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Journal’s ads set it apart -- far apart

NCR Staff

“St. Bozo’s Parish” no longer amuses you?

You’ve had it with “fuzzy-wuzzy” Catholicism?

You are annoyed with “yak sessions” sponsored by the Catholic Common Ground Project?

Maybe, maybe not, but Dale Vree, editor of New Oxford Review, a conservative Catholic monthly, is putting his money behind ads aimed at Catholics who answer yes.

Trouble is, some Catholic publications have refused to run those ads, including, says Vree, some publications on the right that, in his opinion, should join his battle for “truth.” At least three publications -- including the Jesuit journal America and two weekly newspapers that share the rightward tilt of New Oxford Review -- have banned his ads. So the militant Vree is finding it harder to get his message in front of Catholics.

The newspapers that have said no thanks are Our Sunday Visitor, which reaches about 85,000 readers, and National Catholic Register, with a circulation of about 15,000. Vree, whose publication has about 16,000 readers, says the boycott has definitely hurt.

Vree has retaliated in a series of editorials, prompting some familiar with the controversy to say it has reached the intensity of a feud among Catholics on the right. The most recent of the editorials ran in June. Vree doesn’t want to make his ads milder, less apt to offend, because, as he wrote in the June issue, “it’s our spicy, punchy, comical and satirical ads,” our “trademark ads” that pull.

Here’s what publishers are saying about the ads:

America apologized to readers last November for running an “offensive” New Oxford Review ad in violation of America’s policy to reject such ads. “It was an innocent mixup,” the editors wrote in response to a published letter from Fr. William B. Padavick of Oberlin, Ohio. Padavick complained that the source of “the real heresy today” is not liberals, as New Oxford Review likes to claim, but Catholics on the right -- “the thought-control gang who are desperately trying to split the church from itself and from the real world.”

For Fr. Owen Kearns, publisher of National Catholic Register, the last straw came a bit later, when an ad for the New Oxford Review declared that in the “average Catholic parish” the laity gets “crumbs: balloons or clowns or liturgical dancers or banners with greeting-card sentiments, but always platitudinous homilies” from “Father Fluff.”

Kearns said it was the “average parish” label and the word “always” that got him. “That is insulting to priests,” said Kearns, a member of the Legionaries of Christ, the conservative religious order that recently bought the Register.

“If they’d said ‘some parishes’ or even ‘many parishes’ ... but ‘the average parish’?” Kearns said. For him that goes too far. Readers had complained that the ads were “ugly” both in presentation and in tone, he said.

For Robert Lockwood, president of Our Sunday Visitor, the end of the line was an ad alluding to the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Though the ad did not use Bernardin’s name, it denounced an unnamed cardinal as instigator of a campaign “to undermine Catholic teaching and papal authority” under the guise of the Catholic Common Ground Project, an effort founded by Bernardin.

“We don’t run gratuitous attacks,” said Lockwood. He added, “I’m in no mood to get into a public contest with New Oxford Review.”

New Oxford Review was, however, in the mood for a public contest in June. Vree, a former Episcopalian, complained in an editorial in the June issue that the Register lacks the “fire” and “passion” needed to combat heresy and dissent in the church. “The anemia and confusion plaguing the Register have also been afflicting Our Sunday Visitor,” Vree wrote, complaining in particular about a Visitor editorial in praise of diversity in the church.

The real problem, Vree told NCR, is not the ads but the other publications’ refusal to step up to the line, to “take on the enemies of orthodoxy.” The battle, according to Vree, must now be fought alone -- so the journal is expanding from 40 to 48 pages, while asking its readers to kick in the necessary financial support.

“They accuse us of tearing down the church,” Vree said. “The fact is, the church is kind of broken down. There is kind of a civil war going on. You’ve got to decide which side you’re on. Unity is an important thing for all Catholics, but it has to be unity based on truth.”

Margaret Steinfels, editor of Commonweal, another Catholic weekly, said Vree had never approached the magazine about running ads. “If they did ask,” she said, “I would be delighted to turn them down.”

Under the headline “Do Catholics Have Bad Breath?” Commonweal ran a parody of a New Oxford Review ad (calling it New Ostrich Review) in its Feb. 9, 1996 issue.

Having been rejected by his favorite places to advertise, Vree told NCR he was feeling ostracized.

“Ostracized?” Steinfels of Commonweal said. “Maybe he means ostrich-cized.”

National Catholic Reporter, July 31, 1998