How the Major Papers Still Can't Say the Words 'Communist Dictatorship'

Both the New York Times and The Washington Post devoted obituaries to William Callahan, a Catholic “dissident” and founder of the radical-left Quixote Center. It was best remembered for its devotion to the communist dictatorship of Nicaragua. But that's not the kind of language these liberal newspapers would use.

Douglas Martin in the Times resolutely avoided “communist” and "dictatorship" and “Soviet-backed.” The center was founded “to press for reforms in the church and society.” And: “The Quixote Center achieved particular prominence in its support of the leftist government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, a stance directly at odds with that of the Reagan administration. It raised more than $100 million in humanitarian aid for the Nicaraguan government.”

Lauren Wiseman in the Washington Post highlighted Callahan's “iconoclastic” and “idealistic” ways, but at least suggested he was against “anti-Marxist” rebels: “During the 1980s, he was involved with Quest for Peace, a program run by the Quixote Center that sent aid to Nicaragua and opposed U.S. support to the anti-Marxist rebel group known as the contras.”

Neither newspaper noted the irony of a “dissident” and “iconoclast” backing a Marxist dictatorship that squashed dissent, including religious liberties.

Both obituaries began by focusing on his efforts to “reform” the Catholic church, including the ordination of women as priests. Wiseman began:

The Rev. William Callahan was a physicist by training, a Jesuit priest by vocation and a nonconformist by temperament.

In 1976, he started the nonprofit Quixote Center, now based in Brentwood, as an independent group promoting such iconoclastic ideas as the ordination of women in the Catholic Church and ministry to gay people.

As idealistic as his center's name implied, he devoted years to a succession of progressive causes.

The Times used liberal Rev. Thomas Reese to praise Callahan, while the Post brought back its old radical columnist Colman McCarthy for giddy comparisons to Jesus:

"Bill Callahan stood firmly in the Dorothy Day-Berrigan Brothers wing of American Catholicism," said Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist and friend of Rev. Callahan's. "Like them, he exemplified the Sermon on the Mount. It's lamentable that his Jesuit superiors didn't see it that way. They should have exalted, not banished, him."

Despite his expulsion from the Jesuits, Rev. Callahan's commitment to the Quixote Center and social justice issues remained.

"I do believe I am following the example of Jesus, who was never willing to shut up when preaching the good news to his disciples," he told The Post in 1989. He continued to work with the center until two years ago.

It's a little hard to take the idea that Jesus would have deeply loved the Sandinista dictatorship, but liberal newspapers aren't rude enough to balance obituaries for leftists.

Earlier: Douglas Martin touts 'moderate' Baptist battler against conservatives

New York Times Washington Post History Douglas Martin Lauren Wiseman Colman McCarthy
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