- Not to be confused with the National Catholic Register.
Based in Kansas City, Missouri, NCR was founded by Robert Hoyt in 1964. Hoyt wanted to bring the professional standards of secular news reporting to the press that covers Catholic news, saying that "if the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper, its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs". The publication, which operates outside of the authority of the Catholic Church, is independently owned and governed by a lay board of directors.
The paper is published bi-weekly, with each issue including national and world news sections, as well as an opinion and arts section. Each paper runs an average of 32 pages, which includes special sections, a section published in each issue devoted to a particular topic.
Each issue includes news stories, analysis, commentary, opinion and editorials. The Opinion and Arts section contains book and film reviews, as well as spiritual reflections, along with letters to the editor, classifieds and editorials.
The organization reported $4.3 million in annual revenue in 2013. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is a major financial supporter of the newspaper.
Promoting a progressive position, NCR presents itself "as one of the few, if not the only truly independent, journalistic outlet for Catholics and others who struggle with the complex moral and societal issues of the day." However, the publication has been accused of ideological bias, favoring voices of dissent within the Catholic Church both in its expression of opinion and in its choice of news to report and of tending to criticize statements by the Holy See and Catholic bishops. NCR has asserted that climate change is the most important pro-life issue facing the Catholic Church.
In 1968, Kansas City Bishop Charles Herman Helmsing issued a statement condemning NCR, saying that it had a "policy of crusading against the Church's teachings," a "poisonous character" and "disregard and denial of the most sacred values of our Catholic faith." Helmsing warned that NCR's writers were likely guilty of heresy and subject to the automatic excommunication that incurs. Because the publication "does not reflect the teaching of the Church, but on the contrary, has openly and deliberately opposed this teaching," he asked the editors to "drop the term 'Catholic' from their masthead" because "they deceive their Catholic readers and do a great disservice to ecumenism by ... watering down Catholic teachings."
NCR did not comply with his request, and 66 Catholic journalists signed a statement disagreeing with the condemnation based on its "underlying definition of the legitimate boundaries of religious journalism in service to the church." The Catholic Press Association reported that the dispute arose from a difference of opinion regarding the function of the press.
In 2013, Bishop Robert Finn wrote a column in his diocesan newspaper recalling Helmsing's condemnation of NCR and wrote that the paper refused to "submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law," and considered itself an "independent newspaper which commented on 'things Catholic.'"
NCR publisher Thomas C. Fox denied the implication that there was a decades-long animosity between the diocese and the newspaper, noting that Bishop John Sullivan and Bishop Raymond Boland "had cordial relations with NCR." He pointed out that NCR is a member of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada whose honorary president is Bishop John Wester, who also serves as the chairman of the Committee of Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fox closed by noting an NCR editorial in November 2012 had called on Finn to resign or be removed from his position after Finn was found guilty "of failing to report suspected child abuse involving a local priest." Finn did eventually resign.
NCR has won the "General Excellence" award from the Catholic Press Association in the category of national news publications six times between 2008 and 2014.