by Greg Erlandson
Why do we need a vibrant, dynamic, engaged Catholic press? We need it because we need a well-informed, a well-formed, and an inspired Catholic laity. Today this is not just a pious clich. Our Church faces grave challenges that demand such a laity.
Yet most parishes have neither the resources nor the strategies to educate and evangelize today's adults who are themselves responsible for passing on the faith to the next generation as well as meeting the growing challenges of our own age. That is why, at this point in U.S. Church history, the greatest strategic need facing the Church may be in the area of adult faith formation and education.
I would argue that within this context, a vibrant Catholic mediaprint, digital, radio, televisionis needed more than ever. Why? Because it is still the most widespread means of ongoing adult faith education and formation we have today.
First, Catholic media provide information that Catholics often won't find elsewhere. Whatever one thinks of the quality of the secular media, its coverage of the Church is uneven at best. At a time when Catholic leaders seek to engage the great issues of the day, their voices often barely rise above a whisper in the secular press. And just as unfortunately, most Catholics are like non-Catholics: that is, they get their information about the Church from secular media.
The Church needs its own voice to engage society and be heard in the public square, but first and foremost it needs a voice to inform Catholics, helping them to see reality through Catholic eyes. It needs a voice to tell the stories that are not being told, and it needs a voice to mobilize Catholics when action is needed.
Second, to be informed means that one is learning to see the world through Catholic eyes. The task of the Catholic media is not just the who, what, where, and when, but also the why. The regular appearance of a Catholic publication with news, analysis, columns, and features in a virtual or actual mailbox does more to help form more adult Catholics than any other method or tool because it helps them to better understand their own faith.
From the point of view of Catholic news media, the formation they provide is not the same as catechetics. It is not narrowly pedantic in intent, nor is it propagandistic. But in reporting on the world and in letting Catholic voices be heard unfiltered by secular media or the prevailing biases and values of the dominant culture, it plays a vital and formative role.
Covering controversial issues such as the debate surrounding Communion for the divorced and remarried can be instructive about the Church's teaching regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. Articles about prolife or human dignity issues are instructive in moral formation. News about the national and international Church inspires us with examples of Catholics living out their faith in different communities.
Like all media, the Catholic press is under great stress, but it remains a vital and valuable tool in service to the Church. It needs the resources to flourish and to fulfill its role to inform, to form, and to inspire, particularly at this time when other institutions of the Church, especially the parish, are facing equally daunting challenges and are in need of a well-formed laity.
In a cacophonous media environment, Catholic mediaprint, video, radio, and digitalis critically important if the Church is to preach the Gospel, form its members, and reach modern men and women effectively.
Greg ErlandsonGreg Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service. He is former president of the Catholic Press Association and served as one of six international experts on the Vaticanâ€™s media reform committee in 2014-2015.