Events in the Church over this past summer and their continuing unfolding as I type today raise many questions, including the importance of a strong, national, independent Catholic press. We do not refer to the Catholic Church as “parochial” for nothing. I would venture to guess that the “typical Catholic” [whatever that means nowadays] gets his or her news about the Church from a parish bulletin—now generally on-line—or from the diocesan Catholic newspaper, though for most of my life I have doubted how many people read the diocesan paper. Back in the 1950’s my mother would complain that Buffalo’s Catholic paper, The Union and Echo, was nothing more than a collection of recipes and brides’ pictures. Then the diocese announced a contest for a new name, and mom submitted The Challenge, an enlightened submission in the early days of Vatican II.
The Diocese, however, chose The Magnificat, a predictably safe banner head since the last thing a diocese wants is a challenge. A diocesan newspaper is a “house organ,” and I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense, but in the sense the term is defined in the dictionary as “a periodical published by a company to be read by its employees and other interested parties and dealing mainly with its own activities.” It is newsy in an optimistic way, posting stories about parish events, the Chrism Mass, and the Catholic Charities Campaign. Its “educational component” is limited to brief summaries of the Sunday Gospels. There is no hard reporting, and it is difficult to imagine any Catholic diocesan paper breaking a story in the way that the Boston Globe broke the child abuse scandal story in 2002.
Nearly every solution to the child abuse scandal as revealed by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury/Cardinal McCarrick scandals of this summer has called for independent lay investigation. The term “lay involvement” is not limited to state and local prosecutors and grand juries, but rather in the Jeffersonian sense that every citizen [in this case a citizen of the City of God] is a fully informed member of society who utilizes a multitude of tools to affirm what is right and good about society and effectively calls out disorder and mismanagement. Make no mistake about it: the near-century old cover-up and mismanagement of the abuse of minors has cost the Church in the United States an unimaginable amount of money—probably enough that your parish or diocese has lost many of its schools. This is the kind of news your diocesan paper will not print, and this underscores the need for a vigorous national Catholic press to help parishioners connect the dots.
What do I recommend, and what sources would I use in Catechist Café postings? At the top of my list is America Magazine [1909-present day], the Jesuit weekly magazine based in New York City. America brings together news, opinion, editorial insight, reports on Catholic life around the world, book reviews, Scripture commentary, and a wealth of other features. It is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I get frequent emails from America about breaking stories, new books, etc. and the magazine is available in several electronic and mobile formats. If you are employed by the Church in any fashion, you can claim your subscription as a work-related expense.
The unabashed publication of Catholic progressives is National Catholic Reporter. Based in Kansas City, Missouri, its first editor, Robert Hoyt, wrote at NCR’s founding in 1964 that he “wanted to bring the professional standards of secular news reporting to the press that covers Catholic news, saying ‘if the mayor of a city owned the only newspaper, its citizens would not learn what they need and deserve to know about its affairs.’” NCR has always been controlled by a lay board of directors. This publication is frequently accused of heresy by its enemies, mostly because no topic is off-bounds. It is often light years ahead of other Catholic services: as early as the 1980’s NCR was covering the abuse of minors, the cover-ups of bishops, and the enormous costs of settlements. NCR has multiple formats and emails frequent news updates.
If National Catholic Reporter is the progressive ying of Catholic news reporting, then National Catholic Register [1927-present] is the conservative yang, so to speak. The Register is now owned and operated by the EWTN empire. The paper moved to the conservative right in the 1980’s and particularly after the EWTN acquisition in 2011. It is available in several paper and electronic formats. Its penchant toward anger, both in its writing and its open blogs, is sometimes discouraging. [The other NCR above closed off its comments section for this reason.] To its credit the Register features lucid reporting and editorial writing that probably represents the sentiments of many Catholics who are frustrated by the excesses of change and by the style of Pope Francis, and these voices deserve a hearing.
There is no “official” Catholic journal or paper in the United States. The closest may be the Catholic News Service [1920-present]. It is editorially independent and “a financially self-sustaining division” of the USCCB. CNS has a documentary service called Origins which publishes papal speeches and writings or texts from churches around the world and governmental papers related to Catholic life. CNS states that it is “the primary source of national and global news that the U.S. Catholic press reports.
Finally, one of my favorites is Crux. It began as a publication of the Boston Globe, the secular city paper. In 2016 the Globe ceded the paper to a private Catholic Corporation which now includes several dioceses and the Knights of Columbus. Crux is known for its excellence in reporting on the Vatican, and its editor, John Allen, is known as one of the world’s eminent “Vaticanologists.” The Italian news magazine L’Expresso described Crux as “the leading Catholic information portal in the United States and perhaps in the world.”
I would recommend that over the week you sample the products on-line. [My link service to this entry is down today, but all these publications can be easily searched on line.] In many cases you can get free access to articles and news alerts to your computer, etc., by simply giving your email address.
I will be away this week for a reunion of my seminary classmates in the Catskills, but if I can, I will post this week on what I see and hear on the road.