Monday, February 25, 2013

Clifford Longley defends The Tablet

The Church overcoming hideous, hermaphroditic, heresy
Fresh from his triumph over Pret-a-Manger and their blasphemous crisps (which earned him the accolade of a mention in the Financial Times), the excellent Deacon Nick Donnelly of Protect the Pope has turned his sights on The Big One: the Tablet. There is a Facebook petition calling for its privilege of being distributed through Catholic churches and cathedrals to be withdrawn. I didn't think much of this when I first saw it, as a FB petition is as likely to dislodge The Tablet from its place among the dusty flyers for the next liturgical dance class at the back of Catholic churches as a rubber battering ram. But it got a rise out of Clifford Longley, of all people. In response to comments making the obvious point - that The Tablet is not exactly a bastion of orthodoxy - he wrote:

Clifford Longley February 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm ·
Patrick tells us – “On the contrary, the Tablet is a disgrace, and lacks journalistic integrity. The occasional critical article in a supposedly Catholic journal is one thing, but week in, week out, to oppose the teaching of the Magisterium in general and just about every initiative of Pope Benedict’s in particular, is another.”

Where is your evidence? Do you even read The Tablet week by week? The charge that it lacks journalistic integrity is a grave calumny – can you prove it? It is a plain lie to say The Tablet opposes the teaching of the magisterium week in week out or “just about every initiative of Pope Benedict”. 

Those who read the Tablet know this is completely absurd and grossly dishonest; but those who don’t, have no yard stick with which to assess your seriously defamatory allegations, and may even be stupid enough to believe them. I really think you should consult your conscience, and you are very lucky you are not subject to a writ for libel or malicious falsehood. So what lies behind this extraordinary hatred of The Tablet, given that it strives to be orthodox in matters of faith and is accepted as such by the English hierarchy, as well as being widely read in Rome? I am baffled. But I will pray for you.

Longley could do with a refresher course in journalism if he thinks that the kind of criticisms of The Tablet voiced on Protect the Pope could be libellous, but never mind. Since I am someone who does try to engage with 'The Tablet, International Catholic Weekly', I'm in a position to answer his questions. (I posted a critique of some of his own Tablet journalism here.)

What is journalistic integrity? Isn't that an oxymoron? When, a few years ago, a Tablet journalist was looking for a comment from the Latin Mass Society about something, this journalist rang me to say that an LMS colleague had suggested the journalist ask me. In fact, it later transpired that my colleague had simply said 'no comment'. To ordinary mortals this might look like a bare-faced lie, on the journalist's part, but it is what one can expect from a journalist. I'm not too bothered about that kind of thing. Anyone dealing with the press should be on his guard against tricks like that, and worse ones too.

One can expect, also, a certain editorial position: there's nothing dishonest about that, in itself. Do they give a 'right of reply'? Well, they publish my letters. They used to cut out the good bits and print the rest, but I always blogged about it and on one famous occasion (with a letter not from me, this time) the bit they cut out found its way into a Gloria TV report, and they seem to have learnt their lesson. I don't mind my letters being cut for reasons of space, but these were attempts to make strong arguments they didn't like look weaker.

On one occasion we supplied them--at considerable cost of time and effort--with statistics about the progress of the EF following the Motu Proprio. They only printed the ones they liked, and the article's tone and conclusion was incompatible with the ones they didn't print. Fine, you don't have to print all the information we give you, but you can't claim, in print, what that information shows to be false. That isn't presenting your side of the story, it is falsehood.

Most seriously, they offered us an article-length reply, on the subject of Altar Girls. Within an impossibly tight deadline, we got an article of exactly the right length from a theologian of international reputation delivered to them. It never appeared in print. After acknowledging receipt, they just stopped answering our emails. The article appears to have been too good: they didn't want to print something effective which was at odds with their agenda.

By contrast, more recently they printed a rather bad article by George Weigel which responded in a 'conservative' way to something they'd printed. Since the article was vacuous and attacked traditionalists, I imagine it was more acceptable.

This kind of attitude runs through the whole magazine. A extreme example was an article in 2011 by Elena Curti on the ordination of women (here, for subscribers). She'd done a fair amount of research, talking to a number of different people whom she quoted in the article. Not one of them, however, was against the ordination of women. It was as if intellectual opponents didn't exist. Her conclusion was couched in careful language, it wasn't an explicit call for the ordination of women, but the reader was simply left with no reason to object to it.

These are examples which go beyond ordinary journalistic practice; they take 'The Tablet, International Catholic Weekly', from the realm of the partisan broadsheet in the direction of a propaganda rag. It is not about getting a good story, it is not even about spinning things in a particular way, it is about presenting a systematically distorted picture of reality. Serbian dissidents during the war in the Balkans used to talk about the state-run media as 'the alternative universe': that's what we have in The Tablet. This is a place where conservatives and traditionalists have no good arguments; where there is no widespread support for the Extraordinary Form, the new Missal translation, the Ordinariate, for the re-sacralisation of the liturgy, or for any of the Holy Father's initiatives. It is a place where everyone, baring the odd eccentric, agrees that that priests should be allowed to marry, where it is just obvious that everything was bad before Vatican II, where Humanae Vitae is a dead letter, and where the attempt to stifle debate on female ordination is clearly unhealthy. And above all, where child-abuse is perpetrated by horrible old conservatives. The picture they like to present is one in which 'the Curia', relying on naked power alone, are always ignoring the overwhelming arguments and pastoral experiences presented by a united front of thinking Catholics: theologians, academics, clergy, journalists. The cartoon, right, which accompanied Curti's article expresses it well.

This in fact is not so much a distortion of reality as its mirror-image. For in fact, no one from their side of the argument has presented new thinking or new research for getting on for twenty years, by contrast with the stream of conservative scholarly publications. It is the liberals who are relying on naked power, and positions of privilege and prestige which they certainly didn't achieve on merit, to suppress dissent, to close down debate, to maintain the tottering status quo against a groundswell of opposition. The Tablet maintains an ever-narrowing spiral of denial, supported by a dwindling band of aging fire-brands like Hans Kung, and younger thinkers ever more reliant on post-modern bilge rather than argument, inhabiting institutions ever more remotely connected with the Church.

I'm not surprised that Clifford Longley doesn't see it that way. For him and his Tablet colleagues, their version of reality just is reality. They simply try to stop facts and arguments from appearing which will confuse people, and distract them from the big picture. I don't doubt they are sincere. But their views are not Catholic, their efforts undermine not only the Vatican but the efforts of our own bishops. It is time we stopped giving them power over us by allowing them to present themselves as Catholics, and by selling the mag in churches. What gave them the right to use the Church as a host for their parasitical life? What gives them the right to call themselves an International Catholic Weekly?


  1. Anonymous8:33 pm

    Amen, Dr Shaw. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous12:28 am

    Yes, some very good points there.

  3. Terrific post.

  4. It is the duty of all Catholics get rid of heresy. So when a copy of the Tablet is found in a Catholic church we should dump it in church's bin.

  5. Absolutely right Dr Shaw. We have given oxygen to the Trojan Horse the Tablet that calls itself Catholic. It should be banned from every Catholic Church and everyone should know of it dissenting agenda to persuade and to corrupt people about the Truth and Teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church! If the Bishops won't shut it down, we the laity can have a go.

  6. Absolutely right Dr Shaw. We have given oxygen to the Trojan Horse the Tablet that calls itself Catholic. It should be banned from every Catholic Church and everyone should know of it dissenting agenda to persuade and to corrupt people about the Truth and Teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church! If the Bishops won't shut it down, we the laity can have a go.

  7. It must be said that, Clifford Longley wrote a very good piece in the Times, at the time of the Econe Consecrations. He said that traditionalists were “victims of that modern scourge, the intolerance of liberal reformers” and that there was “ a hint of thoughtless vandalism in the sudden repudiation of the (Tridentine Mass)” . His thoughts were always more nuanced than, say Peter Stanford who has been trotting out the same line since he was , unbelievably though it may seem now, the Catholic Herald editor. It may be a very dark time in the Church at the moment but I wouldn’t want to go back to the 80s and 90s when there were 4 Latin Masses a year in Edinburgh and if you asked for more, you were dismissed as an a nostalgic or a crank.

  8. Is the 'altar girls' article available to read online anywhere? I hope the effort didn't go to waste.

    1. It went into Mass of Ages, the LMS magazine, a couple is issues ago.