Sunday, 9 December 2012

Catholic Newspapers – Beware The Trojan Horses?

What exactly is the purpose of a ‘Catholic’ newspaper?  Why should it be specifically referred to as a ‘Catholic’ newspaper?  Why may it be sold inside of our churches when other newspapers are not permitted to do so?  Why should Catholics be specifically encouraged by priests and others during Mass to buy the ‘Catholic’ newspaper?

The answers to these questions are of course fairly simple and straightforward.  ‘Catholic’ newspapers help to keep Catholics up to date with events happening within the Catholic Church, be it locally or internationally.  They usually provide information regarding the Catholic Church that the secular media does not consider newsworthy. 

‘Catholic’ newspapers also offer the bishops a means to communicate with Catholics on a regular basis, especially since not everyone is fortunate enough to regularly attend Mass with the bishop or the pope.  In addition, ‘Catholic’ newspapers serve as a means of providing on going catechesis to the faithful.

‘Catholic’ newspapers do of course also frequently report on news that the secular media has itself covered, except that a ‘Catholic’ newspaper typically reports the news from a Catholic rather than a secular perspective.  In doing so ‘Catholic’ newspapers help the faithful to consider world events and circumstances in the light of the Church’s teaching, thereby enabling us to see just exactly how our faith and morals fit into the ordinary circumstances of everyday life.  Effectively ‘Catholic’ newspapers help us to better understand our Catholic Faith and provide us with practical scenarios to show us how we can and should live out our Catholic Faith in this modern world. 

Branding a newspaper as ‘Catholic’ indicates, or rather it should indicate, that the contents of the publication are presented from a Catholic perspective.  The reader should be assured that the newspaper contents will not in anyway misrepresent or challenge the true teaching of the Magisterium.  This must of course be especially true when the newspaper is, in addition to being branded as ‘Catholic’, sold or promoted on Church premises, whether it is inside the church or in another building on Church premises.

Sadly, many ‘Catholic’ newspapers seem to have strayed away from being truly ‘Catholic’, despite continuing to claim the ‘Catholic’ brand.  They seem to have lost sight of the huge responsibility that they have, or should have, accepted when they elected to be known as a ‘Catholic’ newspaper.

Roy Bourgeois, excommunicated and laicised, yet supported by National Catholic Reporter
Roy Bourgeois, excommunicated & laicised
Instead of serving as a mouthpiece for the bishops, reporting news from a purely Catholic perspective and providing an on going education regarding our Catholic Faith, many ‘Catholic’ newspapers have become nothing more than yet another secular newspaper.  The ‘Catholic’ brand has sadly today, in most instances, come to simply indicate that the newspaper has chosen to focus predominantly on matters that relate to the Catholic Church.  These newspapers are just not that concerned about ensuring that their readers are never left with any doubt about the true teaching of the Magisterium.

If that is not enough, many ‘Catholic’ newspapers are in fact really just Trojan horses.  They have donned the ‘Catholic’ brand precisely because they want to gain access to Catholic readers for a more sinister reason.  Their objective is to convince Catholics, sometimes subtlety and other times not so subtlety, that some or all of the faith and morals of the Catholic Church is somehow flawed, out dated or just plain unacceptable in our modern world.  The entire aim of these falsely branded ‘Catholic’ newspapers is to transform the Catholic Church so that it conforms to their beliefs and ideals, probably so that they do not need to themselves face the discomfort of conforming to the truths taught by the Church. 

It is of course true that not all these newspapers specifically started out with this ‘Trojan horse’ objective.  It may be that over time, with the natural change in staff and writers in any organisation, the newspaper was gradually filled with people who do not completely accept the teaching of the Magisterium in all its facets.  That does not however change the fact that many of the ‘Catholic’ newspapers today consist of management and personnel who are intent on leading Catholics to reject some or all of the teaching of the Catholic Church and are therefore really Trojan horses.

National Catholic Reporter
An excellent example of one of these Trojan horses is the National Catholic Reporter.  This US based newspaper, which is allegedly ‘Catholic’, has for quite some time published content that openly contradicts and challenges the Church’s teaching on a range of subjects.  It has, for example, openly “denied Church teachings on homosexual acts and marriage, ordination of women, stem cell research, and Catholic-identifying politicians who support abortion.[1]

Even though the Church has taught quite clearly that it “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful[2], this newspaper has even seen fit to recently make a public call for the Catholic Church to correct what this newspaper refers to as the “unjust teaching” of the Church regarding the ordination of women.  This is unconscionable, to say the least, for a ‘Catholic’ newspaper.

The frustrating thing about this particular newspaper is that Bishop Charles Helmsing, as far back as 1968, just 4 years after the newspaper was established, actually “‘issued a public reprimand for their policy of crusading against the Church's teachings’, condemning its ‘poisonous character’ and ‘disregard and denial of the most sacred values of our Catholic faith.’[3] 

Bishop Charles Helmsing and others on the stage at Notre Dame High School
Bishop Helmsing and others
Bishop Helmsing however did much more than just reprimand this newspaper.  He went further and asked the publication to stop using ‘Catholic’ in its title because, in the words of Bishop Helmsing, this newspaper “does not reflect the teaching of the Church, but on the contrary, has openly and deliberately opposed this teaching[4].

Sadly the National Catholic Reporter, despite the call from Bishop Helmsing, has been permitted to continue in this anti-Catholic vein and now, 44 years later, it seems that the bishops in the US are completely helpless and unable to do anything about the calamitous content of this newspaper or the fact that it persists in using ‘Catholic’ in its title.  If the US bishops had taken decisive action when the newspaper was just 4 years old in 1968, the scenario could have been very different today.  There is now however no doubt that any attempts by the US bishops to reign in this newspaper will most certainly create havoc and attract worldwide media attention.  It will be nothing short of a public relations nightmare for the US bishops and the Catholic Church.

The obvious lesson here must most certainly be that one cannot permit a newspaper to claim that it is ‘Catholic’ unless it adheres very strictly to the true teaching of the Church.  It does not matter how inconsequential it may seem at times, when it comes to matters of faith and morals the Church must always act decisively and quickly to reign in any ‘Catholic’ newspaper that strays even slightly from affirming the true teaching of the Magisterium.  A seemingly inconsequential matter could well be just the thin edge of the wedge.  Failure to act will only serve to exacerbate the problem and, as has been the case with the National Catholic Reporter, cause untold harm to the very Catholics whose spiritual well being the bishops are personally responsible for. 

To illustrate the consequences of not reacting to the thin edge of the wedge, consider that today, 44 years later, the National Catholic Reporter is being distributed to six continents, 97 countries and has a bi-weekly circulation of about 33,000.[5]  This newspaper has effectively escalated into a problem not only for one bishop and one diocese but many bishops and many dioceses.  This newspaper is now a worldwide problem.  I wonder how much more firmly Bishop Helmsing and his fellow US bishops would have acted back in 1968 if they had foreseen the magnitude of this newspapers future reach.

National Catholic Register
The advantage that the US bishops have is that with a population the size of the US it is always financially feasible to establish an alternate ‘Catholic’ newspaper to the National Catholic Reporter.  Indeed there are a few good alternate ‘Catholic’ newspapers, like the National Catholic Register, to mention just one, which the US bishops can turn to in order to communicate with Catholics and counter the drivel that the National Catholic Reporter publishes.

Unfortunately the bishops of all countries are not as fortunate as the US bishops.  South Africa is an excellent example of a country that is not that fortunate.  South Africa simply does not have a Catholic population big enough to make the establishment of a second ‘Catholic’ newspaper financially viable.  Therefore, if a scenario similar to that of the National Catholic Reporter were to play out in South Africa, the South African bishops would most certainly find that they were “up the creek without a paddle”.

I therefore believe that it would be extremely wise for the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, in light of this recent audacious move by the National Catholic Reporter to so controversially challenge the Roman Catholic Church, to take a serious look at the current situation with Catholic media in South Africa.  This is as good a time as ever for the bishops to consider whether they are confident that they are able to hold our only national ‘Catholic’ newspaper to the highest standards and to sanction it if that is ever required. 

Are our bishops certain that the contents of The Southern Cross are always completely in accord with the true teaching of the Church?  Are our bishops entirely convinced that The Southern Cross never, no matter how subtlety it may be, serves to raise questions and doubt about the validity and applicability of Church teaching in our modern world?  Does The Southern Cross effectively enhance the mission of the Church in Southern Africa or does it serve as an obstacle, no matter how small, to the mission of the Church?  

If you ask me, there have been occasions when this newspaper has published material that has left me seriously wondering whether the newspaper does or does not support the teaching of the Church on a particular subject.  This shouldn’t be the case, surely?  I should surely close the pages of this newspaper each and every time when I finish reading it and be left in no doubt whatsoever about what the true teaching of the Church is, as well as knowing exactly what is required of me as a Catholic?

The South African bishops would also be wise to consider whether The Southern Cross genuinely serves as a mouthpiece for the Southern African bishops or whether it has become a platform for the management of the newspaper to address South African Catholics?  It is seldom that one finds articles or messages written by our bishops in The Southern Cross, although I am pleased to see that of late Cardinal Napier has become a regular contributor to the newspaper.  (See my Blog: “What Do The Bishops Say?”) 

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale
I do not get to attend Mass with a bishop on a regular basis and I honestly cannot remember when last I read a homily or message from the bishop of my own diocese, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale.  Not that it is in anyway his fault.  He simply cannot be everywhere.  However I do want to hear from our bishops what it is that they have to say on matters of faith and morals, events and circumstances happening in the world and not, with all due respect, from a lay or even clerical editor of a newspaper, 'Catholic' or not.

Personally I think that our bishops would be wise if they chose to replace the weekly editorial in The Southern Cross with a message from one of the bishops of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  It simply makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that a lay editor of a ‘Catholic’ newspaper gets to address all Catholics in South Africa every single week and yet the bishops themselves do not.  This is not rocket science!  To be honest I think that this is just wrong and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference should not permit this to continue.  

When last I checked there were about 26 bishops in the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  That means that each bishop would need to contribute just two articles a year to The Southern Cross and, as a result, South African Catholics would get to hear first hand from their bishops on matters of faith and morals as well as other circumstances and events taking place in the world.  It would also serve as the first logical step to ensuring that the management of the ‘Catholic’ newspaper does not gain greater leverage and influence over Catholics in this country than the bishops themselves. A necessary step to ensure a newspaper remains truly 'Catholic' and that the tail does not wag the dog.

Of course many may read this blog and dismiss this need to look at our South African 'Catholic' newspaper as not a matter of great urgency at this time.  I am sure that is exactly what Bishop Helmsing and the other bishops thought in 1968 about the National Catholic Reporter.  Look where that got them.

[1] Wikipedia, National Catholic Reporter, Extracted Dec 7, 2012
[2] Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, May 22, 1994
[3] Wikipedia, National Catholic Reporter, Extracted Dec 7, 2012
[4] Wikipedia, National Catholic Reporter, Extracted Dec 7, 2012
[5] Wikipedia, National Catholic Reporter, Extracted Dec 7, 2012


  1. It really is concerning to think that the National Catholic Reporter has been awarded the "General Excellence" award by the Catholic Press Association each year from 2000 to 2011. Given the content of the newspaper I find it absolutely shocking that it is even considered for a Catholic Press Award.

  2. I suspect that the bishops will as usual do nothing about the Southern Cross' antics but good for you for drawing attention to it.

  3. Good post Mark, keep it up.