Last week's Catholic Standard, with twin editorials denouncing censorship and pleading for honest reporting of problems of pedophilia in the church, hit the desks at the archdiocesan headquarters on Eastern Avenue Thursday morning.
By Thursday afternoon, Edgar Miller, editor of the newspaper serving the Washington archdiocese, was notified that his "resignation" was accepted, effective immediately.
"I did not resign," Miller insisted yesterday. "I was fired."
"He was not dismissed," said Msgr. Raymond J. Boland, chancellor of the archdiocese. "He had offered his resignation."
The controversial editorials "had absolutely nothing to do with it," said Boland, chief administrative officer for Archbishop James A. Hickey, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Three years ago, Miller, with strong credentials in secular journalism, was brought here to modernize the Catholic Standard -- "to make a diocesan publication a newspaper rather than a mouthpiece for the diocese that owns it," he said in last week's editorial.
Miller said yesterday that when he was hired, he was given carte blanche to run the paper. "I didn't run stories past anybody" before printing them, he said.
But in recent months, he said, that editorial freedom has been eroded by "a lot of discussion . . . on what I could publish and what I couldn't."
He said that two topics specifically banned were controversies involving a conservative priest, the Rev. John P. Stack, and the subject of pedophilia, the sexual desire of an adult for children, an offense with which priests in several dioceses around the country have been charged in recent months.
Last week's Standard carried a guest editorial by the Rev. Owen F. Campion, president of the Catholic Press Association, pleading for recognition in the Catholic press of cases of pedophilia, even though such matters are distasteful.
In a statement released yesterday announcing Miller's "resignation," Hickey made no mention of any problems, but praised Miller "for all he has done to raise the journalistic standard" and for his full and fair "presentation of the news with a sensitive concern for all the interests of the church . . . . "
The trend toward full and objective news coverage in Catholic newspapers is a relatively new phenomenon, arising out of the Second Vatican Council and its stress on openness in the church. For generations, the church used the diocesan press as an extension of the pulpit, to preach and persuade, ignoring controversy or scandal.
"I think he improved the paper tremendously," Abigail McCarthy, who headed the paper's advisory board until last fall, said of Miller. "He professionalized it, he made it lively and interesting, he improved the financial position."
She said editors of Catholic papers in this country and Canada "came to study what he was doing."
Under Miller's direction, the Catholic Standard last year took top honors for general excellence in the nationwide Catholic Press Association competition.
But he also drew criticism for opening the paper's news columns to controversy, such as the dispute over Stack and the bitter battle over the announced closing last year of Immaculata Preparatory School, which was widely covered by the secular media.
The growing "pressure" on what he could or could not publish, Miller said, prompted him to write Hickey last September that he would not seek a renewal of his contract when it expired on Feb. 20. He said the decision was reinforced by an order from the archbishop four days before Christmas -- "the day of the office Christmas party" -- to fire a staff member under circumstances that Miller felt were grossly unfair.
But after a late winter vacation, Miller said he decided he "didn't really want to leave." The archbishop, he said, "agreed I could stay on without a contract. He said he'd tear up the letter" of resignation.
"I don't dispute their right to fire me," Miller said yesterday. "But I think they are playing dirty pool with me by implying that I resigned the job and that I would walk out on it . . . without even a chance to say goodbye to my friends."