Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), the progressive lay-run organization that has become a key conduit for Catholic concerns to the Obama administration and a principal advocate for Obama’s health care reform effort in Catholic circles, hosted a panel last night at the National Press Club on the subject of Catholicism and the media and how the narrative is changing. I was delighted to join author James Carroll and NCR Editor (and one of my other bosses) Joe Feuerhard to discuss the issue, with Channel 9’s Andrea Roane serving as moderator.
Joe Feuerhard gave the most on-point presentation, discussing the dwindling number of religion reporters in the mainstream media, and the fixation of the press on issues like abortion in their coverage of the Catholic Church. Of course, his newspaper and this magazine are even more important than before because of the lack of sophisticated religion reporters: If a reporter in, say, Cleveland or Omaha is thrown in to cover a story about Catholicism, they can turn to respected Catholic journals for information. And, the religion reporters who remain, many of whom are sophisticated and smart - Laurie Goodstein at the Times, Michelle Boorstein and Jacqui Salmon at the Post, Michael Paulson at the Globe, Cathy Grossman at USAToday, Amy Sullivan at Time and Dan Gilgoff at USNews (apologies to anyone I am leaving out!) - they do a great job not only educating their readers with their own articles but educating their colleagues whose areas of expertise sometimes clash with religion.
I had not met James Carroll until last night and he is about the nicest man on the planet and he tells a story with grace and flair to which few of us can even aspire. But, I confess I do not recognize the Catholicism he sees, a Catholicism where the hierarchy is, if not insignificant than at least more negligible that our tradition suggests, a Catholicism that is socially engaged but only on issues that concern the Left, and finally a Catholicism where the primacy of conscience and the spirit of the Council are used to justify almost any stance imaginable. I cannot feel any sense of affinity for his vision of Catholicism anymore than I can with the reactionary and nostalgic Catholicism of EWTN. But, Catholicism is a big Church and there is room for Carroll as there is room for Mother Angelica. Still, I could not resist putting in a good word for Humanae Vitae with Mr. Carroll seated just on my left.
CACG, unlike some other progressive Catholic groups, has stayed out of intra-ecclesial issues. It does not advocate for women’s ordination. Indeed, their loyalty to the Church’s teaching on abortion has earned them the ire of others on the political Left just as their commitment to progressive health care reform and other issues has earned them the ire of Catholic conservatives. They are as responsible for changing the narrative of Catholicism and the media, at least on the important issues that arise when religious and political concerns intersect. In that estuary, conservative Catholics have long had a voice and too often it was the only voice. Today there is a cacophony of Catholic voices which is as it should be in a democracy. The challenge now for politically engaged Catholics is to leave the zero-sum attitudes of partisan politics at the vestibule to the Church and to rekindle the fraternal bonds that unite us all as Catholics.