What can I say? People keep asking me if there is some kind of "religion ghost" lurking in the story of the fall of Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly.
After all, he was one of America's leading "conservatives."
O'Reilly also mentioned, from time to time, his Catholic roots. Yes, we will get to that timely handshake with Pope Francis in a minute (Religion News Service report here). As religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling told me, in an email one-liner: "Since O'Reilly made so much of his Catholic identity, perhaps he should have asked Pope Francis to hear his confession when they met at the Vatican?"
But, you see, this is where I need to plead ignorance and seek help from readers. As I have said before, I never watched O'Reilly's show. I don't think I ever watched an episode from end to end, because I truly despised the style and content of his baseball-bat commentary work. His opinion-to-reporting ratio was not my cup of tea. I remain a Brit Hume, Kirsten Powers, Megyn Kelly, Howard Kurtz kind of guy.
So help me here: Did O'Reilly consistently make a big deal out of the CONTENT of his Catholic identity or did he just mention it in passing? Did he quote scripture, the Catholic Catechism or papal documents? I honestly want to know.
I also hear this: What about the whole "War on Christmas" riff that he used year after year after year, world without end?
From what I have seen, that part of his work was based on his anti-political-correctness stance and a kind of marketplace version of civil religion. I never heard him engage in the actual details of church-state debates linked to this important First Amendment topic. He just bashed away, knowing that his audience loved it. Did I miss something?
If there is a valid GetReligion angle to this story it is, in my opinion, the possibility that the very public falls of O'Reilly and original Fox News maestro Roger Ailes offer insights into the political philosophy at the heart of this news operation.