All’s not well in progressive Catholic media-land.
When America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, published its interview with Pope Francis, it hit gold. The cover has been featured on every major network, and on the Colbert Report, where America contributing editor and Pope-interview-idea-haver James Martin, SJ, serves as chaplain to Colbert Nation.
Perhaps jealous of America’s limelight, some Catholic publications voiced frustration that they weren’t given a heads up. Several secular publications, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, were given embargoed copies so they could prepare stories ahead of time. The publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic, Greg Erlandson, wrote on his blog:
as quick as you can say “Gotcha,” bishops and communications directors were suddenly fielding interview requests for a story they had not seen and were unprepared for.
And yet, even before the Pope spoke to America, the magazine was under attack from another venerable Catholic publication.
Back in June, the fairly new editor of America, Matt Malone, SJ, published a lengthy essay in which he detailed his vision for the magazine’s future. He lamented the toxic state of American political discourse, and said he hopes that the future of the historically progressive magazine can move beyond right and left, conservative and liberal, especially when talking about fellow Catholics. To that end, he wrote:
America will no longer use the terms “liberal,” “conservative” or “moderate” when referring to our fellow Catholics in an ecclesiastical context.
The editors of Commonweal, a lay-run Catholic magazine founded in 1924 with a similar bent as America, responded with their own editorial earlier this month. They argued that Malone’s view of politics in the US was “overdrawn and incomplete” and suggested that the factionalism Malone decries is healthy for the Catholic Church, as it’s harmful “to pretend that the contemporary church is actually a community of harmony.” The editorial concludes by claiming, “There is no need to choose between fidelity to Christ and our secular democratic hopes,” rejecting what they see as America’s succumbing to the temptation to remove itself from political discourse altogether. (America just launched a blog devoted exclusively to politics.)
Just today, a writer with the National Catholic Reporter, another liberal Catholic standard-bearer, accused America of omitting part of Pope Francis’s words on the role of women in the church because of the machismo of its male-dominated staff.
Here’s how Malone explains what happens:
Due to production error, one sentence in America’s interview with Pope Francis was inadvertently deleted. On page 28 of the issue of September 30, 2013, Fr. Antonio Spadaro asks the pope: “‘What should be the role of women in the church? How do we make their role more visible today?’ He answers: ‘I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of…'” The sentence that was inadvertently deleted is a part of the pope’s response. The full text should read: “”He answers: ‘It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of…”. America apologizes for this error, which was entirely inadvertent.
But this is how NCR’s Phyllis Zagano interpreted the situation:
The pope complained that what he hears about women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Maybe machismo did not cause the dropped lines — and change of focus — at America. But nobody noticed it, and with minimal exception, the interview project was all-male, all the time.
Ouch. I wonder if the female PhD candidate who helped translate the copy takes issue with being characterized as a “minimal exception.”
Debate and criticism can be healthy, but it seems odd that NCR and Commonweal would publish pieces directly attacking America. I’m absolutely biased, and perhaps a bit defensive, having interned at America when I was in divinity school and then blogging regularly there for over three years. But the ever-shrinking progressive wing of the Catholic Church is under enough pressure from without, so it’s worth asking if the in-fighting will really help any of these publications. I would imagine that America’s success with the Pope Francis interview only encourages some curious readers to check out NCR and Commonweal for their takes, too. It’s probably safe to assume that the success, or failure, of specific Catholic publications is somewhat codependent on how their peer publications succeed, or fail. Attacks like these hint of writing and reading in an echo chamber and they certainly won’t help any mission. Regardless of whether it includes words like “left” or “right.”