Nearly 200 years ago the first Catholic diocesan newspaper rolled off the press in Charleston, S.C. Its publisher was Bishop John England, an experienced editor and Irish immigrant whose family had endured anti-Catholic persecution in his homeland.
In 1822, when he introduced The Catholic Miscellany to the faithful in the Charleston Diocese, opposition to immigration was strong and immigrants, many of whom were Catholic, lacked social standing. Bishop England initially used the secular press to explain Catholicism, but misrepresentations of the faith compelled him to establish a Catholic newspaper to get it right.
The Catholic press is still getting it right. It remains a source of integrity during a time when media credibility is plunging and the public is tuning out to avoid the rancorous tone of the news. February is Catholic Press Month, a fitting time to provide perspective about the value and trustworthiness of Catholic publications, including The Catholic Messenger.
Let’s get back to the history, courtesy of The Catholic Press Association. While other bishops did not immediately follow Bishop England’s lead in establishing a diocesan newspaper, by 1837 they welcomed independent Catholic newspapers that had begun publication. The bishops encouraged the clergy and faithful to support these publications that explained the tenets of the faith and defended the church’s rights.
In 1884, at the close of the Third Plenary Council in Baltimore, the nation’s bishops “recommended that each Catholic household receive at least one Catholic periodical of good repute.” Remember, major waves of immigration occurred between 1880 and 1920, which fueled resentment, suspicion and animosity toward immigrants, especially Catholic newcomers. That attitude created a need for Catholic immigrants to unite and educate, to bring news from home and to fight for civil and religious rights in a new country. The creation of Catholic journals and newspapers was one response to that need.
Today, the Catholic Press Association (CPA) counts nearly 250 publication members and 500 individual members. Its member print publications reach 10 million households and many more through websites and social medial outlets. The Catholic Messenger, a CPA member, is now in its 135th year of publication and counts more than 17,000 household subscribers.
“It is critical that Catholics not only have access to sound news coverage and commentary, but that they hear directly from their leaders on the issues of the day and have the resources to see their world through the eyes of faith,” says CPA President Greg Erlandson. “Only the Catholic press gives Catholic leaders a voice with which to be heard by their people — unmuted, uncensored and independent of the preconceptions and prejudices of too many secular media outlets.”
That doesn’t mean Catholics will necessarily agree with everything they read in the Catholic press, including The Catholic Messenger. Our responsibility is to present the Catholic faith, which is not Republican or Democrat. The Catholic Church does not align with a political group and neither does the diocesan newspaper. Catholics are people of good will who may respectfully come to different conclusions about how to put church teachings into practice.
We don’t operate in a vacuum or an echo chamber. We welcome and need our readers’ feedback, suggestions and ideas. That’s why we undertook a survey of readers, the results of which we hope to share with you later in the spring. We also seek to build a relationship with our readers. Healthy relationships involve communication on an ongoing basis, and not just at survey time.
We are companions on this journey of faith, striving to help our readers and ourselves to build on our relationship with God. St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, did just that in his writings addressed to lay people. He noted that “A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar.” That’s something to keep in mind in a world overflowing with vinegar.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor