What is the role of the Catholic press?
Editor’s note: This article has been republished as part of America’s special 110th anniversary issue. It was originally published Nov. 19, 1955.
“Often the utterance is made that we are a bound people, that we are dictated to. Only the truth dictates to us. There is no greater power than that.” James Francis Cardinal Mclntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles, said this to a Pacific Coast regional meeting of the Catholic Press Association on Oct. 31 in Los Angeles.
The Cardinal encouraged Catholic editors to exercise greater fortitude in their editorial policies. The Catholic press, he said, “cannot be neutral.” Editors “must have a policy. We do not admit of neutrality.” That policy, he continued, must invoke the virtue of fortitude and couple it with temperance and charity.
Bishop Robert J. Dwyer of Reno, himself a columnist in the Nevada Register, spoke on the same occasion of the responsibilities of Catholic editors. If an editor is by nature a liberal, he said, he must strive to penetrate the illiberality of much that passes for liberalism. If, on the other hand, an editor is by bent a conservative, he should school himself to identify what is faulty and extraneous in conservative programs. “Liberalism pursued and defended at all costs, as well as conservatism glorified into a permanent thesis of Christian dogma,” are equally to be avoided.
At times there is a wide diversity of views reflected in the Catholic press—not, of course, in matters of faith or morality—but in questions of opinion that come within the wide area of the Church’s solicitude for man.
How wide should the concerns of the Catholic journalist be? Bishop Joseph McShea, Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, answered this in an address he gave Nov. 4 in Philadelphia to the Eastern regional meeting of the same association. The Church, he said, has “at least a potential interest in everything that affects or touches the human personality and the salvation of souls.” The Catholic press should mirror these world-ranging interests.
At times there is a wide diversity of views reflected in the Catholic press—not, of course, in matters of faith or morality—but in questions of opinion that come within the wide area of the Church’s solicitude for man. Sometimes the reader of the Catholic press is puzzled by the fact that the editorial opinions he reads are expressed in very tentative, not final and infallible, form. Sometimes one paper contradicts another.
It is well to remember that today’s problems are varied and complicated. Those who look for simple, unqualified answers from the papers they read could profitably recall what Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago, said to the Catholic Press Association in May, 1954 in Chicago:
We don’t want to make every statement in a Catholic newspaper, even in the so-called official diocesan newspaper, an authoritative statement. Always we leave a lot of liberty to the press in expressing its opinions and convictions, and always we are ready to present both sides of a debatable question.
In fact, the Chicago Cardinal went on to say, there is no question but that the Catholic press would be more effective “if it engaged a little more in controversy on debatable subjects.”
By a mandate from the successors of the apostles, Catholic editors share in the teaching mission of the Church. It is a sacred trust, carrying many responsibilities. It would certainly be out of place for them to insist on what Cardinal Stritch has called an “unfortunate uniformity” in matters which the Church herself considers to be still under debate.
These directions from the hierarchy are valuable guidelines for Catholic editors. It would do no harm for all of us frequently to repeat to ourselves the words of Cardinal Mclntyre: “You have a potential power that I fear is not being realized.”