If more journalists were as bold as Tom Fox, the Catholic church’s sex-and-secrecy scandal might have gone supernova during Ronald Reagan‘s administration instead of during Dick Cheney‘s. Fox was editor of the National Catholic Reporter back in 1985; now he’s publisher at the independent weekly, which has been headquartered on Armour Boulevard in Midtown since the 1960s.
“We were seeing cases of this pedophilia stuff in a number of dioceses in a number of cities,” Fox says. “The secular press wouldn’t touch it because they didn’t want to be seen as anti-Catholic, and the Catholic [press] wouldn’t touch it because they weren’t independent.”
Bishops obviously wouldn’t fess up to moving pedophile priests between parishes. “From the beginning, it was the denial and cover-up that angered the victims more than the offense itself,” Fox says.
As Fox’s paper reported on lawsuits around the country, his editorials hammered the bishops. But Catholics struck back at the Reporter. “The conservatives, of course, for years were saying we’re just out to destroy the church,” Fox recalls. “I felt guilty for not doing enough stories.”
He even wrote a book on the topic, yet the abuse continued. “I was giving up hope that anything would ever change,” he says. “I was honestly a little surprised that finally it did take off this January.”
That’s when The Boston Globe won a court battle to open lawsuits against the church after the Boston Phoenix alternative weekly scooped the daily paper with its coverage of priestly pedophilia.
Although the Globe didn’t consult with Fox or Reporter editor Tom Roberts, hundreds of reporters have called from other media since January — including The Kansas City Star. But few in the media have admitted out loud how dramatically Fox scooped us all.
“Overall there’s been a quiet acknowledgement that we should have been listened to much more and that what we were saying was not outrageous, and it wasn’t destroying the church, but it was … really trying to preserve the church and its credibility,” Fox says. “And even, you might say, preserve it from millions or billions in lawsuits.”