Just before I left for Michigan last week a friend told me that I had been mentioned, not too charitably, in First Things. A couple of alert readers also said they had read the article and wondered about it. I couldn’t say anything, as I had not read the piece.
ust before I departed Ohio the friend who had first told me of it sent a copy of the part of the article in which I was mentioned. I haven’t been able to read the whole thing, which is an essay about the late Fr Richard Neuhaus’ correspondences, so I will wait to write a letter to the editor of First Things.
But I can respond here to what was written specifically about me.
I don’t know where the author, one Randy Boyagoda, got his information, but almost everything he wrote about me and my brief correspondence with Fr Neuhaus is inaccurate.
It is not true that I was unfamiliar with the thought of Richard Neuhaus; while I was no longer a subscriber to his journal in 1994, when he wrote me, I had been in the past and continued to read it with some regularity, buying copies at bookstores, or reading it in libraries or borrowing it from friends.
It is not true that I had not read Fr Neuhaus’ book Doing Well and Doing Good. I had read it, as well as George Weigel’s A New Worldly Order, National Review’s special edition dedicated to the encyclical Centesimus Annus, as well as just about everything I could find in the conservative and neoconservative press that claimed CA represented the reconciliation of the Catholic Church and free market capitalism.
It is not true that I initiated the correspondence with Fr Neuhaus. He wrote me first, not, as Mr Boyagoda claims, in response to something I had written about his book- though I mentioned it- but to something I had written about the neoconservative agenda in general, and more specifically, about the highly edited version of the encyclical which had appeared in the books of Weigel and Neuhaus, the National Review special edition, and elsewhere in right wing publications. The editorial accompanied a statement by the editors of several small Catholic journals criticizing neoconservative claims about the encyclical. I won’t go into it here, but briefly, what I did was compare the original text with the neocon version. It read like an indictment: the editing of the encyclical was partisan and dishonest. Anything that contradicted the claim that the Church was now in the capitalist camp, or that praised labor unions or worker cooperatives, etc, was left out. Bracketed words were added to the text, which shaded the meaning rightward. I never heard of anyone who read my analysis disagreeing with my conclusion. You may read the joint statement, and my criticism of the neocon version of the encyclical- which I called “Centesimus Lite”- here.
The one thing Mr Boyagoda got right was that Fr Neuhaus accused me of moral and journalistic sins. But he did not attempt to explain the editing of the encyclical or to defend it. Neither did George Wiegel or Michael Novak, who also wrote me in response to my editorial. Their letters all shared a “How dare you!” tone, and they all demanded an apology, without responding at all to what I had written.
I wrote back to Fr Neuhaus and the others, refusing to apologize for writing the truth, and asking again for an explanation. I also suggested a subscription swap with Fr Neuhaus.
The last inaccuracy in Mr Boyagoda’s account is the statement that Fr Neuhaus responded to this letter, declining the swap and dismissing any hopes of dialogue. Perhaps Boyagoda found a drafted letter in Fr Neuhaus’ papers, but I never received a response.
When I have read the whole article, which should be waiting in my po box in Wooster, I will write a letter to the editor of First Things.
I did want to clarify things for the readers of this blog; I trust this suffices.