Kate’s blog pointed me to a rather bitey tirade against NCR journalist Mr John L. Allen Jnr on the Life Site News website: John Allen’s strategy for legitimizing Catholic dissent.
I think they’ve got him all wrong.
Here’s my theory.
Mr Allen has a nice job. If I had a job like his, I would think that I had died and gone to heaven. He doesn’t want to lose this job. He’s had it for a little while now. He’s been with the National Catholic Reporter since 1997.
When he joined them, he was, by all accounts, very much in the mold of just about every other contributor to what Fr Z. “affectionately” calls “the Fishwrap”. You can see this in one of his earliest publications, “Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith”, although this review on the Ratzinger fanclub site says it wasn’t as bad as it was said to be. Still, Allen was embarrased when the publisher of the book re-released it upon the election of Ratzinger as Pope in 2005 – his views had shifted somewhat over the intervening five years.
And this is the thing. Long time readers of Allen will notice that he has become wiser with experience. The one adjective that they all use is “balanced”.
Now what does “balanced” mean in the context of a publication like the NCR? It means that it will represent faithfully the point of view that will be found in the rest of the magazine. BUT it also means that it is the only place in the entire publication in which the opposite point of view is represented – and represented accurately and fairly and put forward in a way to make it appear entirely reasonable. That makes Allen unique amonst contributors to the Fishwrap.
Now, how to interpret that? Well, the author of the Life Site News piece thinks that it is Allen’s “strategy for legitimising dissent”. I don’t think so. I think they are critically misreading him. I think Allen’s famous “balance” is his “strategy for legitimising faithfulness to the magisterium”.
You see, context is everything. Sure, Allen tows the NCR editorial line. Afterall, he has the job from heaven and doesn’t want to lose it. BUT, under the cloak of “balanced” reporting and commentary, he is also giving air to a point of view entirely absent from the rest of the journal.
I say, cut him some slack. Working as a double agent can be a thankless task. But I am sure the perks of the job make up for it!