When I began to take the idea of a Church-related blog seriously, I realized that I would need good news services to keep up on the nuts-and-bolts of grassroots issues of Catholic life in the United States. As a National Catholic Reporter and America subscriber, I was already getting daily updates, particularly from NCR. But more sites were brought to my attention: National Catholic Register (long the “yang” to NCR’s “ying”) is producing insightful news and analysis on an almost daily basis. An in-depth Register report yesterday on seminary formation and sexual aberration was one of the finest concise psychological treatments of the subject I have ever seen. I am embarrassed to say that I have only recently become acquainted with the erudite conservative publication First Things, which has the temerity to regularly gore my liberal oxen nearly daily with a quality of writing and thought rarely seen on the internet.
Some random thoughts here: you may notice that I have said nothing about diocesan newspapers. Some dioceses have in fact discontinued printing a paper in favor of on-line or other formats. Those that do publish weekly generally wish to highlight good news about local happenings: the Chrism Mass, ordinations, dedications, etc. that occur in their own dioceses. In the publishing trade such papers used to be called “house organs.” Dissatisfaction with the somewhat bland news and editorials of diocesan papers is not a new reality. In the 1950’s my relatives complained that Buffalo’s Union and Echo (now there’s a name) was nothing but “bridal pictures and recipes.”
Moreover, diocesan papers are carefully monitored for content by bishops or surrogates; this is to be expected, as the diocesan paper is an extension of the bishop’s official teaching authority. All the same, rarely does one see a “bad news story” unless it is absolutely unavoidable, as when the explosion of child abuse incidents came to light in 2002. My own diocese, for example, now in the middle of its annual Catholic Charities campaign, would be loathe to pick up yesterday’s investigative story from National Catholic Reporter regarding national patterns of diocesan financial mismanagement.
National publications such as the ones I mentioned above are independent to varying degrees. All of them are Catholic, and all will claim editorial fealty to the true Church. How this editorial loyalty is interpreted is precisely what makes each publication different. National Catholic Register is now owned by EWTN, itself controlled by a lay board of Catholic trustees. Editorially the EWTN Corporation has identified itself as a semi-official defender of Catholic truth, though critics have noted its preference for the pre-Vatican II norms and customs.
At the other end of the spectrum is National Catholic Reporter, which recently celebrated its fiftieth birthday. NCR began as a Kansas City diocesan paper until its bishop became uncomfortable with its progressive editorial stances on Vatican II implementation. NCR is lay owned and controlled; it has seen its mission as reform of Church and Society and would fairly be called left-of-center. And yet it may be the most investigative conscience of the Catholic publishing world with a number of boots on the ground.
Someone in my class asked me last Saturday if America Magazine was “liberal.” I think it is more accurate to say that America strives for the middle road. It is owned and published by the Jesuit Order. At times its articles take readers to mildly controversial areas, but the publication has always offered free space for an American bishop to write a rebuttal, and bishops do submit articles for publication from time to time. America is written more for the college educated publication and does assume a rather big picture stance on the part of its readers.
There has long been a segment of American journalism that has emphasized the promulgation of traditional Christian thinking along the lines of Cardinal Newman’s return to venerable Church sources in the nineteenth century. First Things, surprisingly, is interdenominational. It was several weeks before I realized this; its mission at its website describes First Things as “published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” It is an amazingly prolific source, posting several essays on Christian life and American culture every few days. It is easily the most thoughtful of the sites I have included.
Two points of professional development for catechists and church ministers here. First, to maintain a healthy level of professionalism, it is important to go beyond your diocesan boundaries and maintain connection with national Catholic news and thought. This would include your regular news sourcing, of course, but also attendance at regional or national conventions and workshops, on-line study from Catholic universities such as the University of Dayton’s program for catechists, journals, and other forums.
Second, the growth of the Church will flourish once we untangle ourselves from our own version of red state/blue state division. Become conversant with the best of conservative and liberal Catholic theology. Both are indispensible. Liberal thought saves us from atrophy. Conservative thought keeps us grounded in our tradition. We are a Church of Cardinal Newman and Dorothy Day, John Paul II and Francis I, and we are the richer for that.