Two short articles

"Nervous Journalism"

The Easter Sunday edition of the New York Times contained a book review and an editorial which had nothing to do with Easter. Thereby hangs a tale a sad tale of apparent craven cringing in one of the finest, cleanest, fairest newspaper offices in the world. Here is the editorial:


In today's issue of the Book Review, in a review by Philip Toynbee of a book by Lionel Trilling, "The Liberal Imagination," there appears a reference to Roman Catholics that obviously should not have been made. Every reviewer has the right to express his opinion and that opinion is his rather than the opinion of The Times. The editor, however, has the responsibility to delete statements that are inaccurate or offensive. That responsibility should have been exercised_ in this case. Unfortunately, it was not and the offending sentence was not detected until after the press run of the Book Section had been completed.

Naturally we dove for the book review and its "offending sentence," which otherwise we would have missed. We cannot quote the whole book review, so we must take the sentence out of its context, from which it was really only an aside anyway: "We are all too familiar with the facile and vitriolic attacks on liberal and democratic culture made by Roman Catholics. . . . Their furious partisanship . . . has produced little criticism of importance." If the day has come when a critic can express such an honest opinion in the New York Times only by an inadvertence, then the grip of Roman censorship is tighter than we realized. We weep. We honor the New York Times, when there are very few newspapers left worthy of honor. That editorial was not proudly written. Was it inspired from the business office? The Times has no intention of omitting everything that might be "offensive" to someone. They would have little left to print. Indeed their front page review in this same issue says of James Madison that "contemporaries ranked only Washington above him." That is "offensive" to us because we think many ranked his teacher Jefferson above him; but we don't expect the editor to apologize. He won't, for we control no advertising power. We do not condemn the Times. Maybe it takes more money than they have to face the fury of the hierarchy. But we weep.

Paul Blanshard in a chapter, "Censorship and Boycott," of his American Freedom and Catholic Power gives some heroic examples of editors who didn't buckle. In 1944 Time magazine rendered a notable service by printing a detailed description of the attempted suppression of stories of priestly crimes, notably an item about a priest who had been arrested for drunken driving. Of course most often the power of Roman censorship is hidden. J SIews is simply not printed, and we never know about it. There is no nervous announcement to tell us about it. Sometimes the vindictive punishment visited on a newspaper or book publisher is a boomerang. The sales of the Blanshard book seems a case in point. The abuse heaped upon it and the intimidation of stores is worth more than a Pulitzer prize.

But heroic exceptions prove and highlight the rule; at any cost don't offend the hierarchy ! This situation is so unwholesome and so un- American (not to mention deadly to Protestantism) that it is hard to believe. What to do? We don't know. Certainly avoid former hates and "anti" movements. But we must awake ! Why not begin by reading and passing around American Freedom and Catholic Power, by Paul Blanshard? (Beacon Press, $3.50.) Editorial in the Presbyterian Tribune, June, 1950. (Reprinted by permission.)

An Electrifying Conference

Developing the "sorry spectacle" of a divided Christendom confronting a united Communist movement, Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam has made a proposal that, if acted upon, as we hope it will be, would do nothing less than electrify the world. It would bring together Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders in co-operation and conference.

Hear the Methodist bishop as he presented the plan to the Northern Baptists during their recent annual convention:

I am certain that the major Protestant denominations would gladly appoint representatives to sit with such leaders as Cardinal Mooney, Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop Gushing, and others to confer relative to the contemporary world situation, and to take such steps, as Christians, as might be necessary to bring to mankind a fuller knowledge of the love of God as revealed in his divine Son, of the Christian conception of the worth of man, of the meaning of the kingdom of God on earth.

Before the conference convenes, the bishop thinks, the Pope should enunciate a new doc trine of religious liberty, declaring that Catholics respect the right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own con science, the right of parents to rear their children in their own faith, the right of every per son to change his faith, and the right of churches to educate, preach, carry on missionary work and own property for these-purposes. We agree on the appropriateness of such a history-making declaration, but it will not be an easy statement for the Catholic leader to write.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that there have been trends in this direction". "Following the encyclical in which Pope Pius XI inveighed against "schemes for promiscuous union" as "subversive," no invitation was given to Roman Catholics to attend the Oxford Conference of 1937, but there were observers at the Edinburgh Conference and there could have been similar observers at the Amsterdam Assembly if the lines of negotiation had not become fouled, partly due to the interference of Myron C. Taylor.

The Pope's recent "instructions concerning doctrinal conversations between Catholics and Protestants" have been cited as evidence that a conference would be neither possible nor profitable, but the meeting of minds and hearts that Bishop Oxnam proposes would not be doctrinal. The Vatican document specifically al lows intercorifessional meetings on social questions, permitting a common stand on social justice, for example. Besides and this particular point is extremely important the Holy See specifies that, with certain restrictions, Roman Catholics and Christians of other confessions may pray together.

---Editorial in The Christian Advocate, June 15, 1950. (Reprinted by permission.)


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October 1950

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