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Contemporary Catholic Belief and Action


The mission of ARCC is to bring about substantive structural change within the Catholic Church by seeking to institutionalize a collegial understanding of church where decision making is shared and accountability is realized among Catholics of every kind and condition.
Once people start to believe change is possible, 
the drive to achieve it accelerates. 
                                          -   Patrick Sullivan, ARCC Emeritus President

Journalists in the Church

Sr Barbara Linen

Independent Scholar, Moral Theology,

Member, ARCC Leadership Team


The 2015 movie Spotlight put in focus the value of good journalism in a truth-seeking context. Against all odds, with academic and ordinary groups of leaders hiding behind walls that were often sociological (using group-speak), or psychological (problems came from a few bad apples), a group of reporters had uncovered the truth about deep wounds in the Catholic Church in Boston. (As I began this reflection, a message from the Pope appeared. Addressing youth, he warned them not to ‘just Google answers’ but to take time to go deeper to search out meanings and values at stake). 

Journalism about religion that goes beyond Google, beyond the headlines, or the tweets or instagrams, is joins with seekers after truth within and without institutions trying to understand their beliefs, the practices they witness, the faults in institutions that are meant to promote the human good.

Good reporters help to inform people about situations in the church and society, turning back some of the misinformation that has flooded the media ecosystem. Journalists, along with scholars of politics, history and religion called out those who were most extreme in their views on both sides of the questions. They were also able to point to pockets of hope for a better future.

As examples of such journalism the names of two recently deceased – Michael Gerson (1964 – 2022) and Mark Shields (1937 – 2022) come to mind. Gerson, a confessed evangelical began as a ‘true believer’ attesting to positions he later reformed or recanted. He allowed for growth in faith seeking understanding and found the ability to change his positions, and to call out fellow evangelicals. Shields, an Irish Catholic, was an unashamed liberal. His beliefs in social justice as taught by the Catholic church informed many of his views and helped others, notably David Brooks, a fellow journalist to learn more. The outpouring of appreciation of his life and work were the subject of a panel discussion (available on Youtube from Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Thought and Public Life.)

Journalists who are informed by their faith through their engagement with issues and with people often help believers to understand more than faith leaders themselves do, especially leaders who repeat doctrines without context. Teachings come from different contexts; they may come from catechisms which forged the doctrines in different contexts. Historically conscious believers know the need for discernment for understanding what is called for in the current context.

When the Pope called for a synod on synodality, he was reviving a very old practice in the church. Journalists who paid attention to the details of what the Pope was calling for—namely a way of making decisions about matters of belief and practice not only about church life but also how to engage others with whom we share a context wider than the church--engaged with leaders and with other members of the church seeking their understandings for the sake of their reporting.

What again comes to the fore both in the reporting and in the synodal conversations includes, alas, a basic religious illiteracy which affects and infects a great many conversations. The church of Vatican II is the latest magisterial teaching on what the church is about. 

(For a fine theological account of ‘what we mean when we say church see Joseph  Komonchak’s account in

Fortunately, a number of theologians have used journals to help clarify matters for a wider audience. As Komonchak spells out the meaning of ‘we are the church’ and why we should be in conversations in our local areas. There are resources beyond the tomes of theology.

The journalists featured in the movie Spotlight were truly seeking to understand how the abuses which they were investigating could have happened They used their own understandings of how corporate bodies function, of personality-types and how they could obstruct and hinder procedures. They pursued evidence and sought advice from members of the academy, specifically, Boston College to learn about theological questions which they could not answer for themselves. BC subsequently set about educating beyond the university in lecture series and educational opportunities for deepening understanding.

Many good journalists are continuing to be a bridge for those who wish to understand their faith better. Journalists interview (in conversations); they engage their publics with opportunities to “comment” (another form of conversation) on matters that concern them. Reading “comments” helps one to understand where others are coming from, including some extreme views. But comments also allow us to reflect on the limits of our own arguments.

Synodal discussions could be more of a factor in moving the church forward. How often Francis has sought to move us as missionaries, sent to the peripheries where God’s people recognized themselves as in need of better ways to seek together what needs to happen to make us more in line with God’s own dreams for us. How to be in communion with each other and with all people of good will. Come Lord Jesus.


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