Catholic Media Figures Discuss Church’s Future

John L. Allen Jr., editor of online Catholic newspaper Crux, and Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., president and editor-in-chief of American Media, spoke on a panel titled “Revitalizing Our Church: Ideas from the Catholic Press” on Thursday. University Spokesman Jack Dunn moderated the event, the first part of The Church in the 21st Century Center’s three-part Easter Series conversations.

The talk, stylized in a question-and-answer format, was part of an ongoing discussion surrounding numerous sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. Dunn asked the panelists questions pertaining to both the crisis in general and the media’s role in providing solutions.

“There are things now that we can do that we don’t have to wait to do,” Malone said. “We don’t have to have counsel. We don’t have to have a change in the magisterium’s articulation of the church’s doctrine. For example, if who is in the room when the decisions are made matters, let’s get a greater amount of diversity in the room where the decisions are made.

“We should take an inventory of every job in the church in this country and ask ourselves if it really has to be done by a cleric, and if it doesn’t, then it should be done by a layperson with a preference for a woman. … If we change the people in the room, the culture will follow.”

Malone also said that introducing more women into the clergy would be beneficial, noting that there are already female chancellors, or bishops’ law officers.

“If we keep governing the church as if it’s 1955, it’s going to be a long way to Easter,” he said.

Dunn asked Allen about the role of the Catholic press in the journey toward the renewal of the church. Allen replied that he sees himself as a journalist who happens to be Catholic rather than a Catholic journalist, maintaining that the press is formed by secular institutions and that it should remain a secular enterprise uninfluenced by Catholic doctrine.

The press nevertheless still has an important role in the revitalization of the Catholic Church, Allen said.

“People often carry around in their heads a set of conceptions and often misconceptions [of the Catholic Church] that effective journalism, if done well, could help throw away,” he said.

Allen called for a toning down of the polarizing nature of media today to encourage more thoughtful and productive discussion.

“The Catholic press in this country is too often a reflection of what we see in the media culture at large, which these days is a kind of extreme and vicious polarization in which the capacity to have a rational conversation about anything, including how the church can be revitalized, is impeded by the fact that our public spaces have been colonized by this kind of acerbic, vitriolic, nasty sort of attack-mode journalism,” Allen said.

In an aside, Allen went on to reaffirm the confidence he has in his work and its value. Though he is aware of the criticism that the digital age has contributed to the decline of the newspaper industry, Allen believes that technology provides more opportunities to journalists now than ever, including the ability to sustain an entire newspaper online without needing physical means, such as printing presses or a centralized meetingplace.

In spite of the obstacles, Malone also is insistent in his hope for the future.

“Much more good happens in the church than bad,” he said. “This is necessarily true, or we wouldn’t have survived the last two thousand years. We have the promise of the Lord that the gates of Hell will not prevail against us, even if they feel like they are today.”

Featured Image by Sam Zhai / For The Heights