A Story Subject Responds

It isn’t often that someone featured in a This is True story writes to complain or argue about a story about them. The few that have written with comments are indeed generally not at all upset, but rather quite amused by the whole thing. So much so that I wish I got more such notes.

In any case, I realize that not everyone will be happy with what comes out in one of my stories. Fair enough: I certainly wouldn’t expect that. My column dated 15 November 1998 included this story:

Forgive and Forget:

The recent murder of New York gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Barnett Slepian, who performed abortions, isn’t all bad, according to Canada’s B.C. Catholic, the official newspaper of the archbishop of Vancouver. The murder has been linked to several similar shootings in Canada. Editor Paul Schratz wondered in an editorial, “How can anyone help but be pleased that murders of abortionists just might have some positive side effects?” He added that the fear that zealots shooting them in the back may cause some doctors to go into other fields of medicine “goes to show that our all-powerful and all-loving God can bring good from any evil situation.” (UPI) …If we all went to church more often, perhaps we’d know about these loopholes and exceptions in the Ten Commandments.

The editor of B.C. Catholic wrote me a note about the story. Here’s what he writes — unedited (the added footnotes point to my responses, which are below):

To: Randy Cassingham
From: Paul Schratz
Subject: A misunderstanding

Dear Editors:

One of the best things about This is True is knowing that the ridiculous incidents and scenarios described actually happened! Unfortunately, in at least one instance, there has been a misunderstanding.

You reported on an editorial in the Catholic newspaper B.C. Catholic practically endorsing the murder of a Buffalo gynecologist.

(1) Unfortunately, the initial news report about the editorial got it completely wrong, by taking a couple of quotes out of context. The actual editorial was a strong condemnation of the use of any violence in the abortion debate. (2) Follow-up reports have made it clear that the editorial sharply opposed any use of violence. As a result, many major media outlets have run the editorial in its entirety so that their readers can see for themselves that its message was one of peace.

(3) I invite you to do the same, or to alert your readers that the full editorial is available at the official web site of the Archdiocese of Vancouver: http://www.rcav.bc.ca/ (4) [Note: the editorials in question are no longer on the paper’s site; it apparently lets its archive “expire” after a set time period. -rc]

Thank you for your assistance in clarifying this matter.
Paul Schratz
Communications Director/
Editor, The B.C. Catholic
Archdiocese of Vancouver
150 Robson St.
Vancouver, B.C.
V6B 2A7
[phone numbers redacted] http://www.rcav.bc.ca/

My Response

(1) Well, I certainly didn’t say you “practically endorsed” the murder, but if you want to use that term, that’s certainly your choice! (Whoops! Sorry! I didn’t mean to imply you are “pro-choice.”)

(2) I indeed quoted you saying the murder was an “evil situation” — which I believed at the time (and still do) accurately reflected your overall thoughts about the matter.

However, I also believe the other quotes — written by you, which you did not challenge — reveal your inner glee that the man was shot in the back in cold blood.

I certainly fully understand the Catholic beliefs about abortion; that some few Catholics — perhaps including you, perhaps not — seem to derive pleasure out of some deaths to demonstrate your ill feelings toward what you believe are other deaths is what I was trying to bring out with the story (and the “loopholes” tagline). That you don’t understand that rational outrage over your editorial is sad commentary indeed on the ideas you expressed, whether or not the opinions are shared by Church leaders.

(3) In fact, after I wrote the story, one of my readers (who hadn’t seen my story yet) sent me the full text of the editorial. Ironically, it was to point out how outrageous he thought it was.

He was not alone: I sincerely believe the many newspapers which editorialized against your apparent rationalization of murder indeed read your editorial before writing about it!

What you need to understand about True, however, is that it is not a news reporting column, it is a news commentary column. I accurately reflected the story run by United Press International, which also reported that your editorial “angered others in Vancouver’s Catholic Community.” I don’t do original reporting on stories; I comment on what other journalists report, and there was, as far as I saw, universal disgust expressed about your ideas.

With this in mind, then, your idea that True‘s treatment of the story represented a “misunderstanding” is not at all accurate. And it wasn’t just I and numerous newspapers that found your editorial abhorrent: the Canadian Catholic priest Father Jim Roberts said of your editorial: “I find his remarks revolting and quite unbelievable…. the idea of God kind of winking at murder, I find that blasphemous.” (This quote is also from UPI.) Which is to say, it’s not just because I’m not Catholic that I “misunderstood” your editorial; ordained Roman Catholic priests apparently have similar problems with it.

(4) One of the reasons I didn’t go to your web site to find the editorial (besides that someone had already sent it to me) is that you didn’t bother to send me its full URL. People online suffer from information overload: they don’t have the time or inclination to search all over your entire site for one particular file. I will not be surprised if your site referral logs show few hits from the link above despite the likely multi-thousand readers that read this page.

In summary, I don’t think there was a “misunderstanding” on my part, and I stand by my treatment of the story completely. You did, as I noted above, refer to the murder as an “evil situation.” You also, as I quoted, suggested — and I would even say promoted, from your authoritative position as the editor of the official newspaper of the archbishop of Vancouver — the murder of people who believe differently than you do.

Words such as “how can anyone help but be pleased” that murder “just might have some positive side effects,” and that such a murder brought “good” to the world, is, in my opinion, a detestable, loathsome idea for anyone to promote, let alone the official spokesman of a high official of the Catholic church.

Your contention that your editorial was so vocally against Dr. Slepian’s murder, when so very many people, Catholic and otherwise, understood your comments as approval, is a bit hard to accept. The rather clear words you used in your editorial speak louder than your protestations.

–Randy Cassingham

OK, the editor and I have had our say. But what do True‘s readers think of it? Let’s go to the comments!

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9 Comments on “A Story Subject Responds

  1. Randy–just to let you know I read the letter from Paul Schratz and your response. I also went to the BC Catholic web site and read the original editorial. You were too kind! Thank you for being forceful in your reply and right on the money! Keep up the good work!

  2. I did read the page, and although I agree with you about the tragedy of Dr. Slepian’s murder and the exacerbation of the polarization between the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” camps, I honestly think that Paul Schratz was sincere in his condemnation of the murder and his expressed horror that people could actually think that it was justified in any way. I also think that Mr. Schratz expresses himself on paper awfully poorly to be an editor of ANYTHING, but suspect that he was selected for other talents than his wordsmithery — perhaps the quality of being available and willing was enough, as it so often is in non-profit support organizations.

    I have to say that what gives your writing such a pleasurable spiciness is that you are uncompromising in your sense of moral outrage and indignation and more than a little intolerant sometimes of stupidity…. However, seeing Mr. Schratz’ article and your comments and responses to him, I can’t help feeling that you’re being more than a little ruthless and unfair in attempting to unmask an hypocrisy that isn’t actually there. It’s so easy, when we are absorbed in the idiocy and malignancy in the world to see every action as uncompromisingly black or white, right or wrong, and a kind of cynicism grows in us where we doubt everyone’s honor and suspect all motives. I think Mr. Schratz’ editorial is one of those cases that fall into the gray area.

    The question your “black and white” comment (which I think is a really interesting thing to come out in a religion story!) brings up in my mind: If “white = good” and “black = evil”, how much gray — or, to put it another way, how much evil — is acceptable for the spokesman of the archbishop to defend? My point about the editorial is exactly what you say: it is gray, in that it both condemns the murder and wallows in glee over it — it mixes the evil (glee) with the good (condemnation) — which is not what one would expect from the Church, and is exactly what was behind my “loophole” comment on the story in the first place. -rc

  3. You are in error re: the Paul Schratz editorial on only one point that I can see. This is EXACTLY what one would expect, i.e. condoning and condemning the murder of abortion providers at the same time. I worked as a nurse in an abortion clinic for a number of years and took a keen interest in similar editorializing. I came to believe that while it is standard doctrine to denounce all murder, many anti-abortionists feel justice has been done when physicians are killed. They have difficulty hiding this duality before scrutiny.

  4. I did laugh at your original commentary because it was clever and, like most humor, based in truth. There certainly are plenty of Ten Commandment loophole artists out there but I find most of them to be functioning in the field of law or politics. Unfortunately, I am also unwilling to spend a few hours wandering around the Archdiocese web site looking for one editorial, so I am still not privy to any more than Mr. Schratz’ reply letter and the 1.5 sentences quoted in UPI.

    But gee willickers Randy. Talk about harsh! I just thought you really let the guy have it for a seemingly benign request that you read his editorial and a statement that he felt he had been misunderstood by the original reporter.

    You couldn’t find anybody more anti-abortion than myself, but I rarely agree with the methods I see used in an attempt to intimidate those who do not agree. It doesn’t take a whole lot of common sense to realize that this is probably the worst way in the world to get someone to change their mind. And I can honestly say that in the case of a doctor getting murdered, my reaction is not, “Oh goody, one less abortionist”. By Mr. Schratz own words it would appear that that is exactly what he felt. If that isn’t the loophole you describe, I don’t know what is.

    Personally, I think you would have nuked Mr. Schratz by saying that you had read his writing, disagreed with his position, and still feel the commentary you wrote was completely appropriate AND funny. That’s all I would have needed anyway. I have read far too much This Is True to think you ever need to go this far to explain or defend what you do. This has been, by far, one of the most worthwhile subscriptions I have ever had. Many of the stories are not that funny on their own, but the commentary you add often has me roaring with laughter. I often wonder just how you work your magic.

    Anyway, the free advice of the day, (which is worth exactly what you paid for it) is, If Mr. Schratz really holds such idiotic views, just give him the time of day, and he will have received much more than he is worth.

  5. I read through your initial commentary, the reply by the archbishop(?), your reply to his reply, and the original editorial about which everything was based.

    I was appalled by the original editorial, amused by your initial commentary, appalled again by the reply, and amused and heartened by the reply^2. It intrigues me that someone would be so blatant about endorsing the death of a doctor that performs abortions, yet condemns the fact that the death was brought about in guise of murder. For this is what was going on.

    The good that he was apparently speaking of was that this evil abortionist was going to hell. … It is incontrovertable that whether or not abortion is “wrong” is not a closed decision from the world-view standpoint. In fact, the pro-lifers do not even have a majority. So if someone is going to endorse such a view that Satan is personally involved in causing abortions, it seems somewhat prudent on their part to keep the punishment in the hands of God, rather that in their own.

    We need to be clear, here: the Paul Schratz is not the archbishop! He edits the official newspaper of the archbishop of Vancouver, British Columbia. One should be able to presume that, in this position, he speaks for the archbishop, and that the archbishop agrees with what is being said since he has not repudiated the words — but at the same time, we cannot presume Mr. Schratz’ words are the same as the archbishop’s. In any case, you’ve drawn an interesting and thought-provoking conclusion! -rc

  6. Randy, I agree with the readers who thought you were too nice to the guy. He has utterly no logical leg to stand on. If there was a “misunderstanding,” it was simply his inability to sort out exactly what was in his own mind at the time he sat down at the keyboard to write the editorial.

  7. Randy– I have read your columns for some time and have looked forward to them each week. I was spurred on to read the Archbishops commentary directly after reviewing his letter & your remarks on your website.

    I suppose I could understand how someone might misinterpret the bishop’s remarks if they took them out of context but I think he was basically being transparent in his thoughts about the event; he was in a sense ‘thinking out loud’. I don’t believe for one minute that he rejoices in or agrees with the murder of this man. And I think this is pretty obvious from the tone of his words and from those of follow-up notes on his website.

    The fact that he had a passing thought that this would make other doctors think twice about performing abortions is just that… a passing thought…..and it appears that because he was being transparent that this caused him some problems. Ok, maybe it wasn’t the best thing for someone in his position to say but you can’t tell me that if someone who was a pro-lifer was shot or injured in jail as a result of protesting that there wouldn’t be a passing thought (or maybe a prolonged thought) among pro-abortionists that this might have a good side?

    (P.S.: After a bit of searching I found the exact address to his commentary & also to his followup comments in case you are interested it is [here — link deleted as it’s no longer online]).

    I doubt very many pro-choicers would be gleeful about a pro-lifer being murdered — I think they’re as moral as the next person and would mostly be quite disgusted that what they see as a reasonable misunderstanding had turned violent. But that’s not the point: pro-choicers aren’t basing their entire argument on the sanctity of human life, as the majority of pro-lifers are. For pro-lifers to do that, and then glory in the loss of life, makes them blithering hypocrites, even if the public display of their glee is accidental by (as you suggest) “thinking out loud” too loudly!

    Unfortunately, the URL you gave is no longer online, and has been deleted. But in his follow-up, Schratz disclaims responsibility for sowing the idea that he encouraged murders by concluding “…who knows how many people around the world were left with the mistaken impression that a Catholic newspaper preached a message of violence. Some people lectured me that an unbalanced person might read the original editorial out of context and use it to justify violence. All I can say is that the editorial is now out of context, winding its way electronically around the world. The truck is thundering down the highway, with nobody at the wheel.” -rc

  8. People in positions of authority have to be careful of what they say, who they say it to, and what they express approval for.

    After all, just look at what happened to Saint Thomas of Canterbury! “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

  9. It makes me wonder….

    How many such letters did he write, trying to get reporters and publishers and editors to twist the truth away from what he really said, to what he wishes that he had said.

    We all must be careful to read what we write, then ask ourselves if we’d be proud if God were to read our words. If the answer is no, we need to rewrite, and then rewrite, and of course, we need to remember Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as ye have done this to (or wished this against) the least of these my children, ye have done it to (or wished it against) Me.”

    I know that I must, more and more, apply Matthew 25:40 to my life, and I hope that more and more of us do the same. When I have hurt anyone, I have hurt God, and I refuse to do so again.

    Which I refer to as “walking your talk,” which I admire. To demand adherence to the Bible and not adhere to it yourself is called hypocrisy, and I think there’s something in the Bible about that…. -rc


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