By JORDAN McMORROUGH
DENVER — The publisher of The New Catholic Miscellany, Bishop David B. Thompson, was recently awarded the national publisher award for his public position on the Confederate flag from the Catholic Press Association (CPA) at its annual convention in Denver May 23.
The honor, fittingly enough, is named the Bishop John England Award, after the first leader of the Diocese of Charleston and founder of the first Catholic newspaper in America, The United States Catholic Miscellany.
The award is given each year to publishers who have exercised and defended the First Amendment rights and prerogatives, freedom of the press and/or freedom of religion. According to criteria outlined by CPA, nominees for the honor should “clearly have acted in this role as publisher; and clearly should have acted in defense of their publication or used their publication, in accordance with its mission, to defend the First Amendment rights of the publisher, the institution owning the publication, an/or the church as a whole.” Bishop Thompson was nominated by the Miscellany staff for “writing and publishing in his diocesan newspaper an opinion piece on a contentious issue, and the fairness he showed to the many correspondents who argued against his stance.”
As stated in the nomination letter, Bishop Thompson published a letter in the May 5, 1994 issue of The Miscellany to the South Carolina Christian Action Council calling for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop the statehouse dome in Columbia, South Carolina. He said that “the Bible and the Confederate flag are clashing symbols,” calling the flag a sign of “broken humanity.” It turned out to be a divisive issue in a state that is 3 percent Catholic.
In the Dec. 12, 1996 edition, Bishop Thompson backed a plan proposed by the governor of the state, which would remove the flag and place it on a monument on the grounds of the capital. In the Jan. 30, 1997 edition, he was quoted in defense of his position at an ecumenical bishops’ panel. He also marched on Jan. 21 with 500 other religious leaders in public support of the flag’s removal.
“Since December The Miscellany has received and published no less than 13 letters to the editor on the issue of the flag, eight opposing bishop’s view,” the staff wrote. “Bishop Thompson did not rebut or refuse to print any of them.”
In his acceptance remarks at the CPA’s awards dinner, the bishop told over 400 Catholic journalists that receiving the award, “Makes me feel I have taken a giant step toward the second millennium.”
Bishop Thompson also quipped, “There is no doubt in my mind that I have benefited from the luck of the draw in being given the publisher’s award.” On that theme, he recounted that The United States Catholic Miscellany was the first Catholic newspaper in the country, and this year is celebrating its 175th anniversary; and that Bishop John England founded the newspaper, with Bishop Thompson his 10th successor.
“In presenting me as a candidate for the John England Award, my staff cited my active advocacy for removing the Confederate flag from atop the state capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. That flag is the unholy symbol of segregation (racism), slavery, repression, and the Ku Klux Klan,” the bishop stated. He continued, “How fitting that I receive the award here in Denver, Colorado, where the brave and eloquent bishop of Denver, John Henry Tihen and the enterprising and courageous Msgr. Matthew Smith, using the illustrious and powerful diocesan newspaper, the Denver Catholic Register, opposed and defeated the Ku Klux Klan.”
Also at the convention, The New Catholic Miscellany was honored with an Honorable Mention Award in feature writing to Randle Christian for her article, “Wrong number changes life of pregnant teen,” which appeared in the March 7, 1996 issue. This marks the third consecutive year in which The Miscellany has received national awards from the Catholic Press Association.