Controlling Catholic media

There are some interesting comments from the ChicagoTribune.com, U.S. Catholic and National Catholic Reporter about what a statement by Cardinal Francis George means for Catholic media and, by the way, what it might mean to Commonweal. Here is what the cardinal said in opening remarks at the recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

If there is a loosening of relationship between ourselves and those whom Christ has given us to govern in love, it is for us to reach out and re-establish connections necessary for all to remain in communion. As you know, we have recently begun discussions on how we might strengthen our relationship to Catholic universities, to media claiming the right to be a voice in the Church, [italics added] and to organizations that direct various works under Catholic auspices. Since everything and everyone in Catholic communion is truly inter-related, and the visible nexus of these relations is the bishop, an insistence on complete independence from the bishop renders a person or institution sectarian, less than fully Catholic. The purpose of our reflections, therefore, is to clarify questions of truth or faith and of accountability or community among all those who claim to be part of Catholic communion.

David Gibson posted earlier about Cardinal George's speech, here and at PoliticsDaily, and the more recent reactions focus further attention on the cardinal's remark about "media claiming the right to be a voice in the Church." It isn't clear which organizations Cardinal George was referring to, but there is a certain ominous tone when he speaks of the "accountability" of "those who claim to be part of Catholic communion."Chicago Tribune religion writer Manya Brachear started her blog item on this by noting that Cardinal George said, "Relations do not speak first of control but of love." It did not take the cardinal very long to get to the control part, though. His remark about "accountability" certainly turns the tables on journalists, since it is textbook journalism for us to hold leaders such as the cardinal-archbishop of Chicago accountable.Over the past two decades, many bishops have muffled the voices of their diocesan newspapers, often to the frustration of the journalists in their employ. I venture that more than a few of the editors feel this has made the papers less credible and less interesting - and therefore less effective in their mission.Independent media that cover the Catholic Church closely - and there are many outlets, including blogs, of many ideological flavors - offer a vital sounding board, a place where issues can be discussed outside the narrow confines that bishops have permitted in most of the official church media. A constructive discussion of their role and influence would be a good thing, but that is not the plan I glean when Cardinal George speaks of holding journalists accountable to bishops.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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