NEW YORK — The Catholic League of Religious and Civil Liberties is demanding that Vanity Fair owner Condé Nast explain what it views as the magazine's “problem with Catholicism.”
In a full page ad in the Oct. 26 New York Times, the Catholic League listed three separate articles published in Vanity Fair over the past nine years which, according to Catholic League spokesman Patrick Scully, “demonstrate a nine-year record of doing hatchet jobs on people who are revered by Catholics around the world.”
The first incident was a 1990 piece which, the ad said, portrayed New York's Cardinal John O'Connor as “a priest who [is] indifferent to suffering, even to children with AIDS.” “In 1995,” the ad continued, Vanity Fair painted Mother Teresa as “a lap dog to dictators all over the world … a hypocritical cynic who curried favor with fat cats and tyrants.”
The third incident surrounded the controversial book Hitler's Pope, serialized in Vanity Fair and written by the magazine's own David Cornwell.
“In 1999, Vanity Fair painted Pope Pius XII as an anti-Semite who helped Hitler come to power,” the Catholic League ad said. “The portrait that emerged was that of a war criminal who did nothing to help Jews during the Holocaust.”
A statement issued to the Register by Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak denied the Catholic League's charges of an anti-Catholic agenda.
“Any claim that Vanity Fair has an anti-Catholic bias is untrue,” the statement said. “Vanity Fair encompasses a broad and diverse range of topics and opinions, some of which are contradictory. On any given story there are going to be people who are in agreement and those who are not.”
Catholic League spokesman Patrick Scully thought the statement rang hollow.
“Their denial — that they print a variety of perspectives — doesn't address the issue,” Scully said. “The question is, how can they explain and defend the pattern.”
Roger Kimball, managing editor of The New Criterion, a monthly review of culture and the arts, told the Register that he thinks it's important for Catholics to point out media bias against the Church. Nevertheless, Kimball said, “anti-Catholicism is just one item in a long menu of things [Vanity Fair] would be guilty of.
“They reflect the urban left liberal elite mentality which, among other things, is anti-Catholic. … They represent a materialistic hedonism which by its very nature is anti-Catholic and anti-family. They are confirmed moral relativists.”
Asked about the Catholic League's concern that Vanity Fair employed “bogus history” in its alleged assault upon prominent Catholics, Kimball added, “They have a cavalier attitude about facts. As confirmed moral relativists, why wouldn't they?”
Scully said the Catholic League has noted Vanity Fair attacks on prominent Catholics in the past, but that the recent serialization of Cornwell's book was “the straw that broke the camel's back.” He said part of the reason the Catholic League ran its ad — which reportedly cost $34,000 — was “to educate readers and to put all of the offenses in one place.”
Scully said the public response to the Catholic League's challenge to Condé Nast has been “overwhelming.”
“We've gotten feedback from every sector, from people of all religious backgrounds,” Scully said. “They are saying that they are behind us and that they don't think Vanity Fair should denigrate people that are universally revered by Catholics.”
Vanity Fair, a glossy, supermarket mainstay, boasts a circulation of over 1 million. In recent years its controversial style included a cover photo of a nude, pregnant actress. Many expected the magazine's edge to dull with the departure of the feisty Tina Brown in 1992, but current editor Graydon Carter has not disappointed those who enjoyed Brown's antics.
Scully told the Register that in a Nov. 15, 1998, interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Carter discussed his magazine's editorial stance on stories like the one criticizing Mother Teresa. “He said if Mother Teresa had been a Jewish icon, we [Vanity Fair] couldn't cover the piece,” Scully said. “For good reason he shouldn't get away with it. We're just asking that he show Catholics the same respect he would show other religious faiths.”