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By DANIEL BURKE
c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) Joe Feuerherd, the editor-in-chief of National Catholic Reporter, who embodied the weekly newspaper’s fierce independence and liberal tilt, died on Wednesday (May 25) after an 18-month bout with cancer, NCR has announced.

Feuerherd, who was also NCR’s publisher, was 48.

A lifelong Catholic, Feuerherd began at NCR as an intern in 1984 while studying history at Catholic University in Washington, and quickly rose from sorting mail and making coffee to become the paper’s political affairs reporter during his senior year.

Despite a family background in journalism, Feuerherd said it was “a revelation that a future could be made interviewing cardinals and members of Congress, peace activists and conservative supporters of the Contras, mandatory celibacy opponents and Latin Mass advocates.”

Feuerherd also served stints as a public affairs adviser in Congress and at the Montgomery County Housing Commission in suburban Maryland.

Before being named publisher in 2008, Feuerherd broke several stories as NCR’s Washington correspondent, including the Archdiocese of Detroit’s contribution of $40 million in grants and loans to the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, which has struggled financially.

In 2004, Feuerherd reported that Deal Hudson, President George W. Bush’s liaison to Catholics, had resigned from Fordham University in 1994 after allegations that he sexually harassed a student. Hudson resigned from his post at the Republican National Committee after the article was published.

Four years later, in a Washington Post column, Feuerherd said he would vote for Barack Obama, “bishops be damned,” after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved voter guidelines that cautioned against casting ballots for politicians who, like Obama, support abortion rights.

“To Catholics like me who oppose liberal abortion laws but also think that other issues — war or peace, health care, just wages, immigration, affordable housing, torture — actually matter, the idea that abortion trumps everything, all the time, no matter what, is both bad religion and bad civics,” Feuerherd wrote.

Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, which is owned and operated by the U.S. bishops, called Feuerherd a “keen observer of individuals and society, especially as they related to large institutions, be it the church or government.”

“He never failed to treat the subjects he covered or assigned his reporters to cover with anything less than respect and charity,” Spence said. “He held one of the most important jobs in the Catholic press — leader of an independent Catholic medium. He used it wisely and well.”

Feuerherd is survived by his wife, Rebecca, and three children, Zachary, Bridget and Benjamin.

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