When Sen. D'Amato called Catholic teaching `wacky'

Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato has a letter to the editor in today's New York Times in which he reports that "As a Catholic, I am appalled at the now-daily assaults by the liberal media against the church." An editor's note adds that D'Amato is "a member of the board of the Friends of the Catholic Church, an informal group created to assist the Catholic Church when it comes under attack."I haven't heard of this group, but had it been around in 1992, it may well have faced the task of writing letters to the editor about Senator D'Amato.At the time, D'Amato had given a broadcast interview in which he opined that Catholic social teaching is "wacky." Covering the religion beat for Newsday, I asked various Catholic authorities to react and got nowhere. But Bill Reel, a columnist who sat next to me in the newsroom, took an interest in the story.In a stinging column, he imagined D'Amato claiming that Luke must have misquoted what Jesus said about the poor. Bill wrote that D'Amato "is ever the buffoon but never a fool" - that his remarks were calculated with an eye to political advantage.Church officials evidently avoided criticizing D'Amato because they were thankful for his opposition to abortion. Bill, a conservative who supports the church position on abortion with much vigor, didn't fall for that trap. Maybe Friends of the Catholic Church should review his column. It ran on Feb. 26, 1992.I regret to add a sad update to this posting: that Bill Reel died early this morning at his home in New Hampshire at the age of 71. I learned a lot by sitting next to Bill in the newsroom - he was a great craftsman and storyteller.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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