The role of the Catholic press

Church leaders share their wisdom

Illustration via Catholic Media Association

In less than two weeks, the church will mark the feast of St. Francis de Sales. The Jan. 24 feast day is an important observance for members of the Catholic press. St. Francis de Sales, who was named coadjutor bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, in 1599 and bishop in 1602, was an accomplished writer and preacher. He is also the patron saint of Catholic journalists.

During the month of February, the U.S. church will observe Catholic Press Month. It is an opportunity to reflect on the mission of the Catholic press and consider how well that mission is being served.

In general terms, our mission is to inform and form; that is, to present the news of the day accurately and objectively, and to offer instructional (catechetical) material to help educate readers about the faith. A third goal is to present editorial opinions on current issues in line with church teachings.

Each week, The Compass strives to accomplish this mission through informative news articles, both local and global. Sometimes news can be disquieting, such as reports of scandal and violence. Sometimes it can be inspiring, such as our “Catholic Neighbor” profiles.

We form readers in our faith through such offerings as the “Foundations of Faith” page, as well as spiritual and Scripture-related columns. Our opinion pages include editorials, guest commentaries and letters from our readers. Not every reader enjoys every offering, and some readers are quick to point this out.

In an occasional email, letter to the editor or telephone call, a reader will wonder why certain opinions or negative news is published in a diocesan newspaper. These are not new questions, but some people — especially those who feel that some mandate exists from Rome or the local chancery office — believe Catholic periodicals should present only positive news.

In a ceremony Nov. 11, 2021, honoring two journalists who cover the Vatican, Pope Francis thanked all journalists who report honestly and accurately about the church, including about its failings. He recognized Philip Pullella of Reuters News Agency and Valentina Alazrak of Noticieros Televisa in Mexico for their honest coverage of church news. 

“Thank you for what you tell us about what is wrong in the church, for helping us not to sweep it under the carpet,” he said, “and for the voice you have given to the victims of (sexual) abuse.”

Responding to the pope’s message, Maryknoll Fr. William Grimm, publisher for UCA News (the Union of Catholic Asian News), wrote in a Nov. 22 column titled “Honest evangelism needs honest journalism” that church media must do a better job of reporting accurate church news.

“The church desperately needs honest, objective, professional news sources or it will be useless for the proclamation of the Gospel,” wrote Fr. Grimm. “Such honesty, while sometimes embarrassing, will also be confirmation to the world that we are committed to the truth and therefore worthy of some trust.”

The priest, who earned his journalism degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, noted that 2,000 years ago, “when there was as yet no such thing as journalism, Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of those who exercised power among and against believers.”

“Today, that is part of the vocation of journalism,” he added.

The debate continues about the role of the Catholic press. Comments from two notable church leaders with influence in church communications give Catholic journalists and their readers a lot to ponder.