What? The press overlooked key Catholic stories in 2013?

First of all, I would like to stress that I had already decided, several days ago, to write the following post in praise of John L. Allen, Jr., and his relentless focus on the Catholic-beat news missed by so many other scribes.

That’s my story, friends and neighbors, and I am sticking to it.

In other words, I am not writing this post today because of the rather stunning announcement — almost universally cheered in religion-news land — that that Allen would be leaving the progressive National Catholic Reporter and signing on with The Boston Globe for several projects linked to religion-news reporting, with a heavy emphasis on Catholic coverage (duh). I was going to write this post last week, but I was still out on the road due to family issues down South.

One of the keys here is that Allen, while writing for a newspaper with a distinct editorial point of view, has always been known as a reporter who focused on providing waves of accurate information, which takes time and expertise, as opposed to merely offering an endless stream of editorial opinion, which is rather inexpensive and primarily serves the needs of a niche readership. It is to the credit of NCR leaders that they allowed Allen to do what he did, for so long.

Yesterday, I praised the Globe team for making a strategic move that is oh so logical, yet one that many mainstream news editors reject. They treated religion like a serious news topic and hired an experienced, trained, respected reporter to cover it. Trust me, newsroom managers, there are more than a few other skilled religion-beat pros available out there — old and young — in Internet land who are more than willing to do this work.

Anyway, I was pleased to see this tweet from Allen himself:

So back to our delayed subject for today. It focuses on one of Allen’s newsy journalistic rites:

It’s an “All Things Catholic” tradition to dedicate the first column of the new year to the most under-covered Catholic stories of the previous 12 months, which in the past has always seemed a good use of time given the sporadic and often radically incomplete coverage the church typically draws.

This year, however, it feels a little silly to be talking about Catholicism as under-covered, given the astronomic media interest generated by the resignation of Benedict XVI and the rise of Francis.

You think? Perhaps you noticed that tsunami of ink in the past year? If there is a Pope Francis effect, it primarily exists in newsrooms.

But, Allen rightly notes, that doesn’t mean that the mainstream press didn’t miss important Catholic coverage.

GetReligion readers will want to dissect the whole column — click here — but here are a few highlights. Please note that he avoided several major ongoing stories, such as the latest developments in the clergy sexual abuse crisis. This is the new stuff.

* What can be learned from the troubled story of Egyptian-born convert Magdi Cristiano Allam?

Allam was personally received into the church by Benedict XVI during the 2008 Easter vigil Mass, but announced in late March that he considered his allegiance “expired” because of a “softer” line on Islam under Francis. Allam published an essay adding four additional reasons for his defection: what he called the built-in “relativism” of Catholicism, its inherent tendency to “globalism” (instead of defending Western culture and values), its “do-gooder” streak, and its imposition of unrealistic teachings on sex and money.

Aside from the debatable fourth point, Allam was basically right on the first three.

* Will the charisma of Pope Francis have an impact in troubled Italy? What about in the Vatican itself?

… (The) conclave of 2013 was the most antiestablishment papal election of the last 100 years, fueled by a strong sense among prelates outside il bel paese that the Italian old guard had run the Vatican off the rails. …

Here’s why this matters for Catholics in other parts of the world. For centuries, the Italian episcopacy has formed the church’s central nervous system. They supply the vast majority of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps and a disproportionate share of the place’s other movers and shakers.

And in the future?

* Concerning this media-friendly pope and the “perils of projection.”

What happens when the pope grant an interview — say with veteran Italian journalist and nonbeliever Eugenio Scalfari — and it turns out that, well, some of those blockbuster quotes kind of came out of the scribe’s head? What about the colorful facts that were inaccurate? Where do Vatican insiders go from here?

Because the Francis papacy is rapidly evolving, it’s fair game for observers to offer their own interpretations about where it’s going and what it means. The lesson of the Scalfari story, however, is that sometimes, Rorschach-style psychological projection may come dressed up as analysis, even as quotation, so the rule of caveat emptor definitely applies.

And the most overlooked story of the year? That was a story linked to Pope Benedict XVI. But GetReligion readers were expecting that. Right?

Read it all.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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