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Catholic Media Watch

Deal Hudson and the game of shame shifting

by Michael Mullins

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) knew it was on to a good story when it learned that the man who was arguably the world's most powerful Catholic lobbyist had a past as an alleged sexual predator.

Its Washington correspondent Joe Feuerherd was preparing a profile of 54 year old publisher and former academic Deal Hudson. Until the NCR's revelations forced him to step down last week, Hudson had the ear on Catholic matters of the world's most powerful man, President George Bush.

Feuerherd had an innocent enough agenda in researching the course of Hudson's rise to power. Nothing more than informing Catholics on exactly who it was that was speaking for them at the White House, and telling them that voting Republican was the most Catholic thing they could do on election day. NCR editor Tom Roberts told Newsday that his paper was focusing on Hudson because "he's such a public figure and he's been uncompromising in judging other people's behaviour".

But in the course of his investigation, Feuerherd learned that back in 1995, Hudson had relinquished his tenured teaching position at the Jesuits' Fordham University in New York, following allegations of strong sexual harrassment. The case was serious, and NCR had a duty to put it to American Catholics that Hudson did not have the necessary moral authority he was claiming to act as a faith and morals conduit between them and the White House.

"No one regrets my past mistakes more than I do," explained Hudson in his National Review column last week. "At the time, I dealt with this in an upright manner, and the matter was satisfactorily resolved long ago."

The contrition was part of a pre-emptive strike, attempting to shift the shame to the NCR and the "low-brow tactics" of its politically-motivated gutter journalism.

Hudson wished to make it clear that he was a reformed man living a life of moral integrity with his wife of 17 years and two children. NCR, he suggested, was engaging in "low-brow" gutter journalism in a callous, politically-motivated, effort to destroy his character and his work on behalf of Catholic organisations.

He had turned his back on his past, but, as he explained, it was "now being dug up, I believe, for political reasons - in an attempt to undermine the causes I have fought for: the defence of Church teachings on life, the priesthood, the authority of the pope, and the need for faithful Catholic participation in politics".

Conservative Catholic media outlets have lined up to support him in his view that the NCR set out in a callous attempt to destroy these fundamental tenets of the Catholic faith to ensure "the election of [Democratic candidate Senator John] Kerry, an aggressively pro-abortion, secularised Catholic who openly calls attention to his dissent on important Church teachings".

As a protest, the online Catholic Spectator removed all its links to articles on the NCR website, complaining that "the level of detail in the [NCR] article is sexually extremely graphic". Furthermore, it said the NCR was engaged in wilful character assassination in providing the level of prurient detail because "prior positions and actions taken by Deal Hudson that were not to NCR's liking".

Attempting to shame the NCR and canonise Hudson, some of the bloggers are comparing Hudson to the likes of Thomas Merton, who fathered an illegitimate child; Dorothy Day, who had a pre-conversion abortion; and even St Augustine, whose sordid past remained a constant source of shame and contrition. The fact is that Hudson's behaviour as related in the NCR article, was a source of great trauma for the young woman involved, and does not fall far short of what many would regard as sex abuse.

NCR's Tom Roberts could not have imagined that it was on to such a hot story when he sent Joe Feuerherd to research the profile on Hudson. But it's important to remember that such appropriately sensational journalism is not an end in itself, but a means of establishing or disestablishing the credentials of those who act on behalf of the Church in the corridors of power. The NCR is an independent Catholic publication. It would be nice to think that diocesan newspapers could also serve the Church by acting without fear or favour when publishing profiles of important individuals.

Read more from Mike Mullins:

  • Issue 2: Steady as She Goes
  • Issue 4: Too much from Rome
  • Issue 6: Logic of being media friendly
  • Issue 8: Christian Bros: bad news sells
  • Issue 10: No positive spin from Pell
  • Issue 12: Close your eyes

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