2022’s most popular Catholic stories: Pope Francis interview, war in Ukraine and the end of Roe v. Wade
Donald Trump is out of the White House and Covid-19 is no longer in the headlines every day, but there was plenty of new drama in 2022. Can anyone say it has been a slow news year when Pope Francis said, “World War III has been declared,” in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February? Or when the Supreme Court overturned one of the most divisive opinions in its history?
America had lots of news to cover this year, but our most widely read article was our exclusive interview with Pope Francis, released on Nov. 28, in which the pope discussed religious and political polarization, racism, Vatican-China relations, and church teaching on the ordination of women. Five representatives of America Media met the pope at Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where he resides, and as Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell reported, he was “sharp and humorous,” saying, “The Catholic unites the good and the not-so-good. There is only one people of God.”
Our second most widely read article came out of left field: John Miller’s feature story on “How America Sold Out Little League Baseball,” as the costs of participation have made it a “mostly white country-club sport for upper-class families.” Mr. Miller reminds us that Pope Francis has said that sports should be available for “the youth who live at the edges of society,” and though Catholic and regional organizations still offer an alternative, for-profit “pay-to-play” Little League teams are taking over.
The year in review, month by month
Here is a rundown of some of the most popular articles on America’s website over the past 12 months, measured by both the number of readers and the time they spent reading each article.
December 2021—The most widely read America story in the last month of 2021 was by Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell, beginning in a way that has become familiar during this papacy: “On the flight back from Athens to Rome, Pope Francis surprised journalists…” This time, Francis was answering questions about the resignation of the archbishop of Paris over accusations of sexual misconduct, saying “I accepted his resignation, not on the altar of truth but on the altar of hypocrisy.”
Also that month, America chief correspondent Kevin Clarke admitted, “I just don’t get the controversy over the traditional Latin Mass”; Colleen Dulle, co-host of America’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast, gave readers “An inside look at Dorothy Day’s contested canonization process”; and John W. Miller asked, “Is it time for Catholics to stop eating meat?”
January 2022—Speaking of meat, Jim McDermott, S.J., had a beef with the reboot of the classic British drama “All Creatures Great and Small,” calling it “lovely to watch—and deeply untrue” in its failure to recognize that “the meat that most of us happily eat has always come at the cost of the lives of creatures that we profess to love.”
A love for animals also figured into the furor over Pope Francis’ offhand remark lamenting when “dogs and cats take the place of children” in modern families. Ashley McKinless and Zac Davis, hosts of America’s “Jesuitical” podcast, talked about the controversy, and the transcript of “What did Pope Francis actually say about having pets or kids?” clicked with readers—as did the column by then-America editor in chief Matt Malone, S.J., “Pope Francis was right about pets and kids.”
Also in January, Father McDermott interviewed “Sister Jeannine Gramick on being censured by the Vatican, 50 years of ministry and her hopes for L.G.B.T. Catholics.” And we published one of our most widely shared editorials of the past few years, “Catholic leaders need to start listening to those who have left religion behind.”
February 2022—Readers showed the most interest in Mr. O’Connell’s report on Pope Benedict asking for forgiveness in responding to a report on sexual abuse by clergy that occurred on his watch when he was the Archbishop of Munich. In other news from the Vatican, Pope Francis announced a major overhaul of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In the United States, Mr. Clarke reported on the political backlash to Catholic Charities and other faith-based organizations providing aid to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border—the message from two nuns: “We don’t have any intention of stopping.”—and J.D. Long-García, America senior editor, reported on how the diocese of Monterey, Calif., is participating in the global Synod on Synodality. And Ms. McKinless spoke with James Martin, S.J., about “Praying for peace in Ukraine—even when it feels useless.”
March 2022—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominated global news, and the historian Jane Sloan Peters explained how Our Lady of Fátima, a Marian apparition to child shepherds in Portugal in 1917, is relevant to Russian history and to the current conflict. (Hint: It has to do with prayers for the conversion of Communist Russia during the Cold War.)
The third month of the year is noted in the offices of America for “March Madness,” and Sarah Vincent, an O’Hare fellow, made the case that “Saint Peter’s is this year’s Cinderella team” in the college basketball tournament (“but that’s not the only reason this tiny Jesuit school is inspiring”). And the theologian Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., offered a reflection for Ash Wednesday, specifically “Why so many Catholics want to get their ashes—even if they rarely go to Mass.”
April 2022—In the final days of Lent, readers were most taken by “The Easter Vigil is the longest liturgy of the year. And it’s so, so worth your time,” by Kerry Weber, an America executive editor. (“It is a Mass that bears only a basic resemblance to typical Catholic weekend worship, but in breaking from that form it brings home the power of the Resurrection anew.”)
Also, Father McDermott asked and answered, “Is Pope Francis prepping for doomsday in the church? I hope so.” Referring to the continued decline in the ordination of priests, Father McDermott asked, “What if Francis has spent the last nine years building an ark?”—that is, a “non-clerical basis for authority that the church of the future is going to need to survive”? And America’s national correspondent, Michael O’Loughlin, reported on controversial remarks by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican U.S. Representative from Georgia, in which she called U.S. bishops “satanic” and accused them of “destroying our nation” through their support of migrants.
May 2022—As noted above, Little League baseball was the topic of our most-viewed story in May. That was followed by our article on Pope Francis’ support for L.G.B.T. parish ministry, via a letter to Father Martin in which he said, “God does not disown any of his children.” This same month, Father Martin announced the launch of Outreach, a website that provides resources for L.G.B.T. Catholics.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco made news in May by announcing that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would be barred from Communion in her home diocese because of her support for abortion. The host of America’s “Gloria Purvis Podcast” interviewed Archbishop Cordileone, and the transcript of their discussion (in which he said, “the scandal here is that someone who is strongly advocating for something as evil as abortion and taking Communion creates confusion among people”) generated dozens of reader comments.
June 2022—Pope Francis’ blunt characterization of Russia’s attack against Ukraine—“World War III has been declared,” he said in an interview with the editors of European Jesuit publications—got the most attention from our readers. “Tragic scenarios are being reenacted,” the pope said, “and once more reciprocal extortionate demands made by a few potentates are stifling the voice of a humanity that cries out for peace.”
In one of the biggest stories of the year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 in a 6-to-3 decision, returning the issue of abortion restrictions to the states. Americahas covered the topic from a variety of perspectives, but among the most widely read reactions were “I support overturning Roe. But pro-lifers need to understand why so many Americans fear this decision,” first written in May (when there was a leak of the Supreme Court decision) by Sam Sawyer, S.J., now the editor in chief of America; and “We need to talk about ‘life of the mother’ exceptions in abortion law,” by Jacqui Oesterblad.
July 2022—Have you created a portrait of yourself (or your cat) with an artificial intelligence art generator yet? This summer, Stephen McNulty, an America editorial intern, took on a more challenging assignment: “I asked an AI art generator to draw Catholicism in 20 different ways. Here’s what I learned.” The results captured the imagination of our readers and impressed our writer with their variety: “Some figures employ the styles and motifs of eastern Catholicisms, others depict the Holy City Jerusalem. Some filters draw us towards what seems to be the Eucharist, while others point to the Cross shining in the bright light of Heaven.”
Also in July, Father McDermott made a plea: “I’m a Catholic priest. But please don’t call me Father.” He explained, “we will all be a lot better off when fewer distinctions are made between us clergy and everyone else.” And Ricardo da Silva, S.J., an associate editor at America, used the occasion of Pope Francis’ trip to Canada (during which the pope apologized for the church’s past abuses of Indigenous peoples) to explain the “doctrine of discovery,” which was developed through papal statements in the 15th century to justify colonization and even the enslavement of non-Christians.
August 2022—Valerie Schultz, a freelance writer and frequent contributor to America, struck a nerve with readers through her Faith in Focus essay “The secret to aging—physically and spiritually—with grace.” Contemplating hip surgery, she concluded, “We can’t stop time, but we can befriend it, be kind to it, rather than race against it…. We may have to slow our pace a bit on our walk to God’s finish line.”
Also that month: America’s newest class of O’Hare fellows profiled the 16 new cardinals created by Pope Francis who are eligible to vote in a papal conclave. And Father McDermott explained the “Lessons for evangelization from Britney Spears’s journey with the Catholic Church.” (“Pundits seemed to spend a lot of energy debating whether or not she had officially converted, but to my mind, they missed the point entirely. She had been to Mass and was happy enough about the experience to mention it and kid around a bit.”)
September 2022—Pope John Paul I was beatified on Sept. 4, and many readers wanted to know more about the man who served as the leader of the Catholic Church for just 33 days in 1978. James T. Keane, a senior editor for America, provided a primer to the life of the “smiling pope.”
As a new school year began, Mr. O’Loughlin reported on several topics of interest to readers, including the controversy over who will run the Newman Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus and the tension between students and older parishioners there; and “How Catholic schools are facing questions of gender identity.” New policies in primary and secondary schools “seek to clarify what is acceptable when it comes to gender identity and expression.”
October 2022—Who wouldn’t want to know “The final secret of the Vatican’s Jesuit saint maker”? Kenneth L. Woodward, of the Lumen Christi Institute, recounted the life of Kurt Peter Gumpel, S.J., who died this year just shy of his 99th birthday. Father Gumpel “shepherded more than 150 candidates through the sometimes byzantine process by which the Roman Catholic Church investigates, studies and judges those found worthy (or unworthy) of veneration as saints”—and he kept his own family history a secret from almost everyone who knew him.
In more education news, Mr. Clarke reported on new evidence that Catholic schools outperformed public and charter schools in the first assessment of student achievement following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, America Media premiered its groundbreaking feature documentary “People of God: How Catholic Parish Life is Changing in the United States,” which looks at parish life in four different parts of the United States at a time when churches are closing, there’s a shortage of priests and many younger Catholics are leaving the faith.
November 2022—America’s exclusive interview with Pope Francis attracted the most readers for the month (and the year), but No. 2 in the month before Christmas was Father McDermott’s story on the origin of the “Carol of the Bells”—and how it relates to the cause of independence for Ukraine. The story can also be heard on the America podcast “Hark!”, which explores the fascinating stories behind our favorite Christmas songs.
Finally, November brought another national election, and America analyzed the results in several articles; in the most popular, Patrick T. Brown of the Ethics and Public Policy Center warned, “After its midterm failures, the pro-life movement must change its tactics—or it will die.”