He came to Boston from Spain 15 years ago on a Roman Catholic lay mission, a deeply devout father of seven who forged his faith within a controversial religious movement born of the slums of Madrid.
Now Antonio Enrique is editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese, and a target of criticism for articles that have opened old wounds for a church trying to move past a decade of turbulence.
He published a column two weeks ago suggesting that homosexuality is caused by the devil. The uproar had barely faded when, a week later, The Pilot enraged priest abuse victims with a flattering birthday ode to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former Boston archbishop and the public face of the scandal.
For the past 10 years, Enrique, a confidant of Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, has steered The Pilot along the conservative edge of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, in line with his background in the Neocatechumenal Way, a relatively new religious community far more conservative than many American Catholics. Some bishops have embraced the Neocats, as they are often called; other bishops have sought to ban them.
“Many of the opinions voiced [in The Pilot] seem to be pre-Vatican II,’’ said Boston College historian and author, Thomas O’Connor, a regular reader, referring to a more rigid era of the church, before changes made in the 1960s.
Enrique declined to be interviewed and has not answered questions about the paper’s recent controversies.
For his religious mission in the United States, Enrique, now 48, had to quit his job in Spain where he worked in marketing and technology for a General Electric company. He came to Boston in 1996 to fulfill a call from Cardinal Law for mission families to help bring Spanish-speaking immigrants into the local Catholic Church.
Enrique and his wife, Reyes, arrived during a bleak New England winter, with no salary and no job, Enrique said on an archdiocese-sponsored radio broadcast in August.
“We came,’’ he told the radio audience, “in the hands of God.’’
Though he had not worked in journalism, according to the archdiocese, Enrique became an editor at La Vida Catolica, a Spanish-language Catholic publication; Law made him editor of The Pilot in 2001. O’Malley retained him when he became archbishop in 2003.
The archdiocese prints about 23,000 copies of The Pilot, distributed to subscribers and through the parishes. Founded in 1829, The Pilot says it is America’s oldest Catholic paper.
Some priests are open about their irritation toward The Pilot’s unwillingness to represent a wider range of Catholic opinions.
“The Pilot doesn’t help to build community when it causes this much of a division or crisis,’’ said the Rev. Robert Bowers, who works at The Paulist Center in Boston.
The Paulist Center refused to distribute the Oct. 28 edition of The Pilot because of the antigay column, written by Daniel Avila, who was at the time a policy adviser to US Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has since resigned.
The notion that the devil turns people gay is not the position of the Catholic Church, and under a loud backlash the paper apologized for “having failed to recognize the theological error’’ before publication.
Gay Catholics, in response, called for Enrique’s resignation, citing what they call a pattern of hostility. In June 2010, The Pilot offended gay Catholics by publishing a commentary that sought to link gay relationships to pornography, as part of their argument for banning the children of gay parents from Catholic schools.
“Because of the pastoral harm [Enrique] has done, we don’t think he should continue as editor,’’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, director of DignityUSA, an advocacy group for gay Catholics.
Advocates for child victims were equally aghast over the paper’s lengthy Cardinal Law profile of Nov. 4, which mentioned Law’s role in the abuse scandal in two paragraphs near the bottom, before ending with “Happy Birthday, Your Eminence.’’
“What they ought to publish is an entire issue on the abusers Law sheltered during his administration,’’ fumed Anne Barrett Doyle, a director of the group BishopAccountability.org, which documents cases of clergy sexual abuse.
Despite the criticism, O’Malley offered Enrique an unqualified vote of confidence this week. “He has done an extraordinary job of running the newspaper,’’ the cardinal said Thursday in a statement. O’Malley praised Enrique’s professionalism and credited him with improving the paper’s balance sheet. “I am grateful for his leadership, advice and friendship,’’ said O’Malley, who is very close to Enrique and his wife. He personally baptized their 11th child.
Scot Landry, the archdiocese’s secretary for Catholic media, acknowledged in an interview that The Pilot hews to “more traditional or orthodox’’ Catholic viewpoints, as is its mission. The paper, he said, tries to be careful not to publish “dissent’’ in any way that might confuse readers on the official positions of the Catholic Church.
“Other Catholic newspapers or organizations not tied to a bishop may be more willing to publish dissenting views,’’ he said. “The Pilot is a thoroughly Catholic paper.’’
Opposing viewpoints are often published as letters to the editor, he said.
Tom Shields, a founder of La Vida, hired Enrique at the organization in the late 1990s, and they have been friends ever since. He said Enrique and the writers at The Pilot “are not mean-spirited in any way.’’
“They try to be Christlike in their writings and adhere to Catholic teachings,’’ while often defending the church from those who disagree with its moral message, Shields said.
As a follower of the Neocatechumenal Way, Enrique is part of a community that has earned a reputation for its energetic defense of Catholic doctrine, especially “refuting challenges to controversial Catholic moral teachings,’’ such as opposition to gay relationships, contraception and abortion, said Richard Gaillardetz, a Boston College theology professor. Followers of the group are known to criticize “pastors, bishops, and theologians who fail to meet their rigid standards of orthodoxy,’’ he said.
The Neocatechumenal Way dates back to Madrid around 1963, when Kiko Arguello, an accomplished painter, wandered into poor neighborhoods and started to evangelize. The movement has spread worldwide, often through small communities of several dozen people within parishes.
The Vatican considers the Neocats to be one of the new church movements - along with better-known groups such as Opus Dei - that are valuable for spreading and intensifying the Catholic faith, Gaillardetz said by e-mail.
Some bishops have found the Way disruptive; five bishops in Japan tried to suspend them, though Rome would not allow it.
Enrique told Catholic radio listeners in August that “one thing that happens in the Way is once you start realizing the love of God, you realize that you are not called to be the only architect of your life, that God has a plan for you.’’
In his family’s case, he said, the plan was to offer themselves as missionaries.
They offered for four years but were not chosen. “Eventually we purchased a house,’’ he said.
“We just decided this was not happening, [so] let’s move on with our lives. Right then and there we were called to this retreat, and by lottery we were sent to come to Boston.
“You learn with lots of mistakes in the process, of course,’’ Enrique explained on the radio. “But you learn that in the mission you let God live your life.’’
Mark Arsenault can be reached at email@example.com.