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2017 Winner of the Bishop John England Award
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Thomas C. Fox
National Catholic Reporter, Kansas City, MO

I can think of no other candidate more worthy of receiving the Bishop John England Award for Defending First Amendment Rights than Thomas C. Fox, publisher of National Catholic Reporter. Fox retired as publisher of NCR in January 2016 after more 36 years with the newspaper. Throughout that time, Fox’s main objective in leading National Catholic Reporter was to ensure that an independent voice would be part of the public conversation surrounding the key issues confronting our church and society.

In the summer of 2016, Fox’s last summer with the newspaper, Pope Francis issued an extraordinary encyclical on the environment, 'Laudato Si': On the Care of our Common Home'. Fox foresaw the importance of environmental issues to faithful Catholics as far back as the 1980's when he introduced into NCR’s pages the writings of Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry and other eco-theologians that have proven foundational to current environmental thought. Fox made environmental reporting a key component to NCR’s news budget. To help explore the nexus of ecology and spirituality, in 2010 he started the Eco Catholic Blog on the NCR web site. NCR readers were, therefore, well prepared to receive ‘Laudato Si’.

At the time of Fox’s retirement, “Spotlight”, the film about the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston, was very much in the news. I have wondered how many people know of NCR’s and Tom Fox’s role in bringing the scandal of that crisis to light some 15 years before The Boston Globe wrote its stories. Under Fox’s leadership, NCR has been on that beat for more than 30 years. Fox was determined to report the story of the abuse of children by clergy, and he saw his first duty to tell the truth of the victims. To do this meant enduring a hostile director of the NCR board, readers who cancelled subscriptions and institutional leaders who ridiculed or dismissed NCR’s coverage. Fox’s stand is a proud moment in freedom of the Catholic press.

By keeping NCR focused, Fox made the newspaper relevant, welcome and well read.

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