Catholic Bishop sees a danger in the tone of Catholic social media conversations.

A Catholic bishop and media luminary sees a “danger being built into the forum” of social media, as the Catholic Church tries to engage new media in an effort to bring back those who have left.

Bishop Robert Baron, Auxiliary Bishop Archdiocese of Los Angeles (image courtesy of:

Bishop Robert Baron, Auxiliary Bishop Archdiocese of Los Angeles (image courtesy of:

Bishop Robert Barron spoke at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on May 24th. His talk to a packed and enthusiastic ballroom was titled: “New Evangelization: The Impact of Social Media.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC and Carolyn Woo, President of Catholic Relief Services also headlined the “The New Evanglization and Higher Education: the Vision of Pope Francis” conference. According to spokesperson Don Orlando, the three day event hosted people from 20 different states.

Bishop Barron is an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is a documentary film maker, bestselling author, theologian, founder of Word on Fire global media ministry and one of the “most-followed” Catholics on social media.

Over the past 35 years the Catholic Church has made a concerted effort in engaging those who left the faith. This effort has been called the ”New Evangelization.”

According to the 2011 revised report from the Pew Research Center for Religion and the Public Life, ”Those who have left Catholicism outnumber those who have joined the Catholic Church by nearly a four-to-one margin. Overall, one-in-ten American adults (10.1%) have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic, while only 2.6% of adults have become Catholic after having been raised something other than Catholic.”

Bishop Barron said the age when most U.S. Catholics leave is during their college and young adult years.

His media ministries started out hosting an early morning show on WGN radio in his native Chicago nearly 20 years ago. He then ventured into documentary film making. The CATHOLICISM documentary series has been broadcast nationwide on the Public Broadcast System, and it set to release a new series this fall.

Bishop Barron was an early pioneer on social media, where his YouTube videos have been viewed more than 15 million times. The Word on Fire website says it, “reaches millions of people by utilizing the tools of new media to draw people into or back to the Catholic Faith.”

His time online has exposed him to the maliciousness between Catholics in social media. “Now, anyone – and his brother – can go into his basement and hurl off some invective.”

The polarization in American social and political life is also reflected in the Catholic Church in the United States.

Traditionalists and progressives are waging a civil war over hot button issues such as gay marriage, transgender rights, abortion, and whether divorced and remarried Catholics should receive the sacraments. Their battle ground for this war of words is social media.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB Chief Executive Officer Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation (image courtesy of Salt and Light)

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Chief Executive Officer
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation (image courtesy of Salt and Light)

The Reverand Thomas Rosica is the Chief Executive Officer of Salt + Light Media Foundation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the Vatican’s English-speaking media attaché and member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Father Rosica’s lawyer had threatened to sue traditionalist Canadian David Domet, in February 2015, over mischaracterizations and personal attacks in the blog Vox Cantoris. Legal action has not occurred up to this point.

Father Rosica recently offered a sharp critique of  the uncivil tone of social media conversations in Catholic circles.

Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people.

Bishop Barron echoed Father Rosica’s comments. “I know [Father] Tom [Rosica] well, and I did see those remarks. I think he is right. It’s a built-in problem with this form of communication.”

The only solution to this dilemma that both Bishop Barron and Father Rosica offer is to remember that it is a person with whom you are engaging with on social media, and to pray for them when they offend you.


TV & Faith

Does the Catholic-Christian faith receive the depth of coverage it deserves on TV?

According to a well-known TV priest it does not.

Fr. Edward Beck, CM (image courtesy of:

Fr. Edward Beck, CM (image courtesy of:

Fr. Edward Beck, CM, ‘Religion and Faith Commentator’ for CNN, writes in a thoughtful commentary for Crux that it’s not anti-Catholic bias, “…my experience of working in the secular media has been largely positive. I have never been told what to say or asked to slant my perspective. While I have witnessed anti-Catholic bias in the media, personally I’ve not been a victim of it.”

Beck sees the issue in the time old approach employed by television news executives and producers: a lack of complexity and depth in news culture and coverage.

Fr. Edward Beck, CM –

My primary gripe about the secular media is that often it overlooks the nuance and applicability of religion and faith in the public sphere. The media is engaged as long as there is a compelling enough figure such as Francis, or some cataclysmic ecclesial event, to garner interest, but it lacks the imagination to explore the more nuanced tentacles of religion in society.

When I try to interest television producers in covering aspects of faith and religion in areas such as politics, incarceration, global warming, international aggression, terrorism and world economics, they are slow to be convinced of a relevant faith connection. This despite a recent Pew survey that ‘shows a clear link between what people see as essential to their faith and their self-reported day-to-day behavior.’

So, where can Catholics go on TV for discussion that allows for complexity? The answer is Catholic media.

In my April 1st posting I discussed the future of EWTN, and mentioned that many younger Catholics in the U.S. are seeking out Salt and Light Television from Canada online.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB (image courtesy of:

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB (image courtesy of:

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB founding Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Television, and has developed programming that is orthodox, engaging, and fresh.

Bishop Robert Baron, Auxiliary Bishop Archdiocese of Los Angeles (image courtesy of:

Bishop Robert E. Barron, Auxiliary Bishop Archdiocese of Los Angeles (image courtesy of:

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron founder of Word on Fire, a global media ministry, is another voice in Catholic broadcasting that offers both complexity and nuance in his presentation. Pope Francis obviously approves of his work because Bishop Barron (a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago) was chosen to be an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

It is no coincidence that Bishop Barron was sent to the entertainment capital of the U.S. It would be safe to assume that in addition to his own media ministry, Bishop Barron will be interacting with the people who move the media culture in particular directions. He will be a strong Catholic voice in Hollywood.

Getting a fair shake on TV is a challenge that all faith traditions face. The medium has helped to develop the “3-second attention span” that defines U.S. culture.

Complexity, depth, and nuance are not things that translate to TV. For that Catholics must look for media that originates from the Church.


“Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) Media Coverage

After months of hopeful anticipation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) was released at 6:00 a.m. EDT (Noon in Rome) today (April 8th) by the Vatican. As Cindy Wooden of the Catholic News Service (CNS) writes, “The exhortation was Pope Francis’ reflection on the discussion, debate and suggestions raised during the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops on the family.”

Pope Francis (image courtesy of:

Pope Francis (image courtesy of:

As was expected, bishops, clergy, and laity all interpreted support for their own viewpoints (traditional or progressive) in the massive document. Cathy Lynn Grossman of the Religion News Service (RNS) writes, “It brought joy to conservative Christians who feared Francis would tamper with dogma, but less love from liberals who had hoped for a change in practices, not simply in tone.”

However, as Michael J. O’Loughlin writes in a special post to Crux, individuals should read and draw their own conclusions, “While reaction to the document was swift, especially on social media where activists of all stripes tried to spin the document to fit particular agendas, the pope’s top U.S. adviser urged Catholics to take time reading the document, echoing a plea the pope himself made in the text.”

This sentiment was echoed by Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette –

Almost from the start of his 263-page landmark document on the family, Pope Francis makes two things clear: Read it carefully, and don’t look for hard-and-fast answers, neither in this document nor in the messiness of real life. In fact, two similar-sounding words come to mind in reading his ‘Amoris Laetitia’ (‘Joy of Love’), released Friday as an ‘apostolic exhortation,’ a type of papal document that is not a definitive doctrinal statement but essentially is a call to action.

Anthony Faiola and Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post and Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times offer excellent articles that both explain and analyze Amoris Laetitia. The mainstream, religious, and Catholic media were all prepared – for the most part – for the document’s release.

One notable gaffe came from HuffPost Religion in taking exceptional liberties and distorting the document’s contents with their headline: “Pope Francis Relaxes Church Rules On Divorce.” The headline was for the Reuters story, whose headline was: “Pope seeks compassion for divorced couples.” The story from Reuters was inline with their headline rather than the one HuffPost Religion used.

Jim Davis‘ critique of the media’s coverage for getReligion was positive, “Taken together, the articles still show the strength of an ailing yet vigorous mainstream media, doing what they do best: hustling to inform us of breaking news. And I’m glad some of them still have religion specialists whose skills and knowledge parse such stories for their significance. We’ll see in coming days whether they can also enrich the follow-up stories.” This is just another case where full-time dedicated religion journalists make all the difference in terms of accuracy, tone, and analysis.

Where does EWTN go from here?

15 years after she left the public eye Mother Angelica has left this life. As David Gibson and Cathy Lynn Grossman of Religion News Service (RNS) report, “Born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, in 1923, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation — as she came to be known — entered the Poor Clares, a branch of the Franciscan order, in 1944.” She went on to found a monastery in the rural South and the Eternal Work Television Network in 1981, and it is now the global leader in religious broadcasting.

Mother Angelica pioneer in religious broadcasting dies at age 92. (image courtesy of:

Mother Angelica pioneer in religious broadcasting dies at age 92. (image courtesy of:

Raymond Arroyo, Managing Editor of EWTN, in Acts of Faith The Washington Post’s faith-based blog writes that after years of pain from numerous ailments she was stricken with a massive stroke on Christmas Eve 2001, “I once asked her, shortly after her stroke, why God would allow the voice of one of America’s great evangelizers to fall silent. Without hesitating, she pointed to herself and said, ‘Purification. My purification.”’ In his 2005 review of Arroyo’s book on Mother Angelica, Michael O. Garvey of Commonweal casts a different impression, “The most conspicuous concern of Arroyo’s narrative is what he describes as Mother Angelica’s ‘public and private war for the future of the Catholic Church.’ [His] reconnaissance of the battlefield is as predictable and prepackaged as anything else on big network news: on one side are Our Lord, Mother Angelica, and EWTN. On the other are ‘recreant bishops and theologians’ and the ‘liberal church in America,’ an amorphous conspiracy promoting eucharistic irreverence, gender-inclusive liturgical language, and altar girls. … What readers make of the story will likely depend on which side they choose to take in this war, or whether they believe such a war is going on to begin with. …” Mother Angelica is seen as one of the first culture warriors by those U.S. Catholics with conservative political and ecclesiastical views.

The Catholic News Service (CNS) reported the response from Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, “‘I was honored to know and be able to assist Mother Angelica during the early days of EWTN. Over the years, that relationship grew, and today the Knights of Columbus and EWTN partner regularly on important projects. Mother Angelica was fearless, because she had God on her side,’ Anderson said. ‘She saw what he needed her to do and she did it!'” John L. Allen Jr. Editor of Crux characterizes the legacy of Mother Angelica as one of female empowerment in an institution that is as chauvinistic as it gets, “Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica.”

Mother Angelica was the first Catholic media entrepreneur says Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, “just remember this: 35 years after EWTN was launched in a garage and went on to reach ‘the ends of the earth,’ every Catholic media effort that’s stepped out on its own since (often in the face of skepticism or much worse, and these just within the church) is in Mother’s debt. For those of us who’ve sought to take on the work in our own ways, we didn’t just learn more from her than any other, but in more ways than can be put into words, she represented the ‘gold standard.'” Clearly Mother Angelica was a trailblazer in Catholic media and for women in the Catholic Church.

The question remains: Where does EWTN go from here?

There is no charismatic figure like Mother Angelica waiting in the wings. Yes, the board of directors has managed EWTN into a global force in religious and Catholic broadcasting, but the content is a bit dated to say the least. I am not talking about the doctrine or dogma EWTN supports but rather the way they deliver it to the audience.

EWTN set (image courtesy of: EWTN)

EWTN set (image courtesy of: EWTN)

Most of their programming involves two or three people sitting and talking. The production values are lacking to a large degree. This shows that there is not a visionary at EWTN anymore. I believe Mother Angelica would have pushed the content into new directions if she was not debilitated during the past 15 years. A good example of what is possible now exists at Salt and Light Catholic Media based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Fr. Thomas M. Rosica, C.S.B. is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Salt and Light. Salt and Light offer programming and discussions that are both entertaining to watch as well as informative, spiritually uplifting, and orthodox in its content.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB Chief Executive Officer Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation (image courtesy of Salt and Light)

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Chief Executive Officer
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation (image courtesy of Salt and Light)

In the 1980s and 90s EWTN was cutting edge, now its what your grandparents watch. EWTN has also suffered from the scandals of on-air talents Fr. John Corapi and Fr. Frances Mary Stone who both had troubled personal lives that did not reflect the values of the Church. EWTN is also tied in with the Charismatic movement, which does not appeal to the majority of Catholics. EWTN has a relationship with Hewlett-Packard which gives them access to cutting edge technology. They have good talented people like Johnnette Benkovic and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. but there is not a compelling force that Mother Angelica was.

EWTN now has everything Mother Angelica did not have in the early days, but they are now missing the one presence that made it what it is – HER!


Profit or Non-Profit, that is the question(?)

In yesterday’s [March 24th] posting, I looked at the “Catholic Corporate Resurrection” at Crux with the assistance of the Knights of Columbus. I would like to delve further into the interview Laura Hazard Owen, deputy editor at the Nieman Lab, conducted with John L. Allen, Jr. and Ines St. Martin by looking at the business side of this unique partnership.

The discussion starts with Crux’s creation at The Boston Globe. According to Craig Douglas in the Boston Business Journal the local scene played a huge role, “Crux launched in September 2014 and marked one of the Globe’s first major product innovations following its $70 million acquisition by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry in 2013.” Douglas explains why the venture only lasted 18 months, “‘The problem is the business,’ [The Boston Globe Editor Brian] McGrory wrote. ‘We simply haven’t been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in 2014.'” Allen explained to Owen where the advertising dollars come from, “We’re mostly talking about Catholic organizations, Catholic universities, Catholic book publishers, and so on, that are interested in appealing to the Catholic market. And although that’s an important revenue stream, the whole problem we had at the Globe is that that revenue stream by itself doesn’t cover the whole operation.” Allen also told Greg Ryan of the Boston Business Journal, “’I’m a journalist, not an entrepreneur,’ he [Allen] said, but the Knights arrangement ‘is an endorsement of my totally naive instinct that there would be people out there who supported (Crux) and would be willing to do it.'”

Allen told Owen where the money from the Knights of Columbus will be spent, “The way it works is that they are giving us X amount of money, and then it’s up to us to decide how to allocate it in terms of salaries, etc. It’s not being administered on their side, it’s being administered on our side.” The number of salaries will be just a handful in the beginning Allen explained to Owen, “The changes we are making are more imposed upon us by financial reality than the nature of who is sponsoring us. At the Globe, we had a full-time staff of six people. Right now we have a full-time staff of three [Allen, San Martin, and business manager Shannon Levitt]. We hope to ramp back up in fairly short order, but in the short term, we are going to be a somewhat smaller operation.”

Now that Crux is an independent entity Allen and Levitt will be shaping the business model. The National Catholic Reporter and America are two well recognized Catholic publications that started well before the current media business culture became the reality. NCR and America are both non-profits which have subscribers but also accept donations. America also has the additional resources of the Society of Jesus (aka Jesuits) to support its mission. Allen explains to Owen that Crux cannot clone NCR and America’s structure, “If your business model is the classic journalistic model of paid circulation plus advertising, I’m really not sure you can sustain a successful niche publication in that way. I think you have to become a hybrid of the for-profit and not-for-profit models.” Allen provides further insight to Owen about his business vision, “To me, the business model is all of those things together: advertising, syndication, and sponsorship. That’s the prescription for a successful niche publication.”

Crux is separate from The Boston Globe and is now on its own. Allen and Levitt will be trying to maintain the site and generate fresh content on a tight budget with a limited staff and meager funds to pay freelancers. Allen is also on the lookout for additional sponsors, who once they emerge will allow for increased funding which in turn can lead to a larger staff. The ongoing saga at Crux will be a harbinger of things to come in religion media universe.





“Catholic Corporate Resurrection”

We are at the beginning of the Easter Triduum, when Christianity remembers and memorializes the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Recently there was a resurrection in the world of U.S. Catholic media. As I posted last week, Crux along with John L. Allen, Jr. and Ines St. Martin transformed from being a part of The Boston Globe into an independent entity with the Knights of Columbus as a sponsor. This new situation has generated a lot of discussion with many Catholic liberals expressing fear that the Knights of Columbus will influence content at Crux while numerous conservatives are expecting and praising it.

Laura Hazard Owen deputy editor at the Nieman Lab spoke with Allen and Martin about the “Catholic Corporate Resurrection” at Crux. Allen said The Boston Globe decision to jettison Crux and the partnership with the Knights of Columbus materialized in 3 days (March 9th – 11th), “My soundbite is that this was a corporate resurrection. We died and rose again on the third business day.”

One Catholic organization is concerned about this new arrangement. Marianne Duddy-Burke executive director of DignityUSA, “the nation’s foremost organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) Catholics,” is concerned that the shift for Crux from The Boston Globe’s ownership to the Knights of Columbus partnership will affect the coverage, “When it was sponsored by a major news organization, I think its audience came to expect high quality, independent journalism. In shifting to Knights of Columbus sponsorship, I fear that independence could be compromised. The Knights are deeply invested in advancing a particular brand of Catholicism, and I am concerned that Crux’s coverage of the diversity and breadth of our Church will be diminished.” Duddy-Burke points to the $6.25 million that was directed to anti-marriage equality measures by the Knights of Columbus.

In the interview with Owen, Allen was adamant about Crux’s journalistic independence, “This is a partnership, not a buyout. We have not been purchased by the Knights of Columbus; Crux remains fully independent. Up until this point, of course, we’ve been under the legal aegis of The Boston Globe. We are now incorporating as a separate entity. My home happens to be in Denver, so we’re going to be incorporated in the state of Colorado. It will be its own independent outfit and we retain full editorial control of the content. All the editorial decisions will be made by us.” Allen was not directly addressing DignityUSA’s concerns, however he was responding to those – liberal or conservative – who believe that he is now a lackey for Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson.

Crux and Knights of Columbus joining forces


(image courtesy of: DC-Laus Deo. {})

Crux is joining forces with the Knights of Columbus according to Crux’s staff in a news release posted on Tuesday (March 15th).  It states, “The Knights will respect the editorial freedom of Crux, [Associate Editor John L.] Allen [, Jr.] said, trusting it to present news and commentary in a way that serves the good of the Church.”  DC-Laus Deo blogged this quote from Supreme Knight Carl Anderson: “Crux is an important voice and key source of news for Catholics and about Catholic issues, and we are very pleased to be able to keep this important voice speaking to the Church and to the world.”

Greg Ryan of the Boston Business Journal writes that things began to happen about a week ago, “Allen began a furious search for a way to keep Crux in business after [Boston] Globe higher-ups told him late Wednesday [March 9th] that the paper was dropping the site within weeks. The Globe told him it would allow him to continue operating the site, including the intellectual property developed by the Globe, at no cost, according to Allen. ‘I spent the last 18 months of my life trying to build a brand, so to speak, and I didn’t want to just see it disappear,’ he said.” Ryan writes how Allen and the Knights came together, “Allen knew the Knights of Columbus had some interest in the media world, so he reached out to the group about a possible partnership. Within days, the basics of the deal were in place, although the two sides are still working out details, including the transfer of the Crux site from Globe servers to Knights of Columbus servers, he said.” Ryan goes on to explain what the new venture will look like, “While content producers and technology staffers are likely to join from Catholic Pulse, Allen and [Vatican correspondent Inés] San Martín will constitute a ‘two-person news agency,’ as Allen put it, ‘with the hope of expansion in the future.’ The deal with the Knights of Columbus does not preclude other sponsors from signing on with the site, and Crux is in talks with other potential partners, according to Allen. ‘I’m a journalist, not an entrepreneur,’ he said, but the Knights arrangement ‘is an endorsement of my totally naive instinct that there would be people out there who supported (Crux) and would be willing to do it.'” Reporter Michael O’Loughlin and columnist Margery Eagan will not be joining the new Crux, while editor Teresa Hanafin is staying with the Globe.

Catholic News Agency (CNA) reports, “Established in 1882, the Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with almost 1.9 million members across the globe. In 2014, the group raised more than $173.5 million for charity and spent more than 71.5 million hours volunteering.” CNA also provides some history on Crux,”Crux was launched in September 2014. It aspired to cover ‘all things Catholic’ with content to appeal to active Catholics, ‘casual’ Catholics who may not be regular Mass attendees, and general readers interested in Pope Francis, religion and spirituality.” Crux’s new tagline is, “Keeping its finger on the Catholic Pulse.”

The Knights of Columbus (KofC) have been trying to improve their presence in U.S. Catholic media, so adding Crux is good move for them. Their magazine Columbia, has tried to find its stride for years but to no avail, and the same could be said for the Catholic Pulse website. Allen and San Martin get partners with deep pockets who they hope will allow them to expand their operation over time. The KofC are known as a traditional and conservative organization. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson is a lawyer who was staffer for the late North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms and later worked for the White House during President George W. Bush’s Republican administration. Crux is believed by some to be liberal, but while some conservative and liberal commenters were critical of the move, others were were supportive and hopeful. DC-Laus Deo reminded readers, “This is not the only high profile effort the Knights of Columbus have done to preserve and spread the faith. The Knights of Columbus bought the struggling John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C. for $27 million in 2011 and converted it into the St. John Paul II Shrine.”

This is going to be an interesting “marriage” to witness from a far. Some are saying that Allen will bend right, while others believe the KofC will allow him to truly operate independently. One of the major criticisms of Crux has been its willingness to report on the ongoing sexual abuse crisis involving Catholic clergy around the world. DC-Laus Deo blogged this analysis of a now former columnist, “[Margery] Eagan’s departure may be fortuitous, as traditional Catholics have been irked by some of her thought pieces, particularly on homosexuality and the Church.

U.S. Catholics would be served well if they were able to have a reliable balanced source for news and discussion about the Church and its role in global society.

Crux leaving The Boston Globe’s harbor for uncharted waters.

(courtesy of:

(image courtesy of:

In yet another turn of the religion journalism merry-go-round, The Boston Globe is ending its 18 month experiment with Crux. The Catholic centric blog was not paying its own bills, let along making money, according to Craig Douglas in the Boston Business Journal, “‘The problem is the business,’ [The Boston Globe’s Editor Brian] McGrory wrote. ‘We simply haven’t been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in 2014.'” In an interview with The Washington Post, John L. Allen, Jr., Crux’s Associate Editor, said,”‘We lost our sugar daddy. We’re not shutting down. We intend to continue,’ Allen said to the Post on Friday afternoon. ‘Big picture, it’s not really a surprise. I knew going in that it was kind of a novel venture for a mainstream outlet in the United States.'” In a blog posting notifying readers of the decision, Teresa Hanafin, Editor of Crux, explained where the blog’s staff will be going, “But the good news is that John Allen plans to continue the site, with assistance from Inés San Martín, our [The Boston Globe’s] Vatican correspondent. National reporter Michael O’Loughlin, columnist Margery Eagan, and our stable of freelancers will find other places for their work. I’ll move over to” O’Loughlin tweeted that, “It’s been a fun ride, and I couldn’t have asked for better colleagues at . I’m excited to figure out what’s next for me. Stay tuned!”

John L. Allen, Jr. (photo courtesy of:

John L. Allen, Jr.
(photo courtesy of:

As for Allen, the award winning journalist seems to be warming up to’s belief / Religion blog, according to Terry Mattingly, of GetReligion, “But let me ask the obvious question. In the past year or two, CNN has hired quite a few print/multimedia professionals to focus on political coverage. Might there be a way to link with Allen, who already does Vatican news commentary for CNN, to tie the Crux brand to CNN’s now rather low-profile “Belief” site?” CNN belief / Religion responded to Mattingly’s comments in a Tweet, “Sorry, , we have more stories and traffic than ever. But you’re right about one thing, we love and .” To which Mattingly Tweeted back, “Seeking input, like everyone else, from — Keep us posted, please. .” Allen’s / Crux Tweet replied, “ As soon as I know something, you’ll know it, but I promise you: Crux will thrive.” Allen will almost certainly thrive in whatever endeavor he engages it. Mattingly’s prognostication regarding CNN looks like a good guess considering Allen’s work on TV for the global news giant. Fr. James Martin’s, S.J., posted on his Facebook page, “Big news in the world of Catholic journalism. I wish my talented colleagues John Allen, Ines San Martin, Margery Eagan and Michael O’Loughlin all the best as they continue to find new ways to cover the Catholic church.” Mattingly also offered this picture of what a Crux without the backing of The Boston Globe will look like, “Note the reference to the loss of the site’s stable of freelancers. I assume that this means the smaller, restructured Crux will almost certainly not be able to pay competitive freelance fees to the wide array of voices that it featured. In line with other industry trends, we can probably expect to see many familiar names in the future – in aggregated features with links to the original articles on other sites.” Julie Zauzmer, of Acts of Faith (The Washington Post), writes that Allen knew the experiment was a gamble considering the current business environment of journalism, “‘It’s like having a website for stockcar racing or quilting or something like that. It appeals to a particular niche,’ Allen said. ‘To make a niche publication profitable exclusively through advertising sales, I don’t see too many examples of that working…so I have always thought that the future of niche publications has got to be a mix of sponsorship, donors, partnership arrangements. You have to think of yourself, to some extent, as a nonprofit.'”

Allen is a legend in the Catholic blogosphere and has always tried to steer clear of ideological, theological, and ecclesiological partisanship. He certainly will land on his feet, but what about the reporters, free lancers, and people behind the scenes who are not being absorbed back into the Globe? Religion journalism is facing the same stark landscape that the rest of the industry is. The question remains: Where will readers find reliable information and quality, balanced analysis of religion news in the future?


Building Bridges

Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner have been awarded “the oldest and most prestigious honor accorded to American Catholics.” The University of Notre Dame will give the 2016 Laetare Medal to Biden and Boehner at their commencement on May 15th. Michael O’Loughlin of The Boston Globe’s Crux blog writes, “The Laetare Medal has been awarded since 1883 to a Catholic ‘whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity,’ according to the university. It is named for the fourth Sunday in Lent, known as Laetare Sunday, the Latin word for ‘rejoice.'” The third person on the stage that day will be another bridge builder in the U.S. Catholic Church writes Michelle Boorstein for The Washington Post’s Acts of Faith blog, “Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Washington’s archbishop and one of the U.S. bishops closest to Francis, will receive an honorary doctorate that day in what many will see as a symbolic church approval of the bipartisan award.” Biden, Boehner, Wuerl are all being recognized for their ability to build bridges in the polarized political environment of the present day in the U.S., and the entire world.

Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner listen to Pope Francis address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24, 2015.

Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner listen to Pope Francis address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Sept. 24, 2015. (photo courtesy of: Getty Images)


Notre Dame sparked a firestorm in 2009 by having newly elected Pres. Obama give its commencement speech. Some bishops led a boycott and the animus their tone added fuel to the growing anger in the American electorate that is a raging inferno seven years later. Rocco Palmo in his blog Whispers in the Loggia states, “Yet even well outside the capital, facing the altered state of an anger-ridden polity likely to produce a Democratic nominee for the Presidency who advocates the full range of ‘reproductive freedom’ as a ‘fundamental human right’ against a Republican contender whose most prominent policy plank has been explicitly blasted by no less than the Pope as ‘not Christian,’ a quiet but significant rethinking has already been afoot in many quarters on how the church’s concerns in the nation’s public square are most effectively addressed.” Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter responds that the Catholic Church needs to help reduce the toxic culture it helped to create, “[Notre Dame President, Rev. John] Jenkins [C.S.C.] has made a bold move to begin the fraught process of dismantling the architecture of the culture warrior model of church that has plagued our church and our country for too long. It must be stated: That model of a culture war church is complicit in the politics of Donald Trump we witness today. The disrespect shown to President Obama shown by too many bishops in 2009 fed the anger than has now consumed the base of the Republican Party. And, as is usually the case with anger when left undirected and unmitigated, the venom is now more diffuse, directed at Muslims and Mexicans, at ‘losers’ and even fellow Republicans.”

Fr. Jenkins said of the two men, “they [Biden & Boehner] were leaders who put the good of the nation ahead of partisan victory, seeking through respectful dialogue honorable compromise and progress.” Many reporters and commentators have pointed to instances in their vast political careers where they have not always been consistent on bridge-building over partisan acrimony, but their overall orientation has pointed towards cooperation rather than polarization. This is very reminiscent of Pope Francis canonizing both Pope John Paul II AND Pope John XXIII on the same day (April 27, 2014), favoring neither liberal nor conservative. Winters sees an opportunity to heal divisions in South Bend, Ind.,”Fr. Jenkins has done an important thing. By lending his presence to the event, Cardinal Wuerl has done an important thing. This year’s Laetare award sends the unmistakable signal that the time for building walls, either those erected by the USCCB or those promised by Mr. Trump, has ended and the time for building bridges has begun.” Pope Francis has led by example in trying to build bridges, Notre Dame has followed suit, hopefully the U.S. bishops and the “Catholic vote” will respond.

How can one film spark so many conversations?

In what may ultimately be the finest movie about journalism ever made, Spotlight won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Picture as well as for Best Original Screenplay. This film has sparked conversations that go in many different directions.

The obvious one is the fact that Catholic bishops did not remove sex offenders from ministry and kept placing these deranged predators into an ideal situations for them to molest innocent children. 10 years after the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, the stories of sex abuse by clergy are still being written. It is good to see leaders within the Catholic Church embrace the movie and the work of The Boston Globe’s investigative unit which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Service. When Michael Keaton returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh for a special screening of the film sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bishop David Zubik was there. His presence was called “gutsy” by Keaton.

The other conversation is about the state of journalism today. In his Op-Ed in the USA Today William F. Baker pointed out that the National Catholic Reporter had been covering the story of clergy sex abuse and its cover-up in the Catholic Church for 17 years before The Boston Globe, “The NCR’s work embodies the virtues of robust print journalism, especially investigative reporting…And in an era when economic pressure has forced general interest publications to lay off their specialty reporters, we need niche publications such as the NCR more than ever, to pursue the truth and provide context and deeper understanding when crises become common knowledge.” Bob Smietana on Acts of Faith, The Washington Post’s religion blog, offers this interesting fact, “Not long after the first set of stories ran in early 2002, then-Globe religion reporter Michael Paulson joined the Spotlight team. His expertise about the Catholic Church proved essential, Spotlight editor Walter Robinson later said. ‘One of the things that made our coverage so much more distinctive than just being investigative revelations was Mike’s ability to step back and bring the whole Church into the context of the story,’ Robinson said.” Smietana is the immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association, and has this to say about the ‘God beat’, “But life on the religion beat is uncertain these days. While there are more people writing about religion, and enormous interest in the topic, there are fewer full-time pros on the beat, especially at newspapers. Many of those newspapers have dropped the religion beat or farmed it out to freelancers. Many religion writers cover a second beat at the same time.” RNA is trying to change that one newspaper at a time, but the process is slow.

When it comes to the film Spotlight, I will leave the final words to Justin Chang, Chief Film Critic for Variety, “‘Spotlight’ doesn’t bellow, harangue or manipulate; nor does it sensationalize, demonize or deify. It recognizes that humility, in art as well as in life, is not just attractive but authoritative. In every scene it exemplifies the calm intelligence of its subjects, and their mission becomes the movie’s own: the dogged, no-nonsense pursuit of truth and excellence, and a rigorous commitment to the art of storytelling. How wise of the Academy to follow suit.” Amen brother!