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Kerry WeberJune 29, 2023
people sit in a church at the catholic media conferenceAttendees of the Catholic Media Conference in Baltimore pray during a Mass celebrated on June 7 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

Home to the first diocese in the United States (1789), and later the first archdiocese (1808), Baltimore is a city brimming with Catholic history. And so it felt fitting that over 300 members of the Catholic Media Association gathered there in June for our annual convention. The Catholic Media Conference brings together journalists and communications professionals to share best practices, new ideas, encouragement and community. After three years of Covid-conscious, mostly virtual events, the strong showing at this year’s conference made it feel like a homecoming.

Home, to me at least, is a place where you can rest for a moment, where you can be yourself and be honest. It is a place where you can recharge before heading back out into the world with fresh perspectives. The C.M.A. conference seeks to offer these fresh perspectives and support. And Catholic journalists need this support.

As local newspapers close and newsrooms shrink around the United States, strong local Catholic journalism is increasingly crucial. We are part of a struggling industry, but the Catholic corner of the journalism world faces additional challenges. From culture wars to liturgy wars, the U.S. church is hurting.

There are as many reasons people struggle with their relationship to the church as there are people struggling. It does not help that ours is a church with self-inflicted wounds from the sexual abuse crisis. The crisis and the mishandling of the church’s response continue to drive people away: A poll found in 2019 that 37 percent of Catholics surveyed said that recent news of the abuse crisis had caused them to consider leaving the church, an increase of 15 percentage points from 2002.

Catholic journalists are immersed in these painful stories as a matter of course. Reporting on them can be exhausting, though the pain does not compare to that of people who have been harmed by the church firsthand. Still, it can take a toll.

“Catholic communicators tell the church’s story, but the church’s story is not always easy to tell because it is not always good news,” Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., said during his plenary address at the conference on June 9. “Sometimes you have to tell the hard truth or try to help the hierarchy tell the truth.”

It is not easy to hold both the sins of the church and its sacred beauty—and by this I mean first the faithful and the charitable works, though I mean the churches and art, too—in tension all the time.

It is not easy to hold both the sins of the church and its sacred beauty—and by this I mean first the faithful and the charitable works, though I mean the churches and art, too—in tension all the time. It can be hard not to be overcome by despair or to turn a blind eye to its problems. But journalism is always about truth. And the truth is that the church has both inflicted pain and relieved it. Catholic journalists must bring both types of stories into the light.

I am reminded of this when I read work like J.D. Long-García’s story in this issue about why Latinos are leaving Catholicism for Protestant churches. And in Eve Tushnet’s article about her efforts to build a more effective, more inclusive curriculum about the church’s teachings on L.G.B.T. people. And in Robert Ellsberg’s reflections on the meaning and power of sainthood. Today’s church includes all these unique moments of pain and of hope—and it is more than any one of them. Part of the role of a Catholic journalist is to hold all this in tension.

“Catholic journalists have a great challenge before them,” Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington said in his homily at the C.M.A. memorial Mass on June 9. “You must adhere to the highest principles of your profession. You must be diligent in research, honest in your editorial policy, competent in your use of the modern means of communication, but always motivated by the truth of Christ that is all too often only whispered in locked rooms or spoken in darkness.”

Being together at the conference with colleagues from across the county was a good reminder of our need to support one another in our shared mission. In its best moments, Catholic media helps people encounter Christ, whether through stories of work done in his name or through the revealing of evils that seek to tear it down. At its worst, Catholic media can fuel those divisions that can distract us from the work of the Gospel, the work of truth. Seeing people face to face helps to break down those divisions.

At one panel, conference presenters discussed the ways in which polarization drives deep wedges between us. But I was heartened to see that they were speaking to a crowd that included representatives and reporters from a wide variety of Catholic publications, all of us there to learn and to listen. All of us hopeful that, together, our work might help build a church that challenges and loves and invites people to feel at home.

Editor’s note: Kerry Weber was named Writer of the Year at the Catholic Media Association awards for 2022.

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