I am occasionally privy to a certain diocesan publication, and when I read it I am sometimes amazed at the reactionary theology it contains. I would love to share article excerpts and my reactions, but I can’t. They might sue me.
As a precaution, I will not name the diocese or the publication. I will quote the legal directive in the masthead, but only after expurgating all potentially identifying details:
“No portion of [DELETED] magazine may be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise reproduced or distributed in whole or in part without prior written authority of the Diocese of [DELETED] and/or [DELETED] Publishing Service.”
(I am suddenly reminded of the early transcripts of the Nixon tapes, which were liberally studded with the phrase “expletive deleted.”)
That particular diocese is perhaps unusually willing to be litigious, but there are similar attitudes elsewhere. The Madison Catholic Herald recently piqued my curiosity when blogger Colleen Kochivar-Baker reported the unique greeting beneath Bishop Robert Morlino’s byline:
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
If you want to see for yourself, you can go to the article Kochivar-Baker was originally seeking (a bizarre reflection on the labor unrest in Wisconsin in which Morlino rails against the “dictatorship of relativism,” but ultimately seems to conclude that justice for state workers is all relative, if he can be said to draw a conclusion at all). But really, any column will do.
Invoking the “intention of the bishop,” rather than copyright, is strange. There is a line drawn between authorized and unauthorized readers, but the unauthorized are also meant to come by and overhear that they are unauthorized. What this has to do with Jesus or the Gospel (“I have spoken publicly to the world….in secret I have said nothing”–John 18:20) is unclear.
Meanwhile, the college newspaper I once wrote for, Loyola University Chicago’s Phoenix, is evidently “beyond the intention” of the Chicago archdiocese. When a Phoenix writer recently contacted the archdiocese about its dealings with a construction company that allegedly had ties to organized crime, the stonewalling was blatant and condescending:
In his coverage, our writer made several attempts to contact the archdiocese. The only response he received came in an email from Susan Burritt, director of Media Relations for the archdiocese, who said the institution does not “arrange interviews for student journalists,” and that her department could “only provide student reporters with direction on how to access public information on the archdiocesan website.”
…Journalists are used to hearing the words “no comment,” but Burritt’s remark implied a disregard for the validity of student journalism. She also presumed that a web-savvy college student could not navigate their simple website — which does not appear to have any information concerning D & P Construction.
I have written before about the prioritizing of truth (or Truth) over love in the official Church. But the above examples suggest that truth, capital T or not, may actually be an afterthought. At any rate, it has an erratic relationship to transparency, to everyday truth-telling.
We are supposed to trust that truth, whether religious or conventionally factual, will exert its own force. But I see that force carefully controlled and diverted, or at least plastered with the ecclesiastical equivalent of BEWARE OF DOG signs. Such controlled truth is not about truth. It is about power and the display of power.
And power is itself about something, and what it is about is lack of faith. Apparently, truth alone is unable to set you free. Otherwise it would not need spine-stiffening from a kaleidoscope of human manipulations, from the inquisitions of yore to the lawyers and PR people of today.
What you consciously portray and what you subconsciously believe can be two completely different things. The hierarchy, despite its conscious, even hyperconscious self-confidence, may not actually believe its own message.
How interesting. How poignant. How sad.