The best and the worst of Catholic journalism

The best and the worst of Catholic journalism

A diocesan website from the other side of the world may not seem the most obvious place for Irish Catholics to find relevant and fruitful reading but angelusnews.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can be just that.

While local and American news are obviously major points of concentration for the news site of the largest diocese in the US, Angelus also features an impressive amount of what might be considered ‘magazine’ content, with feature articles and decent opinion pieces; currently flying high on the site are pieces by Tony Magliano entitled ‘Active nonviolence: rediscovering a central teaching of Jesus’ and Archbishop José Gomez on how ‘This is the hour of the Laity’.

As an example of such, Greg Erlandson’s column on ‘The hard grace of being a Catholic journalist’ is compelling reading for those who want to understand some of the challenges of Catholic journalism, and the importance of such.

Evil
 organisation

Director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, Erlandson opens by relating how sneers from some about working for an evil organisation and criticism from others about not defending the bishops more strongly are par for the course for Catholic journalists nowadays, with criticism being far worse on social media than in person.

Despite this, he says, as a Catholic journalist covering the abuse scandals can be the best of times as well as the worst.

“Best of times because Catholic journalism can actually play an important role. It is a way of demonstrating, not just talking about, transparency. It is a way of demonstrating, and not just talking about, accountability,” he says.

“It is a time of informed credibility, when all the knowledge and experience of a Catholic journalist is really worth something. Not every Catholic journalist is an expert in canon law or ecclesial politics, but Catholic journalists can provide context,” he continues. “They can make complex events understandable. They can put historical events in perspective or provide the back story instead of treating every event as if it happened yesterday.”

Times of crises, in short, are times when Catholic journalists get to do their job, and serve the Church by doing so, neither ducking bad news nor forgetting good news.

At the same time, he points out, it can be the worst of times because differences between Catholics mean that not every story pleases everybody.

“The mote in a journalist’s eye is sometimes a more tempting target than the beam in a churchman’s. Complaining about being victimised by journalists comes more easily than engaging victims,” he says, noting that “the credibility of a Catholic newspaper or magazine is neutered when someone decides that no news is good news in a self-serving attempt to ‘not scandalise the faithful’”.

On the other hand, he says – and this is just as important – “while some may resent Catholics reporting on Catholic scandals, others accuse the journalist of participating in the cover-up because he or she isn’t reporting every social media rumour or every blogger’s claim”.

And of course, he adds, this is the worst of times for journalists because there is a sense that reading time and time and time again horrific reports and learning just how badly – for whatever reasons – things were handled is a Sisyphean task, one that destroys trust in a way Erlandson describes as “crushing”.

Revelations about Archbishop – until recently Cardinal – Theodore McCarrick have been uniquely painful too, he adds: “We thought he was a voice for reform and protection. Instead he was just grooming us all. His betrayal casts doubt on everyone. This is the real corrosion of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church: We don’t know if we can trust priest or bishop or even Pope.”

It’s a powerful piece, a dark exposure of what honest Catholic journalism can sometimes entail that ends, nonetheless, on a profoundly hopeful note.

For anyone curious about the challenges of being a Catholic journalist, it’s definitely worth reflecting on.

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