I usually only publish correspondence with readers that is in some way inspiring or uplifting, or illustrates an important point. But I received an email a couple of days ago that surprised me. And since our contact page has a clear disclaimer — “Please note: we reserve the right to share or publish any correspondence we receive. If you do not wish to have your correspondence published, please specify that in your email.” — I’m going to take advantage of that right and share something with you here.
Mark Mueller is the journalist who published a column attacking New Jersey priest Fr. Peter West — a column that I took issue with in my own piece on Tuesday, February 14. Mueller wrote to me using our contact form after we published our defense of Fr. West. He seemed…displeased with how I handled the topic. His email was short and to the point:
You put up a post about Fr. Peter West in which you describe my story about him as a “hit piece” and allow him to say it was full of outright lies. Don’t you think, in fairness, you should have reached out to me? If you had looked at the screen shots in the gallery that accompanied the story, you would have seen the story was 100 percent accurate.
I felt the need to respond to Mr. Mueller. It seems that it’s always open season on orthodox priests of the Catholic Church, even as Pope Francis has gained in popularity with the progressive media. I had a real problem with Mueller’s assertion of “100 percent” accuracy, and I told him so:
Why would I reach out to you? You had your say, and I wasn’t impressed with it. Even your headline was biased, forming our first impression of Fr. West by your telling us that he was “bashing” people.
Then, you didn’t bother even giving Fr. West the dignity of his title, beginning your piece with a sentence that used only his birth name, “Peter West” – a sign of great disrespect to a Catholic priest. Would you have done the same to a doctor?
You then proceeded to engage in trying to gin up anger about what he said, tipping your hand early about your biases when you tried to smear him by association with President Trump — after all, he’s an “avowed supporter”.
There’s nothing in his commentary that would, as even you conceded, violate the restrictions of the Johnson Amendment; nor is anything in what he says that violates the Code of Canon Law. And as for your screenshots, I’m not sure what the problem is. But just because you took the time to write me, I’ll go through some of them…
I then proceeded to do a point-by-point rebuttal of the idea that there was anything truly controversial or inaccurate in the screenshots Mueller used to document his article. This section of my response is too long, political, and specific to share here. You’d have to cross-reference the screenshots, and that’s more work than you need to do on a Friday evening. Suffice to say, the evidence Mueller thought was a slam dunk was specious at best. I went on:
This is all just silly. These screenshots are only offensive because you disagree with him, not because he’s wrong or even out of bounds. You did attempt to cast his opinions in a negative light. If he wants to defend himself from that, he should be able to.
Your piece wasn’t an objective reflection on whether there should be limits on free speech for clergy in this country (I note that the Left is all about free speech until it opposes their ideas and candidates, by the way), it was an attempt to get a good priest into trouble with his Archdiocese.
Well, congrats! Mission accomplished! Except the Archdiocese, as I pointed out, doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Not only are there no such “protocols” — and they know it — but they would need to be equitably applied to your NJ.com colleague, Fr. Santora. I’ve cataloged some of his political speech, and it’s just as flamboyant, but from the Left.
If you don’t want to get called out on hit pieces, don’t write them.
Mueller never responded to me. I don’t expect him to. Frankly, I don’t even know if my response did any good. But I’m tired of seeing good people — good priests especially — pushed around.
Sometimes, you have to push back.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.