The meaning of an advertisement

Bad Ad

In your January 11, 2013, issue, you ran an advertisement for a film produced by Catholics for Choice. Why would you publish something promoting an anti-Catholic, proabortion movie? I know it makes Commonweal appear broad-minded, but many practicing Catholics think it makes you look foolish, and that printing such an ad is disrespectful to sincere Catholics.

Laurence Burns
Grand Rapids, Mich.


Out of Context

I was profoundly saddened to find a full-page advertisement from Catholics for Choice (CFC) on the inside front cover of your January 11 issue. I rely on Commonweal for a deeper examination of the joys and anguishes one encounters as a Catholic. To find this ad in your magazine—for a group as antithetical to Catholic teaching as is CFC—does not bode well for the direction of the magazine. The ideas promoted by Catholics for Choice should be considered only in the context of an editorial or an article. Running the ad represents a conflict of interest because advertisers regularly direct the content of magazines by underwriting their production. I want to see the continued, Catholic, unbiased search for truth that I associate with Commonweal. On the back cover of the same issue, you published a house ad featuring a young college student who readers might help to “understand the issues facing contemporary society” by contributing to the magazine’s College Subscription Program. Why should I pay to help send CFC’s ad to her? Will your implied acceptance of CFC’s message help her find joy and truth within the community of believers, or will it reinforce the view that the immediate, self-centered good is in fact the ultimate good?

Tim Pratt
Salt Lake City, Utah


It’s Not Me, It’s You

Today I canceled my subscription. Your decision to publish an ad from Catholics for Choice—and to place it inside the front cover—raises serious doubts about your claim to be independent and Catholic.

I have subscribed for twenty years. Over that time, I’ve enjoyed Commonweal’s editorial bent—truly challenging yet always faithful to the magisterium. By running this ad you have endorsed a view of conscience as absolute. I will miss Commonweal, but even though I’m saddened, I’m losing a friend I no longer recognize.

Timothy Kitzke
Milwaukee, Wis.


The Editors Reply

We thank Lawrence Burns, Tim Pratt, and Timothy Kitzke for their letters, and we wish to assure them that, as any regular reader of the magazine knows, Commonweal shares their skepticism and unease about the agenda of Catholics for Choice. Inevitably there is an element of subjective judgment involved in accepting or rejecting an ad, especially from an advocacy group. Many readers object when we run advertisements for military chaplains, either on pacifist grounds or because they judge recent U.S. military interventions to contradict well-established Catholic teaching. We understand the objection, but unless there is evidence to the contrary, we assume the goodwill and moral sincerity of those who wish to place ads with us on disputed moral or political issues. Commonweal publishes authors who disagree with the opinions of the editors and the teachings of the church, and our ad spots are similarly open to a variety of institutions and viewpoints. Ads are not endorsements. Thus, if an advertisement avoids outright distortion or demagoguery, we are inclined to accept it. In this instance, we viewed the movie being advertised. Although the arguments made by those interviewed were not persuasive, neither were they complete distortions or demagogic. Opinions advanced in a civil and measured way deserve a hearing, and it would be a mistake to pretend that there are no Catholics who think this way about abortion—or to silence those who do.

Published in the 2013-02-22 issue: 
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