Why this priest has spent 50 years fighting with the New York Times

A lot has changed in journalism since 1961, but not Msgr. Daniel S. Hamilton’s resolve to rebut the New York Times on its editorial opinions regarding matters of faith and morals.

Mar 02, 2015

New York Times Building NYC. Credit: Torrenegra via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

NEW YORK CITY: A lot has changed in journalism since 1961, but not Msgr. Daniel S. Hamilton’s resolve to rebut the New York Times on its editorial opinions regarding matters of faith and morals.

The New York priest has submitted Letters to the Editor of the publication since 1961 and recently compiled them all in a self-published book entitled “Jousting with the New York Times 1961-2014: Worldviews in Radical Conflict.”

Why has he written so faithfully?

“Among various instruments contributing to and constituting the political process, newspapers with their editorials and Letters to the Editor are one way of keeping in focus the truths and freedoms we hold dear,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “People with a strong sense of responsibility should use the letters instrument liberally.”

And liberally use them he has. Msgr. Hamilton has written The Times over 300 letters; some have made it to print or online, though most have not. The pieces printed by The Times are signified in the book by including their publication date next to their headline.

In his straightforward style, Msgr. Hamilton takes on what he sees as the secularist view of New York Times editorial pieces by explaining and defending Catholic teaching, typically in about 200 words or less.

Always interested in journalism, Msgr. Hamilton first took issue with The Times in the early 1960s, when its editorials questioned whether religiously affiliated schools were entitled to receive any public funding. Not long after his first letter in 1961, he became a question and answer columnist and eventually the editor for the now-defunct but once-thriving Long Island Catholic publication.

Although Msgr. Hamilton disagrees with many of the opinions of The New York Times’ editorial board, he maintains a high respect for the paper and its reporters. Their news articles are “dependably diligent” in including all relevant facts and weaving them into interesting and understandable stories, he said.

“The New York Times is a great newspaper, there’s no question about that,” he told CNA. “It’s the ideology that informs it philosophically and religiously that is objectionable.”

An ideology, he said, that is influenced by the French Enlightenment and that continues to influence their opinions on various matters today.

“That tradition…does not have much respect for religion, or religious doctrine, they certainly don’t believe in anything like revelation or that sort of thing,” he said, “or that moral principles are confirmed or can be confirmed by divine revelation. It’s all a question of philosophical opinion.”

Many of Msgr. Hamilton’s letters deal with the issues of abortion and “gay marriage.” He said that he did not pick these issues specifically, as opposed to other topics, but was simply responding to what The Times was writing about.

“You must understand that the letters are responses to editorials, or in two cases op-ed essays in the New York Times,” he explained, “so when they have the editorial, I write the letter. They are numerically coincident with the editorials.”

The letters increase in volume significantly beginning in the early 2000s – e-mail allowed for quicker and easier correspondence, and the views of The Times continued to head south of those held by the Catholic Church.

Despite his faithful letters, Msgr. Hamilton never received any feedback or engagement from The Times. They published some of his letters, though never more than the allowed one letter per 60 days.

Catholic News Agency reached out to the New York Times for comment on this story and did not receive any by the time of its publication.

As momentum in favor of “gay marriage” picked up in the United States from about 2008-2011, the New York Times published several editorials advocating for the redefinition of marriage. Msgr. Hamilton responded to every one, but none of his letters made it to print.

“I have always suspected, perhaps unfairly, that they use the column for advocacy, and not being, as they have always maintained themselves to be, a liberal, pluralistic newspaper which admits to all views,” he said.

It wasn’t only that none of his own letters made it to publication, but The Times did not publish any Letters to the Editor within that timeframe that were not in favor of “gay marriage.”

“My disappointment was not, as I said to them and to their public editor, that my letter was not printed, that’s not the point,” he said, “but no letter taking issue with the position of the editorial board on the same-sex issue was printed out.”

“I couldn’t imagine an issue of such fundamental social importance for the state, the country, and so for the world, that people would not have written in to dispute their position,” he said. “So that was a proof for me that they were dealing with advocacy, and were not really allowing the other position to be visited or printed in the news column.”

The goal of Msgr. Hamilton’s letters was to fulfill what he felt was and is his public duty as a citizen and as a Catholic, to engage in the political sphere and to try to contribute to the common good.

“It’s our obligation as citizens and certainly as Catholics even more so to contribute to the common good of society,” he said, “to support those measures, policies and laws which enhance our society, which defend and uphold the dignity of the human person, and to oppose those things which we are convinced are harmful to ourselves and to the future of our society.”

Msgr. Hamilton said he has always encouraged his parishioners and Catholics everywhere to be active in the political process.

“Not simply through Letters to the Editor, but through belonging to organizations, political parties, above all by voting,” he said. “Not to be a slouch in that regard but to do our best for the common good.”--CNA

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