Diocesan newspapers represent “significant places of encounter and attentive discernment for lay faithful involved in the social and political arena so that they can dialogue and find convergences and objectives for joint action in the service of the Gospel for the common good.”
That’s what Pope Benedict XVI told members of the Italian Federation of Catholic Weeklies in a talk emphasizing the importance of diocesan newspapers. He said that the primary task of a diocesan newspaper is to “serve the truth with courage, helping the public see, understand, and live reality with the eyes of God.”
I wanted to share these words of our Holy Father as we begin the annual observance of Catholic Press Month in February. It seems that the Catholic press is even more valuable today, when our society seems to be trying to keep religious values out of public life and relegate religious faith to the private sphere.
Responding to HHS decision
We have a recent example in the decision by the federal Department of Health and Human services (HHS) to require health plans to cover sterilization and contraceptives (including those that may cause abortion). This ruling threatens the conscience rights of Catholics and many other people in our country.
Secular newspapers and other public media are giving some coverage to this issue, but they aren’t going to provide Catholics with indepth information or advice on how to respond. That’s where diocesan newspapers like the Catholic Herald enter the picture.
The Catholic Herald covered this issue on our Web site (www.madisoncatholicherald.org) as well as on Facebook and Twitter. We published a video message from Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan soon after the story broke. We also included the letter by Bishop Robert C. Morlino about the HHS mandate on our Web site last week and are publishing it in the print edition this week.
Also in our paper this week is information on the HHS mandate and the rights of conscience provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in a question and answer format. Action steps are also included for people to respond.
Each week in print, on our Web site, on Facebook and Twitter, the Catholic Herald is helping fulfill Pope Benedict XVI’s wishes to “serve the truth with courage.” We tackle the key moral issues of our times and provide information for our readers to understand and act where needed.
Value of diocesan newspapers
For many Catholics, including those in the Diocese of Madison, diocesan newspapers may be the only Catholic reading material that comes into their homes. That fact was pointed out in a statement by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada on “The Value of Diocesan Publications.”
“The great value of a diocesan newspaper is that it is edited for the needs of a local audience by editors who live within the local Church and are sensitive to the information needs of the readers,” said that statement. It pointed out that with a diocesan publication:
• Catholics can learn more about their faith. Diocesan publications are often the first step for Catholics who are interested in reading and learning more about their faith. They are not in competition with national and international publications; rather, they can be windows into the vibrant world of Catholic literature.
• The bishop can reach out to the people. A column and other means of communication in the paper offers the bishop an opportunity to speak with the faithful on a regular basis.
• People have the opportunity to realize that they are part of a larger family that extends well beyond their parish. Diocesan publications carry stories of faith, of challenges, and of changes; these stories help Catholics understand the needs of their sisters and brothers across town, across the state, even across the world.
• The people have a reliable source of information about Church news. The professional journalists at diocesan publications can use sources and information that might not be explored by the secular media to tell the full and richer story of the Church.
• The people can also have a forum for the exchange of ideas. This exchange is even more important today as a teaching tool and means of evangelization.
I encourage our readers to take steps to strengthen their faith by reading the Catholic Herald cover to cover each week. I also urge parishes to make sure all their members receive the diocesan newspaper. Promotion materials are available on the Catholic Herald Web site here.