Touchy Catholics


e generally don’t run letters from non-readers, from out-of-state, or from professional advocates. But if any of the above is outweighed by good reasons to run it, any or all can be overcome. This is intentional. I think it’s stupid to have a rule that "we will never" run a letter that has this or that characteristic. You can end up poorly serving readers.

So sometimes the colleague who sifts through letter submissions asks me about one that has two or even three strikes against it. That happened today, with this one:

Do we want to consider this as a letter to the editor?

—–Original Message—–
From: Ken Foye []
Sent: Friday, July 20, 2007 3:51 PM
To: StateEditor, Columbia
Subject: Robert Ariail cartoon June 19

Dear Editor,
Criticizing the Catholic Church in the wake of the recent sex-abuse settlement in Los Angeles is fair game. But associating the sacrament of reconciliation with this sordid scandal, as Robert Ariail did in his July 19 cartoon, is out of bounds.

This sacrament is a key element of our faith, administered by a group of fine men whose rate of sexual abuse of minors is no higher than that of the general population. There are legitimate ways to object to the Church’s handling of sexual misconduct by priests, but demeaning and trivializing one of our sacraments is not one of them.

Ken Foye
Senior Editor
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
450 Seventh Ave.
New York, NY  10123

The answer for me was pretty easy:


But I could say more. The person double-checking with me is Catholic, as am I. I haven’t asked why she asked, but I know why I would have: The tendency with me would be to want to ditch such a letter, so I would want somebody to back me up on the fact there it was out of bounds on the basis of several objective criteria. In other words, when there’s a letter you don’t like, and you know you don’t like it on personal grounds, and you know you could bend over backwards and run it if you really wanted to stretch the boundaries, do you make yourself go through those gymnastics, or just do the normal thing and ditch it?

This is what it’s really like in this world. I know all you cynics out there think it’s just the opposite of that, that we twist and manipulate things to advance personal agendas, yadda-yadda. But the truth is that we are so obsessive about avoiding even the appearance of doing that that we often hesitate to make the simplest, most open-and-shut decisions. And of course, no one can obsess like a Catholic.

It helps to pretend to be someone who doesn’t have a conflict or the appearance of a conflict, and act accordingly. And move on, because you have lots of tougher decisions to make today… In this case, it’s fairly easy for me to pretend I’m a Protestant editor, because once upon a time I was a Protestant editor. And that Protestant editor says, "Aw, come on. Talk about your oversensitive mackerel-snappers. If this were one of our readers, that’s one thing. But this professional complainer? Are you kidding me?"

But since I’m no longer a Protestant editor (and haven’t been for about 26 years), there’s an emotional response I have to set aside:  As a Catholic, this people who go around looking to be offended as Catholics really gripe me. I don’t feel like a member of an aggrieved group, and I think the Catholics who do — especially when they form associations that exist just to gripe about being aggrieved — are a pain. They give me the dry gripes. To start with, I’ve got that sort of general White Guy sense of discomfort with the whole Identity Politics thing to start with; I certainly don’t want anybody being all whiny on behalf of any group I belong to, or am perceived as belonging to.

But never mind that. This letter does not offer reasons to run it that make it worth ditching a perfectly in-bounds letter from an actual reader expressing his actual opinion that he’s not paid to have. And that’s the choice for us. We can’t run them all, so we have guidelines to give a leg up to our actual readers.

So I ditch the one from the guy who says I ran a cartoon that mocks the sacrament (which I don’t think it does). My question is, do I have to go to confession about this? Or does this post count? As a convert, I’m still not clear on a lot of stuff like that.

9 thoughts on “Touchy Catholics

  1. weldon VII

    This post counts, Brad. A priest will probably read it.
    You’ve made me curious, however. How much more Catholic is The State editorial board than the general population of the state itself?

  2. Brad Warthen

    Well, that’s a tricky one to answer simply. Of the two I mentioned in this post, only one is on the board, and that’s me. The other one is a part-time editor who deals entirely with letters, and isn’t involved with board meetings or decisions. She keeps way too busy for that with the avalanche of letters.
    I think my boss the publisher is Catholic (seems like we discussed that briefly when he came here last year), but I can’t think of it’s ever having come up in any board-related context.
    That just leaves Warren, Cindi and Mike. The closest one to “Catholic” is Cindi, who attends an Anglican church, but is definitely not Roman. Warren is an AME preacher.
    Probably the heaviest concentration we ever had was when I was first on the board, and my predecessor Tom McLean was still editor. He’s a convert like me. We’ve never achieved the dominance on the edit board that “we” currently have on the U.S. Supreme Court.
    In general, though, I noticed something a long time ago — there always seems to be more Catholics and military brats per capita in journalism than in the general population. I think it comes from growing up sort of observing the predominant Protestant, civilian life around us — by which I mean we come to see ourselves early on as observers rather than a part of what we’re observing. How’s that for a pop-psych theory?

  3. Karen McLeod

    Last time I checked, political cartoonists make a living out of goring someone’s bull. I consider the Sacraments to be Holy, too, but this cartoon isn’t about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (I knew we called it that, but I hadn’t realized that the Holy Roman Church had gotten around to calling it that instead of ‘confession’ or ‘absolution’. Its about paying off persons’ whom you have injured, rather than seeking actual forgiveness, or of making a real attempt at amendment of life. Given how the Holy Roman Church first responded to the people who came forward with allegations of abuse, I can’t help but think that She (the church) is mainly sorry She got caught. But then, the church here on earth, of whatever flavor is made up of people, not angels. They tend to attack when they perceive threat, and they tend to diguise any disfiguring marks. There in no more (good) reason to apologize for this political cartoon than there was to apologize for that one ‘insulting’ Mohammed several years ago. That one was not insulting Mohammed and this one is not insulting the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  4. Brad Warthen

    RTH, do you mean "his stats," as in the letter-writer?

    I don’t know where he gets his figures, but I’ve heard it asserted a number of times that it’s not specifically a Catholic problem. I skimmed the ‘Net for a few minutes trying to find something comparing the incidence of pedophilia among priests compared to the general population, but I don’t see anything really conclusive in a quick glance.

    The Catholic League and others like to cite this guy Phillip Jenkins, but even he says he doesn’t really know. You might peruse this PDF I ran across. Just running quickly through it, it looked inconclusive.

    My general impression has been that the Church has a problem to deal with, but so do other organizations that work with youth. I doubt it can be quantified.

  5. weldon VII

    That’s a pretty high percentage of Catholics from my perspective, Brad. I have a former wife who’s an Episcopalian, and my present spouse grew up a Catholic, but, otherwise, I don’t know a single one.
    That may mean nothing more than there’s no longer a Catholic church in my hometown, but it may have some ulterior meaning, too.
    I have a same-God, different door attitude about Protestant and Catholic myself.

  6. Steve L

    As an ex-Catholic, a survivor of child sexual abuse (not by a priest) I find the whining from the Catholic Church on this issue disingenuous at best.
    I believe that the Vatican, which is a country, may have the highest percentage of pedophiles than any other country in the world. I find the fact that one of the main people in covering up the whole issue of child sexual abuse is now Pope to be even more disturbing.
    The bottom line is that we all have a responsibility to prevent child sexual abuse. A good place to start is by taking Darkness to Light’s on-line training “Stewards of Children.” The cost of the training is a mere $15. Go to
    I also think Ken Foye and every Catholic should watch the Oscar nominated documentary “Deliver Us From Evil” by Amy Berg. Then, perhaps, they would have a better understanding of the damage done by the Vatican and it’s embassies in the United States, know as the Catholic Church.

  7. Home Boy

    Brad, this is scary. I agree with you on this one. I’m an Episcopalian convert from Southern Baptist.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *