The recent meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops created it fair share of religion news. One item that was reported by both the National Catholic Reporter and David Gibson of Politics Daily, was a speech by the president of the NCCB, Cardinal Francis E. George, Archbishop of Chicago. In that speech, he called for more accountability to Catholic bishops, by Catholic universities, independent Catholic media, and other organizations that serve the community under Catholic auspices.
Especially where it applies to the media, I am very uncomfortable with this. I have always believed strongly in a free, independent press, whether in civil society or in the Church. An independent media provides a check by bringing to light abuses of power by either civil or religious authorities. It can be a prophetic voice in the Church, challenging the status quo, challenging us to discern if we, as a community, are living the Gospel. It gives us a different point of view on issues that we not get from diocesan newspapers.
Now, is it an orderly, civil process? Not always. The media, whether newspapers, magazines, TV and radio, or weblogs, can sometimes push the envelope too far. Some writers, commentators, and just plain pundits can very cruel in their comments. It is then that the bishops can call them to task, just as their readers and viewers call them to task. But I do not see any way that bishops can rein in independent newspapers. And trying to control the Web, even governments are not successful at that. The best the bishops could do is to issue guidelines for Catholic media.
The word “Catholic,” means universal. It means that we should strive to have a big tent that welcomes all, show compassion to all in the name of Christ.