In January 2013, Kansas City’s current bishop, Robert Finn, echoed Bishop Helmsing from almost five decades earlier, when he again publicly asked NCR to remove “Catholic” from its masthead. Finn implied, along the way, that the paper had run afoul of all of the city’s bishops since Helmsing. Thomas C. Fox, National Catholic Reporter’s publisher, pointed out in a dignified reply that this was not true. He noted that the newspaper had enjoyed cordial relations with other Kansas City bishops, among them Finn’s predecessor, Raymond Boland, who had blessed NCR’s office and spoken at the paper’s 40th-anniversary celebration.

And Fox added interesting context that Finn had managed to omit: Just a few months earlier, the National Catholic Reporter had run an editorial calling for Finn’s resignation. This was just after the bishop had been found guilty in Jackson County criminal court, for failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest who liked lewd photos of little girls.

The editorial was not subtle. It pointed to Finn’s weak apology in the matter and to the bishop’s abysmal management. “The chancery offices are in disarray, diocesan personnel feel abandoned, and the clergy are either angry or dumbfounded,” it said. “From the very first day of his tenure in this diocese, Finn has been a source of division and divisiveness. He does have supporters, but he has never won even a grudging respect from the majority of active Catholics.”

Fox knew all that from his paper’s own reporting, in an 8,600-word piece about Finn’s rough reign that ran in 2006, written by Dennis Coday, who is now the paper’s editor. My father’s brand of journalism lives on. The word Catholic remains on the masthead, right next to Reporter.

 

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Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing.