“Listening” is the theme of Pope Francis’ message for World Communications Day, celebrated in the Church this Sunday, May 29. It is a vital skill, especially necessary for Church leadership as we travel together through the current synodal process in which Catholics from every walk of life are encouraged to speak from their hearts about the future of the Church.
In discerning truth from lies, accurate information from disinformation, listening needs to be honed by all of us so that we can hear, within the cacophony that is today’s social media, that “still, quiet voice” of God.
Yet how can we listen and discern if some of the most important channels of communication within the Catholic Church are being silenced? I refer to a couple recent decisions by U.S. Church leaders that have reduced the Catholic voice in a way that will be felt around the world.
Earlier this month, the U.S. bishops’ conference announced that it was shutting down the domestic operations of its highly respected Catholic News Service. Based in Washington, DC, CNS has operated for more than a century delivering high-quality, well-researched news on the Church in the world. Its Rome bureau is known globally for comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date coverage of the Pope and the relations between the Vatican and the world.
The sudden announcement, which will result in the loss of 21 jobs of journalists and other communicators, sent a shockwave throughout Catholic media. In the U.S., where hundreds of small-to-large Catholic newspapers and magazines, many owned by dioceses around the country, rely on CNS, editors were taken aback to discover their main source of international and national news, photos and analysis would be drastically reduced as of December 31.
The one consolation is that the Rome bureau remains intact and its content will continue to be provided, now free of charge, to CNS clients, at least in the U.S. However, many questions remain about what remnants of CNS will survive and how such content will be delivered.
In the wake of this decision, the Catholic Media Association, representing more than 800 members across the U.S. and a handful in Canada, has set up an ad hoc committee to see what can rise from the ashes of CNS (full disclosure: I am a member of this committee).
But CNS was not relied upon only in the United States. For better or worse, what happens to the Catholic Church in the United States, not to mention how moral issues evolve in that country, is important to Catholics everywhere. Catholic media in Canada, and many other countries around the world, relied on CNS for dependable and timely coverage of these issues.
A week after the CNS revelation, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it was closing the venerable newspaper, Catholic New York. It once had more than 100,000 subscribers and was the primary voice for the Church to one of the largest and most important cities in the world. That, too, will end later this year.
Canada is no stranger to the slow death of Catholic media. There were once dozens of thriving, if small, independent and diocesan newspapers and magazines. Few remain today, with such valuable services as The Catholic Register, the B.C. Catholic, Salt and Light TV and Presence.info in Quebec doing yeoman’s work.
In both U.S. cases, a lack of finances was cited as the main reason for the closings. Promises were made that the Church would continue to make its views known through various communications departments and their social media. But this represents a profound misunderstanding of how real journalism — not stage-managed by public relations professionals — also serves the mission of the Church on earth.
Catholic journalism offers us both a voice to the world and a mirror of ourselves. Through our own newspapers, magazines, web sites, news services, radio and TV outlets, as well as the vast network of all those operating in mass communications, we talk to each other and listen to each other. When we lose those voices, we are all diminished.
Joseph Sinasac is Publishing Director at Novalis. He has been involved with religious communications for more than 40 years as an author, journalist, editor and TV and radio commentator on all things Catholic. He continues to be excited by the commitment and passion of the Catholics he meets in his daily work.