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The Plight of the Diocesan Catholic Journalist

Maybe we’re naïve, but we’ve thought that it’s an honorable calling to be a journalist for a diocesan Catholic newspaper. A bishop is a successor of the Apostles, and certainly it would be a privilege and a joy to work for the bishop’s paper in building up the local Church and proclaiming the Good News.

But apparently that’s far from the reality of it, especially given what the Great Sex Scandals of 2002 & Beyond have revealed about the mentality of most bishops.

A diplomatic account of the real situation comes from Dennis Heaney, President of the Catholic Press Association (CPA), in its monthly publication, The Catholic Journalist (Jan.). The CPA is the professional organization for diocesan Catholic journalists, and Heaney is also the Executive Publisher of the newspapers of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange (Calif.). Says Heaney: “During 2002 I talked to a number of diocesan newspaper editors who…called simply to vent and chant the Rodney Dangerfield mantra ‘I don’t get no respect.’ They told of how their papers were used to run diocesan statements reacting to the revelations or interpretations [of the priestly sex crisis] of the local secular press — print and electronic — while the diocesan paper was limited in what they could report and sometimes even told not to report on the crisis…. One editor was told that his diocese was working very closely with the local [secular] daily newspaper so that they would get ‘better treatment’ and that meant that the daily would have access to the bishop, something denied the diocesan editor.”

In sum, Heaney’s complaint is that diocesan Catholic journalists are often not treated as “professionals” by their bishops and are not getting their “place at the table.”

Then there’s the letter in this issue of the NOR from Jim Graves, a former Editor of the newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, who says “it’s a mistake to refer to us as ‘journalists’ and our publications as ‘newspapers.’ We’re publicists or PR men for the bishops….”

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