US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Joe Feuerherd, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter, dies

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Sad news about a colleague in the Catholic press (press release follows):

Joseph A. Feuerherd, whose journalism career began as a college intern in the Washington Bureau of the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and concluded with his service as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of that award-winning publication, died Thursday morning (May 26) at Casey House, a hospice facility in Rockville, Md. Feuerherd died of metastasized soft tissue sarcoma, a cancer diagnosed in Oct. 2009.

“I made the coffee, sorted mail, answered phones, clipped newspapers -- and grabbed whatever reporting assignments I could finagle,” Feuerherd, 48, later wrote of his time as an intern working out of the paper’s small National Press Building office.

His first published bylined article, in 1984, was a short item describing the religious community’s reaction to the US invasion of Grenada. More recently, in a March 2011 column, he praised New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s handling of the controversy surrounding Governor Andrew Cuomo’s personal life. “Dolan, proving that ‘Vatican officials’ are not always ham-handed in their appointments [of bishops and archbishops], handled the situation deftly,” he wrote.

As NCR publisher beginning in Oct. 2008, Feuerherd emphasized the paper’s roots as a vehicle for hard-hitting reporting on the Catholic Church. He long contended that NCR’s editorial independence has been essential to the paper’s success. NCR is the only US newspaper that covers the Catholic Church but is not owned or operated by an entity answerable to Church authority.

Feuerherd expanded NCR’s presence on the Web, launching “NCR Today,” the paper’s popular group blog. Further, he brought on a group of web-based writers, whose contributions resulted in a doubling of the number of visits to the site, now averaging more than 1.5 million visitors monthly, making the most popular US Catholic news website.

Feuerherd wrote recently that NCR is comparable to a “good daily city newspaper reporting the foibles of the mayor and city council as they award the latest garbage contract to a favored vendor.” 

In addition to his college internship, Feuerherd did two stints as NCR’s Washington correspondent from 1988 to 1991 and 2003 to 2008. While his focus was politics, he also uncovered some business and financial dealings church leaders might have preferred were left unreported.

In the 1980s, his reporting revealed that Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, leader of the anti-communist church in that Latin American country, received funding from the Central Intelligence Agency.

More recently he was the first US journalist to report on the business dealings of Raffaelo Follieri, the one-time boyfriend of actress Anne Hathaway whose business consisted of purchasing US church properties made available because cash-hungry dioceses needed funds to pay off clergy sex abuse settlements. Follieri is now serving a federal prison sentence.

In 2004, Feuerherd’s reporting led the head of the Republican National Committee’s “Catholic Outreach” effort, Deal Hudson, to resign. In 2006, Feuerherd revealed that parishioners in the Diocese of Detroit had, unbeknownst to them, contributed nearly $40 million to support the failed John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC. The Cultural Center was spearheaded by Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida, a friend of John Paul II. Maida secretly used diocesan funds to build and support the failed project. The Center is currently up for sale. 

Feuerherd, a native of Garden City, N.Y., was a resident of Kensington, Md. He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Rebecca, a teacher, and three adult children–Zachary, Bridget and Benjamin Feuerherd–each of Kensington. Survivors include siblings Victor Feuerherd of Madison, WI, Elizabeth Munafo of Jericho, N.Y., Peter and David Feuerherd of Queens, N.Y., and Matthew Feuerherd of Jefferson, MD.

Feuerherd served in a number of communications related positions following his 1985 graduation from The Catholic University of America. He was press secretary and legislative assistant to Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) from 1985 to 1987, and communications director for the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities in 2007-08.

Feuerherd also served as Public Affairs Officer of the Montgomery County (Md.) Housing Opportunities Commission before resigning in 1997. He charged that members of the Commission’s seven-member board were engaged in a politically motivated campaign to cast blame for operational problems at the agency at its previous leadership. Feuerherd was Associate Publisher and Editorial Director at the Rockville, Md., based United Communications Group in the early 2000’s, Feuerherd launched several publications (Investment Adviser Week, Broker-Dealer Week) aimed at securities industry legal and government affairs professionals. In the late 1980s, he edited the Economic Opportunity Report, a newsletter focused on federal anti-poverty programs.

He was a graduate of Leadership Montgomery, Class of 1995, and a member of the National Press Club and the Catholic Press Association.Funeral arrangements are pending.

For more, see NCR's tribute to Feuerherd.