Last Monday afternoon (November 19) featured a panel of four top Journalists at Catholic University talking about the current crisis in the Church. Ross Douthat (New York Times) moderated Christopher White (Crux), Elizabeth Bruenig (Washington Post), and J. D. Flynn (Catholic News Agency).
Bruenig: “Just Tell the Truth”
Elizabeth Bruenig had the most powerful line, proposing a simple solution to the whole McCarrick fiasco. She explained, “You can make it all go away. Just tell the truth… It will only increase in moral costs as long as that solution is put off.”
Obviously, such a solution hurts in the short term. However, from what I’ve seen in a few cases, transparency is a big boost long-term.
When asked one thing she’d do if given the power, Bruenig repeated her call: “Tell the truth. Shame the Devil.”
Flynn Puts Things in Context
J. D. Flynn pointed out a few things that help with context. He pointed out how we tend to run everything through the lens of ideological battles in the Church: conservatives want dirt on liberals and vice versa. Instead, he proposed that we should be concerned about sexual misconduct in the Church, no matter the side. He even mentioned the trouble of having to post stories of the bishop he worked for but who didn’t deal with abuse properly.
He also noted a difference in attitude between Catholics in the USA and in places like Rome. Flynn said that we Americans are sacramentalized puritans while Southern Europeans are sacramentalized pagans: so, we’re surprised when religious leaders are sinners, but they are surprised when they’re saints. (I’m trying to be a saint, but far from that.)
Flynn pointed out a possible upside to the seemingly fruitless USCCB meeting last week, in that he saw bishops being much franker and human than previously where they tended to be more businessman-like in public forums like this. He said, “If the conference can evolve to something more synodal and not so corporate, that might be a positive outgrowth of last week’s Baltimore meeting.”
Christopher White was also impressed by how open bishops were at the meeting, both in public and in private.
Finally, Flynn indicated that bishops could codify procedures for when a priest is unchaste with a consensual adult rather than the current uncertainty dealing with every instance case-by-case.
Clickbait Catholic News?
The first question from the floor was a little tense. Dawn Eden Goldstein, a professor at Holy Apostles Seminary, asked about how the economic necessity of clicks might lead Catholic media to become more just clickbait, rather than objective reporting, “like InfoWars.” She pointed out that 1Peter5 has gone that way and expressed concerns other sites might tend that way. She noted that Ross Douthat quotes 1Peter5 over sources that are more objective in his book. Douthat avoided fireworks, however, by simply admitting extremists exist and passing the main question to the two working in Catholic media. Flynn and White explained the tension, noting how they double-check facts.
Let’s pray that the bishops are led by the Holy Spirit for what is best for the Church long term, not just a Band-Aid solution. I have no magic bullet but some general lines are helpful. Transparency about the past and about the current situation helps rebuild that trust.
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