The Globe and Boston's Catholics

Boston's Copley Square
Courtesy iStockphoto

Historically, the Globe had been a friend to the Catholic Church. Although the men who owned and managed the Globe were Protestant, the paper had many Irish Catholics on staff, and their influence led the Globe to reject the anti-Catholicism of “proper Bostonians.” The paper fought successfully for the right of priests to administer last rites in city hospitals. In the 1880s, the Globe was the only paper in the city to support Irish independence, and its circulation grew accordingly.

As Catholics rose to prominence in the beginning of the 20 th century, the Boston press seldom, if ever, criticized the Catholic Church. On the contrary, it deferred to it. The Globe , for example, withdrew its support for a bill regulating child labor as soon as Cardinal O’Connell came out in opposition to it. The Globe ’s coverage of O’Connell and his successor, Cardinal Cushing, was favorable and often fawning.

The Globe in the 60s. But in the 1960s, the cultural battles of the day pitted the Globe against the church. In 1965, the paper supported reform of the state’s birth control law and when reform passed in 1970, it said, “We Join the 20 th Century.” [1] In 1970, defying pleas from Catholic associates, Globe Editor Winship editorialized against the ban on abortion. These positions led critics to charge that the Globe was hostile to religion. Said Edward King, a conservative Democratic governor of Massachusetts , “If God is with you, who can be against you, right? Except the Boston Globe .” [2]

In the 1970s, the Globe supported busing to integrate schools. Even though Cardinal Medeiros and prominent Irish Catholics like Senator Edward Kennedy took the same stance, many blue-collar Catholics were furious. The paper, says longtime Globe reporter Robinson, “began to be seen as more of a liberal, elitist, suburban, affluent, educated institution… And that it was out of touch with the lives of many of its readers, many of whom were conservative and happened to be Catholic.”

Even two decades later, critics claimed that the Globe perpetuated negative stereotypes about Irish-Catholics. For example, a long piece in 1997 about Ray Flynn, then-ambassador to the Vatican, detailed his heavy drinking. The article drew charges of anti-Catholicism from Flynn and from some 200 people who phoned the ombudsman. [3] So when the case of Father Geoghan broke in the late 1990s, the Globe was inclined to tread carefully.

[1] Lyons, Newspaper Story: One Hundred Years of the Boston Globe , p.60.

[2] Mark Feeney and Brian MacQuarrie, “Edward King, Hard-Charging Governor, Dies,” Boston Globe , September 19, 2006.

[3] Carey Goldberg, “Article on His Drinking Stirs Ex-Mayor’s Wrath,” New York Times , October 28, 1997.