Thoughts on the new John Paul II Newman director from a concerned resident

Rev. Dan Andrews is going to be the new director of the John Paul II Newman center, and his Twitter history has a political edge. Graphic by Maria Nevada

Maria Nevada; PHOTO EDITOR

Do you remember the days before Twitter? I don’t. Yet, it’s only been 12 years since the company was founded. As a young user, I, like many others, used the platform frivolously and recklessly, tweeting quirky nothings and half-formed opinions into what felt like a void.

Today, Twitter has irrevocably changed the way we communicate, share ideas and opinions, and tell the world what we are thinking. It is even common behavior today to do a quick Twitter search of our friends, neighbors and significant others, if only to catch a glimpse of their digital musings.

Perhaps it was that instinct that led me to look up the new director of the John Paul II Newman Center, Rev. Dan Andrews. Full disclosure, I have been living at the Newman Center for more than a year and have written about the center before for The Gateway. I cherish my community and friends and the spaces I have called home for much of my college career. Of course, I would want to know more about the man appointed to lead our community.

Andrews is currently the pastor of the Sacred Heart parish in Norfolk, Nebraska. His previous assignments have included the Christ the King Parish-Omaha, St. Mary-Bellevue, St. Boniface-Elgin and St. Bonaventure-Raeville.

“Norfolk used to be dead,” said UNO alumni and Newman Center parishioner Matt Capoun. Capoun said Andrews “really revitalized that parish.”

Such a statement should fill me with hope, and yet, after a scroll through Andrews’ Twitter feed, the statement fails to lift my spirit. Andrews’ Twitter has shocked and disheartened me.

I found that Andrews liked a tweet from Matt Walsh, a writer for conservative media site The Daily Wire who tweeted “If we call unborn babies “undocumented” will leftists stop killing them?”

He also liked a post from National Catholic Register reporter Edward Pentin who shared an interview with a Rev. Henri Boulad, who, according to Pentin, “said Islamist terrorists were applying what their religion teaches them, but that the Church had failed to address this because she had fallen prey to a leftist ideology that is destroying the West.”

Perhaps more troubling, is this example from 2017. Rev. James Mallon shared a story from the National Post titled “‘Love is Possible: Trans man gives birth to healthy baby boy.” Mallons tweeted, “Anyone else confused by this?”

Andrews replied, “Automatically puts this boy in the position of being called “hater” if at any time he expresses a desire for normalcy. Mercy.”

Why should likes and a tweet from 2017 concern me? I think it’s important to consider how Twitter is used. Andrews, to his credit, shares many inspiring stories of faith on his Twitter. He uses the platform as a tool for evangelization. He has a fondness for the Huskers and iconic sports moments.

His Twitter feed is innocuous—until it isn’t. It forces one to consider the stories in which priests are generous, self-sacrificing, inspiring and kind—until they aren’t.

In June last year, Andrews shared an article from Buzzfeed News, titled “Teen Survey Shows Fewer Are Having Sex, But More Are Feeling Despair.” Andrews tweeted the link and added: “We should never expect the fruit of western isolation, material consumption, & beauty deprivation to be any different. .@JamesMartinSJ I implore you to cease advancing the false notion that sexual orientation is a core identity.”

One of the key focuses of the article was on how “teens who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or were unsure of their sexual identity were at higher risk of being bullied, fearing for their safety, and feeling sad and hopeless.”

The priest to whom Andrews addresses his tweet is Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and author, well-known for his “Building A Bridge,” in which he advocates for better treatment of the LGBT community by Catholics.

It is not only LGBT individuals that take a hit. Andrews liked a tweet from one of the 33 accounts he follows on the site, @fatherz, or as he is better known, Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a columnist and blogger. Zuhlsdorf’s page is characterized by inflammatory and hyper-political tweets.

On Jan. 2, the aforementioned Martin tweeted a video of himself talking about immigrants at the border, a group he is known for advocating for, tweeting, “Why are we using #teargas against migrants? One reason is that we have bought into three myths about migrants and refugees:”

Zuhlsdorf retweeted Martin’s tweet, replying, “You are such a strong advocate and devote so much time – from NYC – tweeting about them.  How about: Give up NYC and go to the border. Help them full time. Share their tears and #teargas – be with them like an early Jesuit missionary.” The implication is obvious, go get tear-gassed. Andrews “liked” this sentiment.

Priests can have political opinions. Andrews is an American citizen with First Amendment rights. I am a student journalist, and the First Amendment protects my job. Yet Andrews is also a priest, pastor and spiritual leader.

I am also a parishioner at the Newman Center. I have grown up alongside priests. They have immense power over your life and your spiritual well-being. I am grateful to the countless priests who have reconciled me to God and administered the Sacraments to me, including the priests who have ministered at the Newman Center and made me into the person I am today. And yet, if I had heard any of those priests engage in conversations like Andrews has, albeit online, I would have been shocked and scandalized.

We Catholics rely on priests to guide us without swaying us politically. We trust them to talk about current issues through the frame of compassion and God’s love, with nuance and carefulness, because what they say can and does influence the actual lives souls of their parishioners.

If Andrews uses the platform to evangelize and tweet about football, God bless him. But to have a record of offensiveness immortalized on the internet on the same platform as those inspiring tweets and sports videos, is disappointing and dissonant with his apparent good character.

When asked for comment about his Twitter history, Andrews said: “As a Catholic priest, my passion is to make Jesus Christ known and loved, and to defend the dignity of every human being. I find Twitter a useful way to express these Gospel values and my opinions. However, social media is never a substitute for real dialogue. I eagerly welcome any student to participate in our community life and invest in meaningful friendships.”

I should like to think that one’s social media use does not fully portray an individual. Perhaps Andrews’ Twitter behavior is an all-too-human symptom of a platform that rewards quickest, loudest and most polarizing voices. But the lesson remains, that the internet does not forget.