In 2006, James Todd was inspired by Mother Angelica to create PewSitter, an online Catholic news portal reflecting his love for the Catholic faith and fidelity to Truth.
With varying degrees of success in the brave new world of online journalism, several people have tried to emulate the news portal model adopted by Matt Drudge for the daily Drudge Report, read every day by millions of online consumers of the news. One of them was Arianna Huffington who founded the Huffington Post in 2005 as a liberal news alternative to the conservative Drudge Report.
Over the ensuing years, the Huffington Post rose in prominence as a news outlet and blogging platform, drawing over 100 million unique visitors each month. Six years after its founding, the Huffington Post was purchased by AOL in 2011 for $315 million. Last year AOL was in turn purchased by Verizon Communications for $4.4 billion. Arianna Huffington recently announced that she is leaving the Huffington Post for a new online venue dedicated to health and wellness.
I tell that story of one success in the “New Media” world of on-line news to introduce readers of These Stone Walls to a much smaller venture also modeled after the format of the Drudge Report. That site is PewSitter.com which describes itself as “Your Online Catholic Newspaper for the Third Millennium.”
Having no access at all to the online world, I first learned of PewSitter last year when I received a weekly printed “stats” report about my posts on These Stone Walls. I learned that a significant number of new readers came to one of my posts from PewSitter.com. So I called a friend and asked him to send me a few pages from PewSitter. I was immediately struck by the fact that PewSitter carries a link to These Stone Walls under “Links to other Publications” on its Home Page, and more recently has featured several TSW posts in its news portal.
PewSitter has also carried some of Ryan A. MacDonald’s posts, most recently, “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court.” I was struck by this because in the world of Catholic media, that required a degree of courage.
There is an important story behind that statement. The first thing I ever wrote from prison that ended up being published was “A Catholic Rush to Judgment,” a letter to the editor published in First Things. It was in February, 1998, four years after I was sent to prison and four years before the scandal of 2002. That’s when the American news media, the legal system, and the United States Catholic Bishops all first became determined to make no distinction whatsoever between proven cases of sexual abuse and mere accusations. Against the strenuous objections of Cardinal Avery Dulles in his courageous article, “The Rights of Accused Priests,” the first thing to be thrown out that shattered window was the very notion of civil liberties and due process for accused priests.
Four years before that happened, my First Things letter was published by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. I received a lot of mail about “A Catholic Rush to Judgment,” and, one of those letters was from Father Neuhaus himself. He wrote that he received some angry responses from First Things readers outraged that he had given space to a convicted priest, but added that he received far many more accolades for publishing the letter.
That letter was published eleven years before These Stone Walls came into being. Many readers have asked me to describe what my life was like in the long interim period between being sent to prison and the emergence of my ability to write. Ryan MacDonald once wrote about what this period was like in “To Azazel: The Gospel of Mercy in the Diocese of Manchester.” With but rare exceptions, every effort I made to reach out from prison to the Catholic community was met with either silence or a stern rebuke.
The exceptions were Father Richard John Neuhaus and, later, Cardinal Avery Dulles and Catholic League President Bill Donohue. All three encouraged me to keep writing. In the secular press, there was also a rare exception of Dorothy Rabinowitz and the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal. In that regard, the story that follows is not generally known.
FALLEN TOWERS AND FAILING HOPE
After my First Things letter appeared in 1998, I got up the courage to write to Dorothy Rabinowitz after reading one of her blistering articles about the witch hunt that took place in the day care scandals of the 1980s. Months went by – many months before I received a reply. Unbeknownst to me during that time, Ms. Rabinowitz was quietly looking into my claim of innocence, and the process of my being accused, tried, and sent to prison. In late 1998, she asked me to begin sending as much information as I could.
Gathering documents and copying them is not an easy task from prison. Back then, I had library access for only one hour per week for research and photocopying, and my photocopy bill was far more than I earned in a $1.00 per day prison job. Over the course of about two years from early 1999 to 2001, I managed to collect and copy thousands of pages of documentation about my trial, its very suspect background information, and the role of money and mediated settlements in claims against priests. Ms. Rabinowitz must have reserved a corner for the growing stack. Though her letters were few and far between, it was clear that she was reading and independently investigating every fact.
In 2001 Ms. Rabinowitz sent me a series of pointed and incisive questions. It also became clear to me that she was seeing in this story many of the elements of moral panic and witch hunt justice that drove the day care cases and others exposed in reports that earned her and The Wall Street Journal a Pulitzer Prize. Throughout 2001, hope began to build that a national story about the injustice that befell me was on the horizon.
Then came the dreaded letter of January 11, 2002 and the devastating news that the offices of The Wall Street Journal were destroyed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center four months earlier on September 11, 2001. The Journal had since been in the process of moving its offices from Liberty Street – directly adjacent to where the Twin Towers collapsed – to 1211 Avenue of the Americas. Though it was a relatively inconsequential aspect of the tragedy of that day of infamy, all that I had collected, copied, and sent over the previous three years was gone, simply gone, and hope was gone with it. We had to start over, and I wasn’t so sure that I could.
The bigger irony of this story is that if not for the attacks of 9/11, “A Priest’s Story,” the first installment of a three-part series by Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal, would have preceded the Catholic Scandal of 2002. Instead, it came three years later in 2005. As powerful and well documented as these articles were, they could not overcome the prejudice of scandal shouted from the rooftops by the news media and the only people who were talking to them, SNAP and contingency lawyers, over the previous three years. Not even The Wall Street Journal could lift the millstone of scandal imposed in 2002.
Then came the great public shaming of those in the Catholic media who dared to break ranks and speak out against the tyranny of false witness. Father Neuhaus, who once defended due process and a presumption of innocence for Legionnaires of Christ founder, Father Marcial Maciel, was publicly shamed for it, and so were several other Catholic commentators. The company line was that to be accused is to be guilty, and asking questions or casting doubts merely “revictimizes the victims.”
In the rare case when someone in the Catholic media defended me, a prominent Catholic news editor wrote, “People defended Father Maciel too!” So his guilt became evidence of mine. This is exactly what I predicted would come about in the Church in my First Things letter, “A Catholic Rush to Judgment” in 1998:
“It is in the nature of witch hunts that those in politics, religion, and journalism who have promoted them, participated in them, or publicly endorsed them have done so under the guise of ‘the public good,’ and with a perceived ‘public sanction’ that has historically consisted of two equally influential components: the noise of a few, and the silence of many.” (Fr. Gordon J. MacRae, First Things, Feb. 1998)
THE COURAGE OF TRUTH
So what does all this have to do with PewSitter? James Todd launched the Catholic news site a year after The Wall Street Journal first exposed the truth in my case and met the shame-driven “silence of many” in the Catholic media. Since then, others have come around with some stand-out examples of truth and justice. Among them was an excellent against-the-tide article by Catholic Journalist, Brian Fraga in the National Catholic Register entitled, “New Hampshire Priest Continues the Long Road to Clear His Name” (NCRegister.com, March 8, 2015).
But what James Todd has done at PewSitter is different. He published and promoted some of the content of These Stone Walls when so many in the Catholic media avoid a mere mention of it. Just recall that silly Catholic media fiasco last year when These Stone Walls received over ninety percent of reader votes for a Catholic Social Justice award only to be overlooked in favor of a site that received three percent. Awards mean nothing to me, but agendas do, and the agenda behind that was dark and discouraging.
PewSitter is not driven by such mob mentality, nor does it exist for its dollar value. Its transparent agenda is simply to present Catholic news with fidelity to the word, “Catholic.” That platform has become another kind of success story with another sort of measure of success. PewSitter drew close to 6.5 million readers last year, and its only apparent source of revenue is Catholic advertising which places it in the category of a labor of love – for the faith, for the truth, and for the sometimes thankless apostolate not only of keeping Catholics informed, but of keeping the world informed about Catholics.
PewSitter was launched by James Todd on March 25, 2006, the Feast of the Annunciation, and I like to think there is some prophetic symbolism in that fact. I encourage the readers of These Stone Walls to visit PewSitter.com, to explore it a bit, Bookmark it, subscribe to its RSS feed, and share it on social media as a gesture of appreciation for neither limiting itself to the “the noise of a few” in this story, nor joining the “silence of many.”
James Todd never had to be asked. He arrived at These Stone Walls unbidden, and deemed some of what he saw to be worthy of PewSitter. From my perspective as a captive audience, it was an act of courage, that truly necessary thing to be a faithful Catholic in the digital public square.
Editors Note: Please share this post, and these others about secular and Catholic news media from These Stone Walls.
- The Lying Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek
- The Pulitzer Lies: David and the Truth About Goliath
- Why the Catholic Abuse Narrative Needs a Fraud Task Force
- Hitler’s Pope, Nazi Crimes and the New York Times
- The Catholic Press Needs to Get Over Its Fr Maciel Syndrome