UPDATE: The National Catholic Reporter has just posted the article that sparked the Deal Hudson affair — even before it was published. Joe Feuerherd’s expose is what religion reporting should be: tough, theologically and politically informed, empathetic, and attuned to the intersections of faith and the world. Here’s why it matters to everyone, religious or not: “The perception that [Deal] Hudson controls Catholic access to the White House is widespread [and] largely accurate.”

This isn’t attack journalism. Writes Feuerherd: “In my 20 years as a writer and journalist I’ve written what could fairly be termed “favorable stories” about such conservative Catholics as Cardinal John O’Connor, Opus Dei’s Fr. C. John McCloskey, Patrick J. Buchanan, and Jim Towey, director of the Bush Administration Office of Faith Based Initiatives. The notion that this story was somehow politically motivated is incorrect. I went where the story led me. ” ***
The New York Times is playing the resignation of Bush advisor — and conservative Catholic big — Deal Hudson as a second-tier story, but we think it should be huge on the front page. Not because Hudson turns out to be a hypocrite — seems he was drummed off the faculty of Fordham in ’95 for making a pass at a drunk student [CORRECTION: For kissing and fondling two underage students and engaging in public sex with a third, all in one night] — but because of what even a perfunctory investigation reveals about the administration’s approach to the Catholic vote. “‘If you wanted to get something to the top inner circles of the White House from a Catholic perspective, you could contact Deal Hudson and it was delivered.'”

And yet Hudson hardly represents mainstream American Catholicism. As readers of his magazine, Crisis — or his frequent email blasts — know, he’s the Ann Coulter of Catholicism, a profoundly angry writer who expresses his faith via vitriolic denunciations not just of liberals, but of anyone within the Catholic Church who doesn’t conform to Hudson’s rulings. He’s a punisher.

Don’t take our word for it — ask Crux News, a conservative site run by Michael S. Rose, author of a bestselling book on “How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church.” Crux broke the story of Hudson’s influence last January, following a hagiographic piece on Hudson as mover and shaker in Envoy the previous year: “”Deal Hudson: The Former Baptist Is Now a Catholic Mover and Shaker — Even in the White House.” That article, writes Crux, was standard puff piece fare, but it should have put the secular press on notice. If it failed to do so, Crux’s analysis of Hudson’s rage (a typical Hudson email newsletter begins: “You’re about to get angry. Very angry…”) should have put someone on the trail. Crux reveals Hudson as a power-hungry man who, conveniently enough, has enjoyed real power in the Bush White House.

And, apparently, he relates best to men who play politics like he practices religion: “In an interview with The Austin American-Statesman after the last presidential election,” The NY Times notes, Mr. Hudson said of Mr. Rove, ‘I have to be careful what I say because I might make him sound like he is God or something.’ He added, ‘He has just been so great.'”

Rove’s religion runs toward a bookshelf full of the pop-prosperity doctrine tome Prayer of Jabez, which he hands out to visitors. The book promises that frequent repetitions of an overlooked prayer will bring the reader an “expanded kingdom.” Of course, you could save yourself the time and just light a magic Santeria candle.

We’re hammering this not to side with Kerry’s Catholicism (here’s Hudson’s articulate defense at National Review), but because Hudson’s influence is a truly big story the secular press should have brought to us four years ago. It’s not too late.

But it won’t be easy, since Hudson apparently feels no shame about misrepresenting his role. In his most recent column for Crisis, he writes: “A few weeks ago I was part of a group of religious journalists who interviewed the president at the White House.” Well, that’s not really the whole story is it? Hudson continues: “I asked why he thought he was being criticized for expressing his faith in public. He replied that he simply didn’t know what motivated people to criticize him about this and added that as a Christian, he believed he had a responsibility to ‘let the light shine.'”


A conservative Catholic discussion about the news at one of the smartest conservative Catholic blogs, Open Book

MORE: National Catholic Reporter Joe Feuerherd tells the story behind the story. Give this guy a journalism prize.