Two Notable Losses for Catholic Journalism This Week

Robert McClory

Two notable obituaries this week: Robert McClory, a Chicago journalism legend and NCR contributor, passed away at 82, and Robert Blair Kaiser, whose coverage of the Second Vatican Council for Time magazine informed a generation of Americans, died on April 2 in hospice care in Phoenix at 84.

I was fortunate to have known Mr. McClory in Chicago, a kind and long-legged gentleman; he was incorrigibly pleasant and a jovial enthusiast for young journalists and all things Catholic.

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Here's how CNS covered their passing:

Robert McClory, longtime journalist and NCR contributor, dies at 82 

Robert McClory, professor emeritus of journalism at Northwestern University and contributor to the National Catholic Reporter since 1974, died April 3 after a brief illness. He was 82.

A family member told NCR that McClory had fallen about three weeks earlier, was hospitalized and then developed a bacterial infection in an artificial knee. His health continued to weaken and he never recovered.

His funeral Mass was scheduled for April 11 at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, followed by private interment.

Dennis Cody, NCR's editor, called McClory "an admirable stalwart to the end. ... He was pitching me a story just weeks ago."

McClory was a prolific writer. He freelanced for many publications, including the Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, U.S. Catholic, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Catholic Digest, Student Lawyer, Illinois Times and Chicago Lawyer.

McClory was a reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Daily Defender, from 1971 to 1979. He was on the staff of NCR, 1978 to 2000, and also was a staff writer at the Chicago Reader, 1979 to 1999.

He was an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago, from 1976 to 1986 and then joined the faculty of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, 1983-2003.

He was the author of nine books, "Turning Point: the Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission" (1995), "Power and the Papacy" (1977), "Faithful Dissenters: Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church" (2000).

His book "As It Was in the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church" won a an award from the Catholic Press Association in 2008.

A native of Chicago, young Robert attended Catholic grade school and graduated from the now-close Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. He went to the seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1958.

He was an associate pastor at a Catholic parish in Winnetka for six years, then was assigned to St. Sabina Church on Chicago's South Side, also as associate pastor.

In 1971, he left the priesthood and got married later that year.

Many years later, in 2009, McCrory wrote a book about the pastor of St. Sabina, Father Michael Pfleger, titled "Radical Disciple: Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church and the Fight for Social Justice". The priest, who is white, has led the African-American parish for years. He is a vocal civil rights activist.

McClory was a founding member and longtime board member of Call to Action, an organization that publicly disagrees with the Catholic Church's teaching prohibiting women priests, married priests and same-sex marriage.

He had been a member of St. Nicholas Parish in Evanston since 1978 and served on its Peace and Justice Committee.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; a daughter and granddaughter; and a niece and two great-nieces.

 

Catholic journalist known for Vatican II reporting, activism dies at 84 

Robert Blair Kaiser, whose award-winning coverage of the Second Vatican Council for Time magazine played a significant role in informing Americans about the council, died April 2 in hospice care in Phoenix. He was 84.

His funeral Mass was to be celebrated April 10 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Phoenix.

Kaiser spent 10 years as a Jesuit seminarian and scholastic, from 1949 to 1959, before leaving the order and turning to journalism.

He was one of those who broke the official secrecy during Vatican II, using his Jesuit ties to cultivate sources who regularly informed him about daily proceedings in the council.

For his coverage, he received the Overseas Press Club's Ed Cunningham Award in 1963 for the "best magazine reporting from abroad." His book "Pope, Council and World: The Story of Vatican II" was a No. 1 best-seller in London and Dublin.

Kaiser later covered religion for The New York Times and CBS-TV News; he covered the election of Pope Francis for Newsweek. He became an internationally recognized commentator and lecturer on the meaning of Vatican II.

An activist with regard to church politics, he pushed for reforms through several organizations, some of which he co-founded, including Catholic Church Reform International and a web community of U.S. Catholics called takebackourchurch.org. He was a board member of Accelerating Catholic Church Reform.

He was the editor of Just Good Company, an online journal of religion and culture. He wrote at least 15 books, several of which were about church reform.

He proposed that the American church "become an autochthonous church, modeled on the ancient churches of the Middle East. ... Catholics united with Rome, with their own patriarchs, their own liturgies, and their own mostly married clergy."

In a Catholic News Service review of his 2006 book, "A Church in Search of Itself: Benedict XVI and the Battle for the Future," Rachelle Linner described Kaiser as "an engaging writer with an admirable ability to make complex situations and ideas understandable without facile simplification." She called the book "a work of both journalism and activism."

This book is about the institutional church, the Vatican and the 2005 conclave and, "at the same time, it is about 'the people of God church' that Kaiser discovered on his worldwide travels," Linner wrote.

In the book, Kaiser discussed issues such as clericalism and priesthood, enculturation, liberation theology and the challenges of religious pluralism by providing profiles several cardinals, women religious, theologians and bishops.

"One does not have to agree with Kaiser's call for a 'people's church' to recognize the concern that motivated the long years of research and travel that resulted in this book," said the reviewer.

One of his last books was "Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the Church and the World," published in 2014, and an obituary in the National Catholic Reporter said in his final months, Kaiser continued to write, with "a computer on his chest" while he was "hooked up to oxygen."

NCR's Thomas Fox said he was writing an epilogue for a book by Kaiser to be published in June: "Whistle: Tom Doyle's Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse," about a Dominican priest who for 40 years, Fox said, has been one of the church's most outspoken critics of clergy sex abuse.

Kaiser is survived by a daughter, a son and grandchildren.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Nancy Walton-House
3 years 1 month ago
Thank you for sharing their stories of lifelong commitment while advocating for needed reforms.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 1 month ago
There was not a better journalist than Bob Kaiser. He told the whole truth while others fudged it or were too afraid of the repercussions. His reporting for Time at Vatican 2 with the nightly forum he provided with many periti gave us the real scoop of what was taking place. After the Council he continued to give us information that was not available anywhere else. He did many a favor by exposing the charlatan Malachy Martin in his sterling biography of his life, Clerical Error, where Kaiser gives us so much inside information on the Council and proceedings. Martin craftily stole Kaiser's wife from him and it was not the first time he took advantage of a woman. But the benefit of Kaiser's uncovering is that Catholics stopped taking the manipulative Martin seriously. Although a few still do. Journalists are often conflicted about reporting the truth or keeping their sources available. Kaiser always told the truth. He was not a presumptuous person in any way. He was always available and did not look down on those who were not as savvy as he was. He was a good friend. He will be missed.

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