WashPost Plays Up a Heil-Hitler Reference In Story on Virginia Catholic Teachers

Now here’s a stretch: what began on the front page of Thursday’s Washington Post as a story on the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia asking volunteer religion teachers to sign a fidelity oath to church teachings concluded with an image of German Catholic bishops doing a Heil Hitler salute.

This loaded Nazi reference – in a church now led by someone conscripted into Hitler’s army – came from a Rev. Ronald Nuzzi at Notre Dame, a college which quite publicly displayed its lack of orthodoxy by honoring President HHS Mandate Obama in 2009:

Nuzzi said he keeps a photo on his desk from the 1940s that shows all the German bishops in their garb, doing the Nazi salute.

“I keep it there to remind people who say to do everything the Church says, that their wisdom has limitations, too.”

The Post might want to fact check whether there is a picture proving “all the German bishops” were Nazi-saluters. The historical implication is an utterly pacified German church in Hitler’s time.

Perhaps Nuzzi should just keep the picture of Notre Dame honoring Obama on his desk if he wants an image of Catholics honoring power that’s hostile to religious liberty and the Catholic faith. Obama’s no Hitler -- and neither is the Bishop of Arlington.

As she did in promoting lesbian Buddhist activist Barbara Johnson on the front page of the Post, religion reporter Michelle Boorstein centered this story on a the feminist dissident standing up to patriarchal men:

Kathleen Riley knows her beliefs on the male-only priesthood and contraception put her at odds with leaders of her church. But as a fifth-generation Catholic who went to a Catholic school and grew up to teach in one, Riley feels the faith deeply woven through her. So when her Arlington parish asked for volunteers last summer to teach Sunday school, she felt called by the Holy Spirit to say yes.

A year later, the 52-year-old computer scientist feels the same spirit calling her to say no.

Boorstein doesn’t get specific, but Riley apparently teaches computer science at Bishop O’Connell High School. If she’s offended by church teachings in her volunteer time at St. Ann’s, would she consider quitting her day job at O’Connell? Or does the school not make teachers sign a fidelity oath? We’re not told. But the template is the same – Riley, like Johnson, has a Catholic-school biography, which somehow makes them authentically Catholic, whether they agree with church teaching or not. This is the passage in the lesbian-Buddhist front pager:

Johnson's mother and late father were lifelong churchgoers who scraped to send their four children to Catholic schools, said Barbara and her brother, Larry Johnson, a forensic accountant who lives in Loudoun County. Barbara lives in Northwest Washington and for years taught art at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, her alma mater.

In Johnson’s case, there was no real fidelity oath at that high school. Instead, Johnson planned to agitate against "insidious" church teaching. As I wrote then,

In a paper for a master’s degree she’s pursuing at Kutztown State University, Johnson wrote of interviewing with a principal at a Catholic school in Maryland in which “we talked openly about my being a lesbian and a Buddhist.” (She also declared she took the job “with all the zeal and enthusiasm of any natural born agitator who every now and again enjoys challenging the status quo.” This status quo she also called the “socially constructed heteronormative culture” and an “insidious heterosexist paradigm.”)

Boorstein, who is often a careful and knowledgeable religion writer who touches on both sides, included two sides here, but obviously the “news” was spurred by the outraged dissidents like Riley and college professor Rosemarie Zagarri, who said the church should be “an oasis of humanity” and the oath is a “slap in the face.”

“This is not in the spirit of what people go to a Catholic church for, which is community and a loving, welcoming environment. It’s exclusionary, a suppression of dissent, let’s all line up and be the army of God,” Zagarri said in an interview for this article.

Even liberal Michael Sean Winters, who praises Zagarri, says you can go to the neighborhood cafe or pub for “community” that’s “welcoming.”

Mollie Hemingway at Get Religion
assessed the story and plucked out this passage:

But for some, particularly more liberal Catholics, the oaths are an alarming effort to stamp out debate in the church at a time when it is bleeding members and clergy in the West. They note that church leaders’ views have changed over the centuries on various subjects, including contraception.

In fact, the church leadership has not changed views much on contraception. The Catholic Church is the most consistent Christian body on contraception.

One could also protest the constant liberal-media mantra that traditional churches “bleed members and clergy” by sticking to tradition, when it’s just as easy to show how the Episcopalians and other mainline religions – whose doctrinal flexibility is more in line with the stars of this Post story – are bleeding members and clergy because they’ve watered their doctrines down to match the modern zeitgeist.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis