On November 7, the editor of the Edmonton Catholic weekly, the Western Catholic Reporter (WCR), was fired. He had been hired August 1.
According to Mr. John Gill, lawyer and member of the WCR board, Mr. Rodney Stafford-Mayer was dismissed because the newspaper’s board of directors “were not generally satisfied with the way he was performing his job.”
Reports that the firing came as the result of a power struggle, he said, were not “strictly accurate.”
How accurate is “not strictly accurate?”
Edmonton’s Archbishop Joseph MacNeil stated he knew nothing about a ‘power struggle’ thus leaving the impression that the charge was nothing but a fabrication.
The Alberta weekly newsmagazine, Alberta Report (known outside the province as either BC Report or Western Report) thought differently. It published a four page news story in its November 26, 1990 issue which was headed, “The bishop cracks down. A church newsman is fired for writing too much about God.”
The article noted that Mr. Stafford0Mayer’s firing was not the first among Canada’s Catholic newspapers, but in line with the removal of other editors elsewhere who had contradicted or diverged from a ‘liberal’ Church policy.
The magazine reporter, Rick Bell, traced the opposition to the changed tone of the WCR under its new editor. As principal source in describing the clash, Mr. Stafford-Mayer used the taped interviews with two directors, board chairman Father Michael McCaffery, rector of the Cathedral, and Father Karl Raab. The tapes left no doubt about the nature of the dispute. It is best summed up with a quote:
“You are not in tune with what’s been happening since Vatican II. Your piety is like those people who say their rosary during mass. You know, those people who think the pope is Jesus Christ incarnate and Mary is more important than them all. You are not in touch with where it’s at and you provide great consolation to those who haven’t bothered to update themselves.”
The editor, they said, had emphasized a “pre-Vatican II style of spirituality.
Let me note right away the nature of the charges against Mr. Stafford-Mayer. The above description of a so-called pre-Vatican Catholic is utterly false. Also false is the idea that there is an outdated pre-Vatican II spirituality now replaced by a modern, updated spirituality.
It may well be that Fr. McCaffery and friends believe that the Second Vatican Council presents a radical break with the past. This is certainly the view of such former priests like Bernard Cooke, Tad Guzie and Gregory Baum who have been very influential in Alberta. But there is no truth to it.
As for Mr. Stafford-Mayer, what brought him to grief was his questioning of inclusive language, however tentative.
He had been away from the Church for a number of years, but had returned via the charismatic movement. This would not have enamoured him with those who are never enthused about religious zeal. His devotion to the Virgin Mary, too, clearly did not sit well with them either.
But what sealed the editor’s fate was his suggestion that there is more than one side to the current drive for inclusive language.
Let me be brief.
In the heat of the moment, errors and exaggerations such as accusing Archbishop Joseph MacNeil of being a “apostle of modernism since 1973” slip in all to easily, but nevertheless not justifiably.
Alberta Report’s headline “The bishop cracks down. A Church newsman is fired for writing too much about God.” Already reveals the misconception. The point about Archbishop Joseph MacNeil is that he never cracks down. His Grace takes a ‘hands-off’ approach.
He follows what he believes is the proper practice for a modern bishop: once boards or councils or organizations are in place, whether by election or nomination, one allows them in their autonomy, even if the bishop is himself a member.
So it happened with the WCR: the archbishop was one of the twelve board members present who voted unanimously to fire the editor.
The Archbishop believes he is following a consensus policy. But as dissenters, feminists, and various ‘up-dated’ Catholics are far more vocal than the man in the pew, the weight of official policy comes to look askance at anyone not in harmony with the prevailing ideology.
And this situation in Edmonton, whether at the school board, the clergy council, or higher education level. In no city do Church feminists have a louder voice than in Edmonton.
In the WCR of October 29, the Archbishop explains ‘inclusive language’ to mean “that we now say sisters, or brothers and sisters. If you are talking to a congregation of women you’ve got to say sisters.”
It may be that that’s what he would like it to mean. But as readers of The Interim know well enough, the reality is far different.
Feminist theologians intend to radically change the Church, and change it beyond recognition. The Archbishop’s idea of inclusive language must e hilarious to them.
Rodney Stafford-Mayer saw this clearly enough. He saw it precisely because of his presumably outdated, so-called pre-Vatican II spirituality. Those who forced him out knew what they were doing.
By not tolerating the slightest opposition, by ensuring that even the merest questioning and most simple discussion of inclusive language be checked immediately, they were showing their true colours. That’s why the firing of Mr. Stafford-Mayer is a scandal.