoped "this just anger will not spill over onto Crisis magazine. The simple fact is, Crisis magazine is far more than Deal Hudson."
However, Crisis board members were concerned enough about the fallout from the NCR article to ask three other top Catholic scholars -- papal biographer George Weigel; the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things magazine; and Princeton University professor Robert George -- whether the magazine could survive with Mr. Hudson at the helm.
The consensus, according to some of the columnists, was "no."
After Mr. Hudson quit the Bush-Cheney campaign in mid-August, support for him and Crisis among Catholic intellectuals evaporated.
Advisory board member Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for President Reagan who is volunteering her time with the Bush re-election effort, quickly canceled a speech she had agreed to give at the magazine's $250-a-plate fund-raiser last Friday night at the Willard Hotel.
Many of Washington's best-known Catholics also boycotted the dinner, and there were many empty seats at the gathering of 330 people. Miss Noonan also turned down an annual award given by the magazine.
Crisis then offered the award to the Rev. James V. Schall, a Georgetown University professor, and Mr. McInerny, both of whom turned it down. The Rev. Benedict Groeschel, 71, a widely known Franciscan author and lecturer, eventually agreed to receive it.