Friday, August 29, 2014

National Catholic Reporter Exercises Censorship Again: Jerry Slevin Reports Being Blocked from Commenting at NCR — Without Any Explanation

An important discussion has been taking place here in the past several days on two different threads. At both threads (cited below), Jerry Slevin reports that he was recently blocked from making comments at National Catholic Reporter — blocked without explanation or warning. And when he has sought an explanation for this from the powers that be at NCR, he receives no replies to his questions.

Bilgrimage readers will perhaps know Jerry (who's a Harvard-trained international lawyer with extensive experience in the legal field) as the author of provocative, valuable statements about various issues in the Catholic church today. He's published some of his pieces here, and they can be retrieved by clicking on his name in the labels beneath this posting. Jerry also maintains the noteworthy Christian Catholicism blog, which is in my blog list here at Bilgrimage, and has contributed significantly to discussions of Catholic issues in discussion threads at NCR for several years now. 

The inexplicable choice of NCR's managing staff to block Jerry Slevin from commenting at that site — again, according to Jerry, he received no forewarning and has been not been done the bare courtesy of being provided with any explanation — deserves attention, in my view. For my own discussion of (and serious concerns) about NCR's mechanism of censorship, which I've found directed against me, too, please see these postings — here, here, and here.

Unlike Jerry, I have not been blocked from commenting at NCR, though I've found comments I've made there deleted with no explanation, while nasty, and in many cases, outright homophobic, commenters to whom those comments were in several cases directed are allowed free rein to keep commenting. I decided after my last experience of censorship by NCR that I will no longer leave comments at that site. In my view, its process for censoring contributors is not in the least transparent, and it's capricious in a way that often serves the interests of folks who want to misuse the Catholic tradition and Catholic teaching to inflict misery on others — while it takes away from those who want to respond to these commenters any effective voice to respond.

A case in point: I watched with dismay a number of days ago as NCR allowed a nasty comment by one of its regulars, one Purgatrix Ineptiae, to stand, in response to this article by Robert McClory. The comment suggests that the imagined "proclivities" of a gay music director fired by a Chicago-area Catholic parish justified his firing. I say I watched in dismay as this comment, with its nasty homophobic subtext, was allowed to stand: what I watched with particular dismay was NCR's choice to delete one critical response after another to the hateful "proclivities" statement, while they let the ugly statement stand more or less uncontested. 

The message this behavior sends is crude and startling: the message is that it's a valid expression of Catholic values to blame the firing of a gay employee of a Catholic institution on his or her imagined sexual "proclivities." But it's not a valid expression of Catholic values to challenge such toxic rhetoric in discussion threads at Catholic blog sites.

Certainly not at National Catholic Reporter . . . .Which is one of the few places in the world of (supposedly) enlightened religious conversation in which people are treated as credible and respectable while they talk about the imagined "proclivities" of gay folks as a justification for their being denied employment . . . . 

The following is Jerry Slevin's report on what happened to him recently at NCR, lifted from two threads here: 

First, Jerry states

As a few already know, I have been permanently denied, without any explanation or warning, future access to the National Catholic Reporter website.

After Jerry made that report, there has been an outpouring of sympathy and outrage by commenters here. Readers can find these responses in two discussion threads I'm linking in this summary about Jerry's report.

When some readers told Jerry that his being locked out of the NCR commenting system was perhaps a glitch, he responded by reporting, 

Thanks, but I wrote to Pam [Cohen, moderator of NCR discussion threads] and several others at NCR ten days ago when I got the constant message I was blocked by NCR. I never got any reply.

And then he later offered the following full explanation of what now happens when he tries to log in to make a comment at NCR:

I have been getting for 10 days this message when I tried to submit an NCR comment: 
"We are unable to post your comment because you have been blocked by National Catholic Reporter." 
I e-mailed several at NCR about it 10 days ago asking what was up, but got no reply.

At another Bilgrimage thread, when Terri Henker told Jerry that she and others had contacted NCR to express solidarity with Jerry and concern about his having been censored, Jerry replied with this statement:

Thanks, Terri, for this "pointed" remark and for your speaking up about NCR's unexplained refusal to accept ANY future comments from me. 
It is very disappointing to me after four years of generally well received commenting (over 10,000 comments) on NCR, plus even two NCR articles I wrote, that so many NCR bloggers so far appear to lack the courage and judgment to resist this kind of censorship. 
NCR has refused to reply to my request for an explanation. While some NCR bloggers object to the tenor and/or length of some of comments, I have my reasons for what I write when I write my comments. For example, sometimes I am aiming my comments at the hierarchy and/or their lawyers, who I believe do read some of my comments. 
As my friend, Bill Lindsey, well knows, NCR has a much larger following than Bilgrimage, which is why I have concentrated my blogging efforts there, although I have also published both essays and comments often at Bilgrimage, thanks to Bill's gracious and open approach. 
The shamefully passive acquiescence in, or inadequate resistance to, of so many, including in my opinion, at times even some of NCR's staffers, the hierarchy's continuing abuse of children, women, couples, gay and divorced persons, et al., now seems to extend to giving NCR's enabling, even if unintentional, management a pass on denying free speech that doesn't please their donors, advertisers or whomever, it appears. 
If NCR bloggers accept this submissively, one must wonder where their heads are. I do not plan to comment under any pseudonym.

Jerry also issued the statement above in response to Carole Stanton, when she wrote

Jerry, just want to add my voice to the NCR issue. I wrote Pam yesterday when I saw what was going on. She said she has orders to forward all questions about your being banned to Dennis Coday. I too hope it was a glitch as I would be disappointed in NCR. Your voice has always been an informed and interesting one. Would hate to see you disappear from there. I await an answer from Dennis. Be well. Carol

To summarize:

1. Jerry Slevin is reporting that he finds himself summarily blocked from making comments at NCR — with no forewarning and explanation. 
2. He knows that he has been blocked because when he tries to log in to make comments at the NCR site, he receives a message reading, "We are unable to post your comment because you have been blocked by National Catholic Reporter."  
3. When he has emailed NCR comments moderator Pam Cohen and others in the managerial sector of NCR to ask why he has been banned, he receives no replies to his emails. 
4. When at least one NCR reader, Carole Stanton, contacted Pam Cohen to express concern about all of this, Carole was told that all questions about Jerry's banning must be referred to Dennis Coday.

Stinky? You bet. And very Catholic, in a way that NCR claims to want to critique and overcome within the Catholic church at large. There's a total lack of transparency in this entire process, and the process is used — again, in a very authoritarian and non-transparent "Catholic" way — to slap down and silence people who are read out of communion with no explanation.

You don't build a credible Catholic community by behaving this way. As Jerry has mentioned to me in an email about all of this, he had thought he had a cordial relationship with some of NCR's top managers including publisher Tom Fox, with whom he's been in touch, and who published a link in 2010 to a Washington Post column he wrote "on the urgent need for a Vatican sponsored sexual morality and priest child abuse commission, very topical now with the upcoming Synod on the Family in a few weeks" (I'm citing Jerry's email to me with his permission).

After this, Tom Fox ran a related column Jerry did in 2011 on the contraception issue and the way in which the political and religious right in the U.S. have sought to use that issue to siphon off Catholic support for the Obama administration. 

And now, with no explanation and with total silence when he asks why this has happened, Jerry finds himself receiving a curt message informing him that he is blocked from commenting at NCR, if he tries to leave a comment there. In my view, all those who have been posting statements of sympathy and outrage in the two threads here discussing this issue in recent days are absolutely on-target in their response to this malodorous behavior by the NCR site.

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