The Rev. Peter West is a Roman Catholic priest who spoke out, on his own Facebook page, on issues important to him.
The Rev. Warren Hall is also a Roman Catholic priest who spoke out, on his own Facebook page, on issues important to him.
One priest received opprobrium from NJ Advance Media, the digital age moniker of what used to be the Newark Star-Ledger and other Garden State papers owned by the Newhouse empire. The other priest was lauded as a martyr of sorts following a transfer from one field of ministry to another.
Want to guess who was praised and who was panned?
Here's a hint: West is a supporter of Donald J. Trump. Another hint: Hall came out as gay.
West has assailed millennials as "snowflakes" who attend "cry-ins" and described liberals as "smug and arrogant" people who find solace in puppies and Play-Doh.
He has called Hillary Clinton an "evil witch" and former President Barack Obama a "bum," at one point sharing a post that challenged Obama's authenticity as an African-American because he wasn't raised by a poor single mother in the inner city.
Were West some random internet flamethrower, his posts might garner a shrug in an age of intense political division and social media rancor.
But West, 57, is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, and some of his withering attacks, while popular with many of his 7,300 Facebook followers from around the country, run counter to the statements and philosophies of his own leader, Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, and his ultimate boss, Pope Francis.
Well, I can't imagine Spencer Tracy starring in "The Father West" story, can you?
West, in his personal posts, comes across as, well, bombastic and his opinions might be off-putting, to say the least. To its credit, the NJ Advance Media story is clear on that point:
The Rev. John J. Dietrich, the director of spiritual formation at the nation's second largest seminary, Mount Saint Mary's in Maryland, called West's comments about politicians, Muslims and liberals "way over-the-top inappropriate behavior."
"The thrust of his priesthood is not to be political. The thrust of his priesthood is supposed to be sacramental, preaching the Scripture," Dietrich said, adding, "There's a red line you don't cross."
Here's the journalistic paradox: However irritating or infuriating West's positions are, the story properly balances West's statements with trenchant observations from Catholic experts. In the case of the other Facebook-friendly Catholic priest, his stances are presented with no real objections from within Catholic ranks, at the local national or global level.
About 18 months before the West story emerged, however, the NJ Advance Media team took a far more sanguine view of an outspoken Roman Catholic cleric, the aforementioned Rev. Warren Hall. Let's go to the digital archives:
The priest who says he was fired from his post at Seton HallUniversity over a pro-LGBT Facebook post starts a new gig in Hudson County next month.
Rev. Warren Hall starts as assistant pastor at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken -- which share pastors -- on Aug. 15, Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese confirmed on Friday. Hall, who has come out as gay, claims he was removed as director of campus ministry at Seton Hall in May after posting a picture on Facebook supporting the LGBT 'NO H8' movement. The archdiocese has publicly denied that this was the impetus for his removal. Goodness said on Friday that Hall had a six-week vacation and then was reassigned to the Catholic churches.
This story continues for several paragraphs about how Hall would continue his campaign for gay rights within the Catholic Church and had hoped to meet with Pope Francis during the pontiff's 2015 U.S. visit, a meeting that apparently didn't happen. It's safe to assume that reporters would have reported on that.
Instead, we read about how Hall was a friend of the Rev. Bob Meyers, who pastors the two Catholic parishes, and how church officials believe Hall would be a welcome asset:
"The church's teachings on LGBT individuals, as the Catechism of the Catholic church says, is that they are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and we welcome them with respect, compassion and sensitivity," [a parish spokesm an] said in a statement. "With more than 25 years of experience as a priest, Father Hall knows how to make the Good News of the Gospel resonate with parishioners from all walks of life."
While I'm not qualified to analyze the Roman church's Catechism, and while I certainly accept the notion that all believers "are called to fulfill God's will in their lives," which for faithful priests means celibacy, I do wonder whether there are other voices in Catholicism that might have an issue with Hall's views. But where an NJ Advance reporter found plenty of experts to comment on West, not a word of opposition was heard about Hall.
So a presumably socially liberal cleric can make the Christian message "resonate" with all kinds of people, while the presumably socially conservative cleric represents a major problem for the church's image.
That may well be the case, but it would have been nice to have the journalistic scrutiny found in the West piece applied equally in the Hall case.