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Subject: Robert Hoyt, 81, Founder of National Catholic Reporter

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Date Posted: April 12, 2003 2:14:32 EDT

Robert G. Hoyt in 1981

Robert G. Hoyt, who founded The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper that substantially changed the way Roman Catholicism was covered and understood in the United States, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 81.

Mr. Hoyt, who had been in ill health and on dialysis, died after a heart attack at Lenox Hill Hospital, his family said.

In 1964, when Mr. Hoyt started The National Catholic Reporter, almost all Catholic newspapers and magazines were published by dioceses or religious orders and, as Time magazine noted at the time, usually displayed "a nervous, reverential caution in telling what goes on inside the church."

Mr. Hoyt's aim was to bring the professional standards of secular news reporting to the Catholic press.

"If the mayor of a city owned its only newspaper," he liked to say, "its citizens will not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs."

The paper's first two years included extensive reporting from the Second Vatican Council, the landmark gathering of the world's bishops that revised many church positions and practices. In April 1967, the paper obtained, translated and published the secret reports from the commission appointed by Pope Paul VI to review the church's teaching on birth control.

This was international news because the majority report, ultimately rejected by the pope, concluded that the church's condemnation of contraception should be revised.

Mr. Hoyt also assembled a stellar lineup of columnists, including John Leo, now a columnist for U.S. News, Garry Wills, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg and Martin Marty.

In a few years, the paper's circulation went from 11,000 to nearly 100,000, and other Catholic papers and news services began to adopt its probing standards of journalism.

Falling circulation after 1968 and conflicts within the staff led to Mr. Hoyt's departure in 1970. But the paper has remained one of the most influential voices in the Catholic world.

Mr. Hoyt was born in Clinton, Iowa, in 1922. He was educated in Catholic schools, especially boarding schools, after the early deaths of his parents. While a student at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., he entered the Norbertine order of priests and brothers, who ran the college.

He left the order in 1942 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. In 1946, he began his career in journalism with the Catholic Register chain of diocesan papers. At The Catholic Register, he met Bernadette Lyon. Married in 1948, they had six children.

In 1950, Mr. Hoyt and his wife were part of an unlikely effort at publishing a national Catholic daily newspaper, The Sun Herald, a project rendered all the more quixotic because it reflected a strong antiwar outlook in the midst of the cold war and fighting in Korea. The paper, in Kansas City, Mo., closed after six months.

After spells of driving cabs, editing a daily paper in Independence, Mo., and teaching high school, Mr. Hoyt became editor of the weekly newspaper of the Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. Its reputation for independent reporting soon attracted subscribers from around the country. It was from this base that in 1964 Mr. Hoyt spun off the independently owned National Catholic Reporter.

Mr. Hoyt's opposition to the war in Vietnam led him to work for the presidential bids of both Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and Senator George McGovern in 1972. In late 1971, he was press relations officer for the "Harrisburg Seven," the Revs. Daniel and Philip Berrigan and other Vietnam war opponents, who were accused of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and sabotage government buildings in Washington.

From 1977 to 1985, Mr. Hoyt was executive editor and finally editor in chief of Christianity & Crisis, a liberal ecumenical journal, and from 1989 until last year, he was a senior writer at Commonweal, a journal edited, as the National Catholic Reporter was, by Catholic lay people.

Mr. Hoyt was divorced in 1970 and married Mig Boyle. In 1984, he and Ms. Boyle were instrumental in obtaining financing of more than $3 million so that Capitol Hall, a single-room occupancy hotel on the Upper West Side of Manhattan whose owner planned to convert it into luxury housing, could be renovated as a nonprofit residence for elderly and disabled people in danger of becoming homeless as the neighborhood underwent gentrification.

Mr. Hoyt is survived by his wife, Ms. Boyle; their daughter Sarah; and the children from his first marriage, Michael, Timothy, Mary Teresa, Jamie, Mary Jo and Anne.

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