What Catholic Media Should Be

Publisher Views Their Role in the New Evangelization

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NORTH HAVEN, Connecticut, JAN. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Catholic media should be responsible for supporting the renewal of the Church and communicating hope to the faithful, says the publisher of a leading weekly newspaper.

Legionary Father Owen Kearns, who heads the National Catholic Register, outlined his ideas about the marks of good Catholic media and the potential they have to transform the world. He shared his views with ZENIT in the context of Saturday’s liturgical memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists.

Q: What is the mission of Catholic media in general?

Father Kearns: The mission of the Catholic media is to promote the new evangelization. Helping Catholics to apply the riches of their faith and the wisdom of the Church’s teaching in order to understand, evaluate and engage the emerging secular culture poses quite a challenge.

It can be done, however. A pro-life group at a Pennsylvania all-boys prep school, for example, decided to send roses to each student at the local all-girls school with an abstinence message, “We at Malvern Prep think you’re worth waiting for.” Because of a Register article, the initiative got picked up and repeated all over the country.

We’ve seen that again and again — stories about how the Register changed someone’s approach to difficult issues, or caused an apostolate to grow.

Catholics in the media who have this vision of their mission all have one thing in common: a contagious enthusiasm and optimism. And it’s easy to see why — the evidence gives us great reason for optimism.

Q: Do you think Catholic media are living up to that mission?

Father Kearns: There are lights and shadows. That’s life! Some so-called Catholic media are really anti-Catholic. Others are bent on showing how you can disagree with the magisterium and still be Catholic — that’s such a waste of energy.

There have always been Catholics who are enthusiastic about their faith and eager to share it through the media in creative ways. Their number is growing. And they are finding creative ways to do that.

This isn’t to say that Catholic media that gain their most energy from investigative reporting are unimportant. Quite the contrary. Some important stories that have done real good have come from these organizations. But the most important mission is for the Good News to be communicated. If that doesn’t happen, all the investigative stories are just a dead end.

Q: Isn’t there an inherent tension between objective, impartial reporting and Catholic orthodoxy? If so, how should the Catholic media overcome this tension?

Father Kearns: There’s no such thing as neutral media. Every media outlet has a point of view that shapes how they present the news. Anybody who thinks that the New York Times or CBS, for example, is objective and impartial needs to take remedial classes on the media.

Take the Democratic candidates’ views on “homosexual marriage”: It would be dismally unprofessional to misreport their various stands. Beyond the objective reporting part — getting the simple facts straight — is their interpretation.

Certain media are masters at presenting those with principled stands as conservative and hopelessly out of touch with the direction of contemporary culture, while those who abandon the truth only to cave in to media and political pressure are presented as courageous and enlightened.

Catholic media, however, have more to contribute: the wisdom of the Church on whether “homosexual marriage” is a good thing or not. I don’t see any tension there with accurate reporting.

We still get phone calls asking for a copy of the Register editorial “Loving Homosexuals,” because it said something few others were saying: You have to love homosexuals, and that means not discriminating against them, yes, but it also means telling the truth about the consequences of their actions.

Q: What has been the greatest failure in Catholic media in, say, the past 20 years?

Father Kearns: The synod of 1985 clarified that the core teaching of Vatican II about the Church is that she is a communion of life and love. Yet, so much of Catholic media continued aping the secular media’s misrepresentation of Vatican II as a struggle between progressive liberals and reactionary conservatives that it became the dominant mind-set among vast sectors of Catholics.

The media had so many Catholics thinking that the Church was a spectrum of conflicting views. It made their Catholic faith sterile and joyless. And it made them incapable of even recognizing the call of the new evangelization — not to mention responding adequately to it.

Catholic media in general failed to get Catholics to understand that their faith calls each and every one of them to be active and engaged in shaping the culture in light of their faith. Imagine if that’s how Catholics lived their faith: We would transform the world!

Q: What has been the greatest success?

Father Kearns: What’s encouraging is the dynamism and creativity of new ventures in Catholic media, or, in the case of the National Catholic Register, the revitalization of established media.

This vitality is coming almost exclusively from among those who are bullish about their Catholic faith and the leadership of Pope John Paul II.

Some of the successes of the Register in the last 75 years mirror the successes of the Catholic press. The Fatima Family Apostolate founder Father Robert Fox says the formation he got from the Register was vital to his vocation. I have his quote: “We didn’t have a Catholic high school in Watertown, but our family did receive the National Catholic Register. I would wait for it to arrive in the mail every Tuesday and I would read it cover to cover.” It gave him a grounding in his faith.

We’ve had success in spreading news no one else will cover. Jeff Cavins told us that he looks to the Register for the material for his “Morning Air Show”; he can’t find our news elsewhere. Father Frank Pavone says the Register is “one of the best ways for Catholics in the pew to receive pro-life information.”

Q: Given the problems of the Church in the West, including the rising tide of secularism, are the Catholic media shaping the culture, or is it vice versa?

Father Kearns: Forces far more powerful than the Catholic media are shaping the culture. Think of globalization and technology, for example. They shape how the media operate, and Catholics are taking advantage of new media technologies to evangelize the culture.

If Catholic media were to wake up, en masse, to their mission to promote the new evangelization, then we would have a far greater impact on the culture.

Catholic media can have a disproportionate impact on the culture, precisely because of the one they ultimately represent: Jesus Christ, “the more powerful one.” Truth and grace are more powerful than any sophisticated media manipulation.

I love what one reader told us: “You have expertly blended the local, national and international aspects in your paper so that it gently refuses me to be complacent in my Catholicity on any level.” She’s a teacher. Imagine if more people were getting that kind of jolt from all over the Catholic press.

Q: What is the single most important element that Catholic editors and writers need to remember in their job?

Father Kearns: That Christ has won the victory over evil. It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to abuses and failures in the Church. But it does mean speaking the truth in charity, not in anger or resentment.

It also means not giving in to the too-human temptation of confusing professionalism with cynicism. True Catholic media are permeated with hope and communicate hope. As St. Augustine said, “We are Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”

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