With February being “Catholic Press Month,” now is the perfect time to consider — and I mean soberly consider — the value of your local diocesan newspaper.
In the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Media of Social Communications, Inter Mirifica, the Council Fathers spoke of the “inherent right of the Church to have at its disposal media as necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians, and all its efforts for the welfare of souls” (cf IM 3).
Along with this right, the Council tells us, the Catholic media has the duty “to instill a fully Christian spirit into readers” (cf IM 14) and for this purpose the Council Fathers envisioned, “A truly Catholic press with the clear purpose of forming, supporting and advancing public opinion in accord with natural law and Catholic teaching and precepts” (ibid).
Enter your official diocesan newspaper; a weekly publication that is loaded with news items and editorial pieces that reflect directly on matters of importance to Catholics everywhere. Mission accomplished, right? Well, not necessarily…
While it seems like a given that Catholics should be able to read their diocesan newspapers with utter confidence that the content is beyond reproach, the reality — as you may have noticed — can be very different. Consider, for instance, the following “real world” examples:
Did you know that editorial pieces ran in diocesan newspapers from coast-to-coast applauding the Obama Administration’s nomination of pro-abortion Catholic Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services even as her Archbishop, Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, was urging her to refrain from receiving Holy Communion due to her anti-life stance? It’s true.
Did you happen to read in your own diocesan newspaper praise for President Obama’s decision to overturn the “Mexico City Policy” thereby forcing American taxpayers to fund overseas abortions? I did.
Or how about that particularly memorable piece that hailed the National Institute of Health’s proposal for Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research as an “ethically sensitive move in a noticeably more Catholic-friendly direction?”
All of these shocking examples appeared in numerous diocesan newspapers throughout the U.S. and beyond in 2009, but this is by no means a new problem…
You remember the controversial 2005 movie “Brokeback Mountain” don’t you? Well did you know that glowing reviews of this homosexual propaganda piece ran in scores of diocesan newspapers lauding the film as “a serious contemplation on loneliness and connection, suitable for adult audiences?” Difficult to fathom, I know, but it did.
The problem isn’t exclusive to moral issues, however, as diocesan newspapers can sometimes be just as unreliable in matters of faith as well.
For instance, in a widely run feature on the origins of the Bible an erroneous claim was offered to readers of diocesan newspapers worldwide, saying, “The Catholic version of the Bible is actually a library of books specifically chosen to reflect Catholic teaching.” This, however, is an error that was specifically condemned by the First Vatican Council!
In fact, the Second Vatican Council very explicitly reiterated the long held Catholic teaching that the books of Sacred Scripture are canonical — not because they say what we want them to say — but for the solitary reason that they have God as their Author. Don’t you think it’s important for our “official” Catholic newspapers to get this right? I certainly do.
In April of 2009, another questionable piece ran in multiple diocesan newspapers that offered praise for a priest who possessed the “scholarly acquiescence to nuance our church sometimes forgets” for having the high-mindedness to invoke the Holy Spirit as “She.” One small problem — the Congregation for Divine Worship clearly forbade such un-Traditional acts of Divine gender-bending, but those who placed their trust in their diocesan newspaper, however, might never know it.
Lastly but unfortunately not finally, consider a December 2009 piece that also ran in official Catholic newspapers nationally that offered the following twisted stab at catechesis: “The Church’s teaching of subsidiarity insists that higher levels of government and social organizations must take action and do what individuals and smaller groups cannot do for themselves.”
In reality, the principle of subsidiarity states that matters impacting the human person should be addressed by the smallest; least centralized; most localized, personal authority possible. In other words, subsidiarity as the Church understands it is not a mandate for government action at all; it’s a warning against government interference! Quite an important difference, especially here in U.S. where a federal takeover of healthcare is being debated, no?
So, how on earth did we get to this point where so many diocesan newspapers are so shamefully unreliable? The answer in a word is “complacency,” but before you point an accusatory finger at your bishop, realize that this is no more true than in case of individual Catholics.
If the examples provided describe the newspaper in your diocese, the far more important question to consider, therefore, is how will you respond?
For starters, all of us need to start behaving as responsible consumers of Catholic media; spending our time and our money wisely. Sounds simple, but doing so in this case will require more effort than simply choosing brands at the grocery store.
Why? Because many parishes “force feed” subscriptions to the diocesan newspaper upon their parishioners; paying for them with parish funds and then making special appeals for reimbursement at a later date. In some places, there are even diocese-wide collections undertaken specifically to raise money for the local official newspaper.
Now don’t get me wrong; diocesan newspapers can be wonderful tools for information, evangelization and catechesis, but only when they uphold their duties well as some most certainly do. Some, however, do not.
That’s why we the “people in the pews” need to soberly consider whether or not our diocesan newspapers are truly worthy of our support based upon the quality of their content alone. Understand this, however; before you can presume to determine what constitutes quality content or not, you must first know and embrace your Catholic faith well enough to be able to discern the difference. Remember; the issue here is not one of personal preference, but “Catholic teaching and precepts” (IM 14).
If you do possess the requisite competency of faith, and you determine that your diocesan newspaper is not upholding its duty well; just don’t allow yourself to be quietly forced into supporting it. Offer respectful but candid feedback to the editors, pastors and bishops involved letting them know that you will not fund media content that misrepresents our Catholic faith.
In fact, you should kindly insist that the diocesan newspaper not even be sent to your home; otherwise, potential advertisers will count you among the willing subscribers thereby bolstering the publication’s revenues and perpetuating the problem.
Make no mistake about it; leveraging your purchasing power is the most effective way to force our local diocesan newspapers to offer real value in the marketplace of authentic and reliable Catholic content. If those in charge of content are complacent now, they won’t be for long if the money dries up, and remember — diocesan newspapers are not charitable organizations that deserve our financial support as a matter of Christian duty; they must be made to earn it.
Most of all, we must pray for all who disseminate information in the media, especially those who do so in the name of the Church; that they will be endowed by God with the grace and the courage necessary to protect the faithful from falsehood in all of its many forms.