The Center in the News: “Chronicle”

Last Thursday night, Boston’s WCVB TV aired a controversy concerning Saint Benedict Center on their news magazine, “Chronicle.” This is why we posted a welcome message to Chronicle viewers to our main site and our SBC-Richmond Blog.

What did we think of the show? It was good, considering. Considering what, you ask? Considering the fact that we are dealing with the liberal-secularist media. The reason for the “good,” in the “good, considering” is that there was a sense of fair play in the program’s producer. He told me that what fascinated him about the story was the “ambiguity” of it. My reply was that ambiguity does not interest me, truth does. (Different world views, it seems.) One side of the “ambiguity” included untrue, misleading, and defamatory statements about us. The other side was our getting the message across — including the doctrinal message.

Notable remarks made against us included the particularly bold claim that “they aren’t even Catholic.” The gentleman who uttered this statement had no competence to do so. In the face of a contrary opinion of a qualified canon lawyer, the claim is easily dismissed. (It should come as no surprise that the calumny comes from a star witness for the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

The show aired some other bald inaccuracies, such as the description of a layman as the “founder” of our community here in Richmond.

The most disturbing thing in the whole show was not to be found in the the claims of our critics. The worst thing was the portrayal of Father Feeney: it was just plain fraudulent. The producer put together an audio-visual collage that combined voice-overs of a man violently caricaturing Father Feeney with photos from an old Time article. The photos were deliberately unflattering, like the pictures of celebrities on tabloid covers at supermarket checkouts. The voice came from an older Chronicle documentary, which showed the imitator performing his routine. Viewers who did not see the earlier program could easily be confused into thinking that the voice was Father Feeney’s. Not only was the voice not Father’s: the words were not, either. Among other things, the malignant imitation portrayed our founder yelling the word “kike,” a vulgar pejorative that was not part of Father Feeney’s vocabulary.

A mean-spirited and crude bit of yellow journalism, that.

The spectacle purported to be a description of the goings-on at Boston Common, where Father went to preach the Catholic Faith weekly. While categorically dubbing Father Feeney a bigot, Chronicle left out some important history of these events. Because of the controversial nature of Father’s message, the preaching on the Common attracted many hecklers. Once 500 Jewish youth from Brandeis University were on hand to shout down Father’s preaching. They ripped the clothing of the Brothers and Sisters, threw bleach on their black suits, ink on their white shirts, and punched them. Brother Hugh was on the receiving end of a burst of acid launched from a water pistol. It burned a hole in his coat. Once Brother Francis was repeatedly kicked and had lit cigarettes applied to his skin by the hecklers. Brother Francis, an Arab, was a favorite target: “Hey, Maluf, your camel’s double parked!” was memorably shouted over the crowd. (If those who perpetrated these things were without a monopoly on victim status, one may suspect they were racists.)

Worse by far was the blasphemy. One heckler shouted, “take him down and we’ll crucify him again!” at the Crucifix. Another spit on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe twenty-four times. Some were heard to yell “He’s a mamser” — the Yiddish word for bastard — when the adorable image of Our Savior passed.

We realize that direct attacks against God and His Mother are considered constitutionally protected acts of free speech nowadays, and that it would be hateful to denounce this as blasphemy, but Father Feeney was from a different era. In our more civilized age, Catholics have learned to be polite about these things. From this more enlightened perspective, it is entirely understandable that Chronicle would overlook insults directed against Christ while calling Father Feeney a “hate priest.”

Recall the expression of CWN’s Diogenes we quoted last week: “Those who disagree with us are bigots, and bigots must be held in contempt. That’s the key moral lesson of 20th-century tolerance.”