In defence of John L. Allen Jnr.

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!

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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4 Responses to In defence of John L. Allen Jnr.

  1. Peter says:

    I agree David.Allen is the only regular contributor to the Fishwrap with any credibility.

  2. adam george says:

    I also agree with you on John Allen. Indeed John Allen is probably the most astute, wise, credible and objective writer on Vatican affairs for a major national paper. He appears regularly as a commentator on TV news channels, especially CNN. And for those Vatican-watchers in Europe and elsewhere he is always smart and objective. Indeed JA would seem to have very many good sources inside the Vatican as he was stationed there for many years. Now he spends more time back in the USA and visits Rome for periods. But you have to give it to him. In these days there are loads of wild speculation on what happens within the walls of the Vatican. Penetrating the secrecy therein is no mean feat. He has insights which are really quite spot on, although I am not so sure about a very recent article where he put up three possible papable for the next conclave. Then again, who got it right in 1978 or in 2005? How many thought Ratzinger would be pope after just a few ballots?
    In these times when the knives are out for the Vatican and bishops and that includes many priests and some bishops as well, it is good to have a wise outside head who can be objective. The fact is the vast majority of Catholics and that includes some wild and errent bloggers who scathingly attack the Church (yes indeed) have no real idea on how the Vatican works or what really goes on inside (believe me, I’ve been there).
    I believe Allen would be an excellent papal spokesperson. The incumbent Lombardi has not been up to the task set by his lay (medical) predecessor. The Vatican could do far worse than have Allen there, a Catholic layman who would be a marked improvement. And the genuine article.

    • Schütz says:

      I like the idea of appointing Allen as Vatican spokesman

      1) it would require him to put into practice the advice he has been offering Fr Lombardi and his predecessor for some years

      2) perhaps such a posting could be described as the job from purgatory?

  3. adam george says:

    John Allen today has a fascinating article which is headed Benedict’s Quiet Revolution and indeed this article which has a focus on the now-disolved Cistercian monastery in Rome (one of the 7 sights of the City) has a far wider focus I would suggest. John Allen writes:
    “……The essence of it is this: it’s the end of the “by their fruits, you shall know them” logic that once translated into a free pass, or at least a strong benefit of the doubt, for superstar clerics and high-profile groups charged with misconduct. Once upon a time, the working assumption in officialdom often was that if someone is doing great good for the church, then allegations of sexual or financial impropriety against them were likely bogus, and taking them too seriously risked encouraging the enemies of the faith.

    Without great fanfare, Benedict XVI has made it clear that today a new rule applies. No matter how accomplished a person or institution may be, if they’re also involved in what the pontiff once memorably called the “filth” in the church, they’re not beyond reach”.

    I quote the above piece from Allen since it could be raised about a number of the ordained over the past few decades who seem to think that wearing the collar, somehow excuses them from the real ordained sacramental ministry. |Don’t we all know of the ‘TV star celeb priests’, the ones who mix with the stars and celbs and the VIPs and are known for their financial acumen especially? Indeed this could be any country on the planet, any diocese. And there have been and are many high-profile priests who have become ‘untouchable’ because of their priest-to-people relationships. Look at the late and horrendous Fr Maciel who seemed to be untouchable and ‘raised millions’ but then after his death in recent years has been shown to have fathered children and had mistresses. A high-profile case for sure.

    But I think many bishops across the Church are almost afraid of touching or rebuking or removing some of their priests for fear of what may result.
    Benedict XVI has given a reminder this last week that that will and has changed. The focus must always be on Christ, the High priest and only on Him in all things.

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