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'Catholic Transcript' editors resign in protest.

New bishop, they say, at odds with staff's notion of what's news

HARTFORD, Conn. - The leading editors and editorial writers for the Archdiocese of Hartford's weekly newspaper have resigned, saying the policies of Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin compromised their journalistic integrity.

David M. Fortier, editor of the Catholic Transcript, said that he quit effective March 11 because he did not "have the authority to say what goes into the paper anymore." News Editor Daria Keyes also resigned, as did the editorial board, which comprises two priests and a laywoman. The editorial staff is now down to two reporters. The paper is seeking replacements for those who resigned.

The five said that Father John P. Gatzak, who was named the newspaper's executive director by the archbishop last year, interfered with the editors' decisions, turning the newspaper into a public relations vehicle that is losing its credibility.

"He is shaping the news to make the archbishop look good," Fortier said.

Keyes complained that Gatzak pulled a year-end review photograph that showed women picketing the bishops' meeting at Notre Dame University last June. Gatzak had a story written on how charges of sexual abuse by priests demoralized clergy "but we never did an article on how it affects laity," Keyes said.

Gatzak said, "A lot of this has more to do with perception and misperception rather than actual fact." He acknowledged, however, that he screened what went into the newspaper.

"There have been occasions in which articles have been pulled, and I asked them to be rewritten to give a different perspective rather than have an article appear in the Catholic Transcript that could have appeared in any (secular) paper," Gatzak said. "If we can't add any particular Catholic perspective to a news story, then I question the reason for the paper to exist."

Gatzak said speculation that "this newspaper would degenerate into a weekly glorified parish bulletin ... is not true."

He said he intended to maintain the newspaper's journalistic excellence and continue publishing popular columns, such as that written by Father Richard McBrien, a University of Notre Dame theologian. The Transcript syndicates McBrien's weekly column, which often criticizes church hierarchy.

The newspaper's three editorial writers said in a letter to Fortier, "We believe the same conditions which made it impossible for you to continue would inevitably compromise our journalistic integrity."

They resigned effective March 26. "With you as our editor, the Catholic Transcript maintained and even improved its position as one of America's finest Catholic newspapers," they wrote. It was signed by two local pastors, Father Henry P. Cody and Father Theodore J. Klein, and an active Catholic laywoman, Kathleen F. Parulski.

The two priests declined to comment further. Parulski said the editorial board "began to feel limited. We've been cautioned to be more careful about writing anything that might be considered negative."

Fortier joined the Transcript as a reporter in 1985 and became its editor in 1988. The newspaper, which has about 20,000 subscribers, is one of the oldest Catholic publications in the country, established as The Catholic Press in 1829.

It has consistently won awards every year at the annual convention of the Catholic Press Association. It has been cited for its general excellence, editorial writing, news stories, photographs and editorials.

Fortier said that he and the archbishop had not agreed on how the newspaper should be run since Cronin, 65, former bishop of Fall River, Mass., was installed in January 1992. Cronin told Fortier that his five-year contract would not be renewed when it expired in November, but Fortier decided to leave now because "they took away my responsilities."

The archbishop said in a statement, released by Gatzak, that he was disappointed that Fortier would not finish his term as editor:

"Mr. Fortier has chosen not to accept our invitation but to submit his resignation. I certainly wish him well and thank him for all of his past service to the Catholic Transcript, first as a reporter and later as its editor."
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Title Annotation:Hartford, Connecticut archdiocesean weekly newspaper
Author:Renner, Gerald
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 26, 1993
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