The most-viewed stories of 2018: Politics, the church in crisis and some much-needed comic relief

Father James Martin’s interview with late-night host Stephen Colbert was America’s most-watched video of 2018.Father James Martin’s interview with late-night host Stephen Colbert was America’s most-watched video of 2018.

In late April, we noticed a dramatic jump in visitors to America’s website, as our national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin reported on an attempt—ultimately unsuccessful—to remove James Conroy, a Jesuit, from the post of chaplain in the U.S. House of Representatives. How long ago that seems now.

The Father Conroy story turned out to be a blip in an extraordinarily tumultuous year both in U.S. politics and in the church. Stories from Washington and the Vatican brought tens of thousands of new readers to America, but many other stories also sparked interest, from profiles of cultural figures like the comedian Jim Gaffigan (whose Catholic family was also the subject of one of our most popular videos) to wry reflections on proper behavior at Mass. America’s multimedia offerings also attracted record audiences, led by the new “Faith in Focus” video series and a conversation between America’s editor-at-large James Martin, S.J., and the comedian Stephen Colbert, who hosts CBS’s “The Late Show.”

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The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh dominated the news in September. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

The most-viewed America story of the year, by a wide margin, was an editorial withdrawing the magazine’s endorsement of Brett Kavanaugh for a Supreme Court seat, referring to his confirmation hearings as “a bellwether of the way the country treats women when their reports of harassment, assault and abuse threaten to derail the careers of powerful men.” Mr. Kavanaugh was accused of committing sexual assault some 35 years ago, when he was a student at the Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School; and in addition to the partisan fight over his nomination, there was a debate over how Catholic schools prepare young men to behave in a society that is still marked by sexism and a lack of recognition for women’s achievements. Essays from the presidents of both Georgetown Preparatory School and Fordham Preparatory School on how they work to prevent a culture of “toxic masculinity” at their all-boys Jesuit schools were also among our most popular articles during the fall.

The second-most-viewed story, as measured by the total time that all readers spent on each article (a metric that rewards not only attracting readers, but keeping them engaged) was by Mr. O’Loughlin. He critically examined a letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, accusing Pope Francis of mishandling allegations of sexual misconduct against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. This was only one of many stories by Mr. O’Loughlin and America’s Vatican correspondent, Gerard O’Connell, explaining the sexual abuse crisis and its ramifications for the church.

The most-viewed America story of the year was an editorial withdrawing the magazine’s endorsement of Mr. Kavanaugh for a Supreme Court seat.

Just behind the Viganò story was an essay by Father Martin explaining church teaching on homosexuality—a topic that gained renewed attention as some in the church tried to link a “homosexual subculture” to the sexual abuse crisis. This was followed by a Short Take on criminal justice reform by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, written before she upset a 20-year incumbent on her way to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from New York. Not far behind was an essay by Jack Bentz, S.J., on the distressing number of Mass-goers who plant themselves at the end of pews: “We try to sit where we can have as little contact with other people as possible—choosing our seats at Mass as we would on a cramped trans-Atlantic flight with unpleasant strangers.”

Readers were curious about the upset winner of a congressional race, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

As a way to show the breadth of popular content in America, we have listed the top story for each of the past 12 months from each of our three major sections: Arts & Culture, Faith, and Politics & Society (see below). In addition to Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan, the well-known names that popped up on the list include Bruce Springsteen, David Chappelle, Patricia Heaton and the author of the “Little House” books, Laura Ingalls Wilder. There was also an addition to Colleen Dulle’s widely shared series on the history of Catholic hymns, this one on “Be Not Afraid.”

America Media’s video team attracted record audiences on our YouTube channel, led by the “Faith in Focus” episode with Mr. Colbert, an explanation of Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” and a discussion about religion and civil discourse, with Father Martin and the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. America’s podcasts also gained new listeners; the most popular episode of “Jesuitical” featured another comedian, Sarah Silverman, speaking on “Whether Hell Exists and Why She Loves the Jesuits.”

As for classic content from previous years, “10 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty” was once again the most popular, thanks to readers from the college-age crowd (presumably writing term papers), followed by a rundown of the “Top 12 Parables” from the Bible. Sadly, there were also reasons for prayers published in response to gun violence and in anticipation of hurricanes to find new audiences. We cannot predict what 2019 will bring in terms of news stories, but it is encouraging that our readers always seem to make time for both prayer and humorous takes on life.


Most popular America stories by month

The top story from each of our three major sections (Arts & Culture, Faith and Politics & Society). as measured by the total time that all readers spent on each article.Only stories original to America Media are counted; each story is counted for the month of its highest readership only. Some content is posted on the America Media website before it appears in print.

Patricia Heaton

December 2017
How Jesuits and Jedi are more alike than you might think,” Jason Welle, Dec. 13

A Christmas prayer for (nearly) everyone,” James Martin, S.J., Dec. 21

Iceland isn’t eliminating Down syndrome—they are just killing everyone who has it,” Patricia Heaton, Dec. 25 issue

January
Dave Chappelle and the ‘imperfect allies’ the #MeToo movement needs,” Bill McGarvey, Jan. 12

Discovering my priesthood as a Catholic woman in Protestant seminary,” Nancy Small, Jan. 22 issue

I’m unapologetically pro-life, and I’m ashamed that Trump spoke at the March for Life,” Haley Stewart, Jan. 19

February
Creationism isn’t about science, it’s about theology (and it’s really bad theology),” Eric Sundrup, S.J., Jan. 30

Dear regular Mass-goers: The seats at the end of the pew aren’t for you,” Jack Bentz, S.J., Feb. 14

How Billy Graham shaped American Catholicism,” Jon M. Sweeney, Feb. 21 (published in April 2 issue)

March
The passions of Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan,” Bill McGarvey, March 21 (published in April 2 issue)

I came out as a gay, Catholic priest on the Feast of the Annunciation,” Rev. Fred Daley, March 23

Everything you’re hearing about Katy Perry and the L.A. Catholic sisters is probably wrong,” Jim McDermott, S.J., March 26

Bruce Springsteen (AP Images)

April
The enduring Catholic imagination of Bruce Springsteen,” Brian P. Conniff, April 30 issue

Top five takeaways from ‘Gaudete et Exsultate,’”James Martin, S.J., April 9

Report: House chaplain, a Jesuit priest, was forced out by Speaker Paul Ryan,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, April 26

May
Jordan Peterson: An interview with the preaching professor,” Anna J. Marchese, April 27

All of Chile’s bishops offer resignations after meeting pope on abuse,” Gerard O’Connell, May 18

Who was the Jesuit priest mentioned during the Royal Wedding sermon?” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin), Angelo Jesus Canta, May 19

June
“‘Be Not Afraid’: The song that eases the biggest transitions in—and out of—life,” Colleen Dulle, June 14

The grace-filled encounter between Paul McCartney and James Corden,” James Martin, S.J., June 26

My Catholic faith and the urgency of criminal justice reform,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, June 27 

The Village Montessori Center in Cleveland. (CNS photo/William Rieter) 

July
Laura Ingalls Wilder is my hero, but her books tell a painful American story,” Haley Stewart, July 12

Albany priest describes culture of harassment under McCarrick,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, July 25

Montessori schools are exceptionally successful. So why aren’t there more of them?”, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, July 9 issue

August
Why you should watch the 2014 film ‘Calvary’ after the sex abuse scandal,” Jordan Daniel Wood, Aug. 21

Viganò’s accusations: What we know and what questions they raise,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, Aug. 26 (published in Sept. 17 issue)

A Libertarian Case for the Common Good,” Stephanie Slade, Aug. 20 issue

September
Review: ‘The Nun’ highlights the fear of losing one’s faith and identity,” Eve Tushnet, Sept. 13

Brett Kavanaugh and toxic masculinity: lessons from another all-male Jesuit high school,” Christopher J. Devron, S.J. (president of Fordham Preparatory School), Sept. 19

It is time for the Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn,” the editors of America, Sept. 27

From “My Ancestor Owned 41 Slaves.” (iStock, AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

October
Jordan Peterson understands your suffering,” Bill McCormick, S.J., Oct. 26 (published in Nov. 12 issue)

Working for hope in a season of contempt,” James Van Dyke, S.J. (president of Georgetown Preparatory School), Oct. 3

Why America magazine called for the withdrawal of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination,” Matt Malone, S.J., Oct 15 issue

November
My ancestor owned 41 slaves. What do I owe their descendants?”, John W. Miller, Nov. 28

Father Thomas Keating’s parting wisdom for a divided church and country,” Tim Shriver, Nov. 21

Deployment to Iraq changed my view of God, country and humankind. So did coming home.”,  Phil Klay, Nov. 11 (published in Dec. 10 issue)


Other stats on America magazine website content (Dec. 2017-Nov. 2018)

Most-viewed stories, by total time on page 

1. “It is time for the Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn,” the editors of America, Sept. 27

2. “Viganò’s accusations: What we know and what questions they raise,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, Aug. 26 (published in Sept. 17 issue)

3. “What is the official church teaching on homosexuality? Responding to a commonly asked question,” James Martin, S.J., April 30 issue

4. “My Catholic faith and the urgency of criminal justice reform,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, June 27

5. “Dear regular Mass-goers: The seats at the end of the pew aren’t for you,” Jack Bentz, S.J., Feb. 14

6. “Albany priest describes culture of harassment under McCarrick,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, July 25

7. “10 reasons to oppose the death penalty,” Mary Meehan, Nov. 20, 1982

8. “Report: House chaplain, a Jesuit priest, was forced out by Speaker Paul Ryan,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, April 26

9. ”A Christmas prayer for (nearly) everyone,” James Martin, S.J., Dec. 21, 2017

10. “Montessori schools are exceptionally successful. So why aren’t there more of them?,” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, July 9 issue


Most-viewed Dispatch stories

U.S. House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy, S.J. (CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

1. “Report: House chaplain, a Jesuit priest, was forced out by Speaker Paul Ryan,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, April 26

2. “Viganò’s accusations: What we know and what questions they raise,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, Aug. 26

3. “Pope Francis appoints three women as consultants to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Gerard O’Connell, April 21

4. “Catholic leaders denounce Sessions’s asylum decision: ‘We have truly lost our moral compass’,” Kevin Clarke, June 13

5. “Cardinal Burke: It is ‘licit’ to call for the resignation of Pope Francis,” Gerard O’Connell, Aug. 29

6. “The migrant caravan through the eyes of Catholic social teaching,” J.D. Long-García, Oct. 23

Rev. Martina Viktorie Kopecká at the Synod on young people (Vatican Media)

7. “Alfie’s last days: a little boy’s life and death stoked a furious debate that will not soon end,” Kevin Clarke, April 26

8. “What’s it like being the only female cleric at the synod on young people?”, Luke Hansen, S.J., Oct. 22

9. “What happened when a dad challenged his priest during Mass about the sex abuse crisis,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, Aug. 22

10. “Cardinal Tobin warns against temptation to shrink Catholic community to pure members,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, April 13


Classics

Most-viewed stories in 2018 from prior years.

1. “10 reasons to oppose the death penalty,” Mary Meehan, Nov. 20, 1982

2. “Top 12 Parables” (The Good Word column), John W. Martens, Sept. 22, 2010

3. “Pope Francis: ‘Those who have tried to destroy the church’ throughout history ‘are themselves destroyed’”, Gerard O’Connell, June 29, 2015

4. ““Here I Am, Lord’: The little-known story behind a Catholic hit,” Colleen Dulle, Oct. 12, 2017

5. “The horror of ‘Room’ is closer to a documentary than a fantasy,” Michael V. Tueth, S.J., Nov. 23, 2015

6. “Gun control is a pro-life issue,” James Martin, S.J., Dec. 17, 2012

7. “How much do Catholic priests and their lay colleagues make? A new report gives answers.”, Michael J. O’Loughlin, Aug. 11, 2017

8. “When a Jew and a Catholic marry,” Mark Oppenheimer, Aug. 24, 2017

9. “A prayer for angry Catholics,” James Martin, S.J., June 6, 2012

10. “William Calley Lives,” Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., April 10, 2012 (2018 was the 50th anniversary of the MyLai massacre in Vietnam)


Stories especially popular with various age groups

18-24: “What is the official church teaching on homosexuality? Responding to a commonly asked question,” James Martin, S.J., April 30 issue

25-34: “My Catholic faith and the urgency of criminal justice reform,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, June 27

35-44: “Dear regular Mass-goers: The seats at the end of the pew aren’t for you,” Jack Bentz, S.J., Feb. 14

45-54: “It is time for the Kavanaugh nomination to be withdrawn,” the editors of America, Sept. 27

55-64: “Report: House chaplain, a Jesuit priest, was forced out by Speaker Paul Ryan,” Michael J. O’Loughlin, April 26

65+: “A Christmas prayer for (nearly) everyone,” James Martin, S.J., Dec. 21


Stories read by twice as many women as men

A Christmas prayer for (nearly) everyone,” James Martin, S.J., Dec. 21

Montessori schools are exceptionally successful. So why aren’t there more of them?”, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, July 9 issue

How you can help parents struggling with young children at Mass,” Colleen Duggan, Aug. 20 issue

Stories read by twice as many men as women

Jordan Peterson: An interview with the preaching professor,” Anna J. Marchese, April 27

William Calley Lives, Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.,” April 10, 2012 (2018 was the 50th anniversary of the MyLai massacre in Vietnam)

Alan Jacobs: a Christian intellectual for the internet age,” David J. Michael, Spring Literary Review


Most popular videos

1. Stephen Colbert on faith, God and politics in the age of Trump (Faith in Focus), Nov. 15

2. “Gaudete et Exsultate”: Top five takeaways from Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, April 9

3. Father James Martin and Ross Douthat discuss religion and civil discourse, Jan. 26

4. Spiritual insights for L.G.B.T. Catholics, March 7

5. Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan on raising five children with faith and humor (Faith in Focus), Oct. 18


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