The Catholic Press Warily Enters the Digital Age

Deal W. Hudson
October 6, 2010

As I write, there is a Catholic Press Conference being held at the Vatican, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Three representatives were invited from each country, and one of them was Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor.

Erlandson is an astute and experienced observer of Catholic media, and his comments to the conference, reported by the Catholic News Agency, are worth noting.

He described the vitality of Catholic media by referencing the many print magazines and newspapers, the growth in Catholic radio, and the ongoing success of EWTN. He also acknowledged the fact that a lot of Catholic publications are declining in readership and revenue.

On the positive side, he said the use of the Internet provides a low-cost way of reaching a large and diverse audience, facilitating a surge of Catholic Web sites. (Remember that Pope Benedict XVI called for growth in Internet evangelization in a Wednesday audience last May: “Employ these new technologies to make the Gospel known, so that the Good News of God’s infinite love for all people, will resound in new ways across our increasingly technological world!”)

There was one point that raised a red flag for me. Erlandson echoed the concerns expressed in recent Vatican warnings about the blogosphere. When there is “a Babel of voices claiming to be Catholic,” he wonders how the new media will be held accountable, and how the oversight of the Church will find its way online.

In the past, this worry has been used by some Church leaders to try to squelch unwelcome commentary and reporting. I was the publisher of an independent Catholic print magazine, Crisis, for twelve years, and now the director of an independent Catholic Web site, InsideCatholic.com, for more than three years. The “oversight” of the Church is applied internally by a faithful board and staff members working together for the apostolate. It’s not something applied from outside, like a high school teacher overseeing the publication of the school newspaper.

The cause of the recent concerns about the “Babel” of Catholic voices on the Internet is that some of the criticism of the Church leadership has not been well received by that leadership. Sometimes, there’s a good reason for that – there’s no place for gross inaccuracy, false accusations, groundless conspiracy theories, or angry denunciations.

Other times, however, Church leadership doesn’t appreciate demands for accountability and transparency, and they don’t like having their decisions second-guessed. But that is what the media does, whether Catholic or not.

You may remember the fury expressed by Rev. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., president of Canada’s Catholic TV network, Salt & Light, toward EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, after his comments on the funeral of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Father Rosica wrote, “Civility, charity, mercy, and politeness seem to have dropped out of the pro-life lexicon.” But anyone who read Arroyo’s blog post was left scratching his head at what Rosica thought was uncharitable. There was nothinguncharitable there. The real problem was that Arroyo expressed a point of view that Father Rosica found objectionable, and so he attacked it as “lacking civility.”

Incidentally, Father Rosica was recently named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, the sponsor of the Catholic Press Conference.

The fundamental problem with the Catholic media is that it has been built upon the legacy of diocesan newspapers, published by the bishops. These publications serve an important purpose, of course, but they are hardly platforms for reporting or opining on controversial issues involving bishops and priests.

Erlandson wisely focuses on this point:

My hope is that Church leaders are seeing that if they value their own media, and if they allow them to be transparent and honest, they will gain in credibility over the long haul. To do this well, however, will mean changing the media expectations of an institution that often sees its first responsibility to protect itself from bad news.

He then makes a distinction between being a propagandist, which is basically what most diocesan papers have become, and being “collaborators with the Church, recognizing that professional news coverage and solid features and special reports can genuinely help the adult faith formation of our Catholic audience.”

Erlandson adds that the collaboration he calls for is undermined by a growth in “distrust of institutions,” leading to a kind of “congregationalism” where Catholics who are at home in their parish feel less connected to their bishop, the Vatican, or the universal Church itself. This also leads to a falling off of interest in Catholic media.

The result is both a latent suspicion of Church authorities and a lack of a felt need to know what the Church is saying about social or spiritual matters, two primary reasons to read the Catholic press.

The challenge facing Catholic media, especially in the digital age, is to not allow the ease of publication to become an excuse for sloppy, misinformed, or impulsive postings. The challenge facing bishops and other clergy is to join in the process of Internet evangelization rather than stand aloof, complaining about the occasional sharp e-mail or angry blog comment.

 

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s