Home/Rod Dreher/NBC News’ ‘Alt-Right Catholic’ Smear

NBC News’ ‘Alt-Right Catholic’ Smear

This piece on the NBC News website by Corky Siemaszko is an egregious example of biased journalism. It is not labeled “analysis” or “opinion,” but rather is presented as a straight news report (pardon the expression). Excerpt:

Many Catholics say they are worried that activists like Engel are the vanguard of a new offensive by ultra-conservative Catholic groups that see the growing acceptance of LGBTQ Catholics by Pope Francis and other reformers as a mortal threat to their church.

Websites like Church Militant, LifeSite News and the Lepanto Institute are ratcheting up the rhetoric while replacing polite and prayerful discourse with personal attacks on supporters of gay Catholics, they say.

Meanwhile, anti-gay activists have increasingly been disrupting gatherings of LGBTQ Catholics and their supporters, a phenomenon first reported by the National Catholic Reporter. Just this month, a group of Dominican nuns in suburban Milwaukee hired security guards to keep more than two dozen anti-gay protesters off their property where they were hosting a retreat for gay clergy.

Fordham University theologian Jason Steidl has coined a name for them.

“I call them the ‘Catholic alt-right,’” Steidl told NBC News. “We haven’t seen anything like this before. I think they are part of a bigger cultural movement. These people have hitched their wagons to Trump’s presidency, to his tactics.”

NBC does not note the rather relevant fact that Steidl is openly gay, and involved in a pro-gay ministry at his Manhattan parish. He wrote this about his coming out. Excerpt:

Recognizing the historical failures of Catholic theology was an important first step. I read how, for example, Church teaching had once supported colonialism and slavery. So, at least on those issues, Church teaching had been wrong. I learned about popes who condemned democracy and cast aspersions on the freedom of religion. The hierarchy messed up. I read the documents of Vatican II. Theologies that we take for granted today were anathema just a couple of generations ago. I came to appreciate how the Church, embedded in history, can change. The Holy Spirit guides believers in every age and ongoing discernment allows the Church to change. Was it possible that Church teaching was wrong about LGBTQ sexuality and gender?

I surrounded myself with affirming Catholic communities. My parishes—first at St. Francis of Assisi and later at St. Paul the Apostle, both in Manhattan—showed me Jesus’ love and embraced my whole person. In queer Catholic circles I saw the gifts that LGBTQ believers bring to the Church. Empathy. Creativity. Loyalty. Humor. I recognized the systematic homophobia and transphobia that had hurt myself and so many others.

Back to the NBC story:

They have also tried to weaponize the Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August that named more than 300 “predator priests” to scapegoat homosexuals, never mind that many of the 1,000 victimized children were girls.

Oh, come on! The grand jury report found that 74 percent of the abuse victims of male priests were males.  Of that number, only 11 percent could be classified as true pedophilia (sex with pre-pubescent children). The rest — nearly two out of three cases — were men having sex with sexually mature teenagers.

The media, and pro-gay factions within the Catholic Church, have desperately tried to distract people from these facts for many years.

The rest of the piece is a bunch of quotes from people like Father Jim Martin and other pro-gay Catholic activists. The reporter gathered a few quotes from these supposed “alt-right” Catholics too. He also describes legitimately terrible instances of some militants harassing gay Catholics. Here’s one of those cases:

Perhaps one of the most extreme examples of harassment was endured by Aaron Bianco, a gay man married to another man who told the New Ways ministry that he resigned from his job at a San Diego parish as a pastoral minister after more than a year of abuse. He said he received death threats, had his tires slashed, got hundreds of harassing letters, phone calls and emails, and was physically attacked after a Mass.

“They broke into the office/rectory and spray painted” an anti-gay slur on the conference wall, he wrote in an email to friends.

The final straw, he said, was when LifeSite News and the Lepanto Institute published an article about him that included family photos and his address. It also called for San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy to fire Bianco.

“Probably 95 percent of Catholics are fine,” Bianco said. “The people in my parish are great. It’s just these fringe groups that have been able to garner so much attention. The problem is no one has put them in check.”

Hichborn denied outing Bianco and defended their coverage. He wrote that Bianco’s sexuality was no secret and “all we did was report those public facts.”

“It is just as absurd for the Catholic Church to employ active homosexuals as it would be to employ a practicing witch, a practicing abortionist, a Freemason or a Communist,” he wrote. “Sodomy is completely inimical to the most basic teachings of the Catholic faith.”

I strongly, strongly condemn publishing anybody’s home address, period. And anybody who physically abuses or intimidates, or otherwise bullies, a gay person, or anyone else, deserves condemnation.

That said — and despite Hichborn’s harsh language — why is Hichborn wrong? If an openly gay man married to another man is working in pastoral ministry in a Catholic parish, this is undeniably in contradiction to clear Catholic teaching. Siemazsko could have written something actually interesting and informative (as opposed to propaganda) had he explored the way Catholic parishes and institutions are negotiating the tension between Church teaching and rapidly changing mores. As he writes the piece, Siemazsko seems to take it for granted that the conservative critics are wrong, and wicked.

If Bianco posted photos of him and his husband on social media, why is it wrong to use them? Are they only fair game to use if one is praising gay activism within the Church?

Siemaszko offers no broader context for these conservative dissidents’ criticism. Nothing, for example, about the fact that earlier this summer, prior to the PA grand jury release, the world learned that Cardinal Ted McCarrick was a serial homosexual predator, and had been known as such for years within Church circles — yet he continued to rise. Nothing about how Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal nuncio to the US, publicly accused high-ranking Vatican officials of sexual corruption and a cover-up related to McCarrick. You don’t have to be an “alt-right Catholic” — a ridiculous slur, by the way — to be sick and tired of evidence that sexually active gay networks within the clergy cover up for each other and advance each other through the hierarchy. 

None of this should be taken as a defense of activists who take their protests too far. Again: doxxing people, harming their property, threatening them, harassing them — it’s all wrong. What hit pieces like this NBC News trash tries to do, though, is smear all conservative Catholic critics of homosexuality in the priesthood. And believe it or not, Siemaszko even blames Donald Trump for part of it!

Like any other news and information site, Church Militant and LifeSite News are rightly subject to fair criticism when they overstep morally and journalistically responsible bounds. But I’ll tell you this: the reason these outlets have such a readership is that they are doing what the mainstream media has for many years refused to do: report on a key aspect of the abuse scandal that offends liberal prior commitments.

I’ve mentioned here before about my belief, based on multiple conversations with the freelancer, that The New York Times Magazine had the McCarrick story in 2012, but spiked it. Why? Nobody has answered that question, to my knowledge, and the paper eliminated its “public editor” (ombudsman) post, so there’s no one to investigate it.

As far back as 2004, the paper’s first public editor, Daniel Okrent, wrote:

But it’s one thing to make the paper’s pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls (European papers, aligned with specific political parties, have been doing it for centuries), and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don’t think it’s intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn’t have to be intentional.

The gay marriage issue provides a perfect example. Set aside the editorial page, the columnists or the lengthy article in the magazine (”Toward a More Perfect Union,” by David J. Garrow, May 9) that compared the lawyers who won the Massachusetts same-sex marriage lawsuit to Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King. That’s all fine, especially for those of us who believe that homosexual couples should have precisely the same civil rights as heterosexuals.

But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.

In 2012, its outgoing public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote that:

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

I wish Brisbane, Okrent, or someone else were present at the Times to investigate. If what the writer (who first phoned me to interview me for the story) tells me is true, that is a major dereliction of journalistic standards.

Similarly at NBC News, Corky Siemaszko approaches the Catholic gay conflict issue as a cause, not a news subject. Do his editors at NBC News even care? Are they even capable of seeing that there is a problem of news judgment here?

Homosexuals in the priesthood are not the entirety of the sex abuse scandal story, but you simply cannot understand the story without that piece of the puzzle. I don’t always agree with the way Church Militant and LifeSite cover the scandal, but I will take every time the flawed reporting they are doing over the reporting that NBC News and the mainstream media refuse to do.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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