“You do a lot of good for the Church and I’m grateful, but publishing Vigano’s very disturbed rants might be moving into the area of partaking in his sin.” —A friend, a Catholic theologian, writing to me a few days ago, asking me to cease publishing the letters of Archbishop Viganò
“A Catholic who is a good journalist has a good shot at being a good Catholic. And given that the career path is more like financial martyrdom, there’s even a chance at sainthood.“—David Gibson, a Catholic journalist who is the director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University in New York City (essay below)
“You’ve got the most powerful people in the world — pharmaceutical companies, federal governments, the president, the attorney general — coming after you, and there are moments when you say, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore’… But then you begin to realize, that there are people out there who believe in you. And all they have is you, really. Is there anybody else?” —James O’Keefe, the founder and until a few days ago the head of Project Veritas, who was ousted from his life’s work by the Project Veritas board after an exposé concerning the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. An exposé is “a publication of investigative journalism that reveals hidden and often scandalous truths.” A video of an interview with O’Keefe is linked at the bottom of this letter
Letter #59, 2023 Monday, February 27: Journalism
A question has emerged: publish, or not publish?
Censor, or not censor?
The matter has to do with what it means to be a journalist, a Catholic, and a Catholic journalist (if such a term is not an oxymoron, that is, a self-contradictory phrase, meaning that it may not be possible (as some observers believe) to be both a Catholic and a journalist(!).
The question concerns, in particular, the question of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
A number of readers have emailed me about my publication of letters by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 82 (link), who was chosen by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to be his nuncio in the key post of Washington D.C., capital of the United States. Viganò served there for almost five years, until 2016, when he turned 75 and went into retirement.
Some have thanked me warmly for sending out Viganò’s writings:
“Wow! Simply a breathtaking summary of our current zeitgeist. Thank you for sending it out. You are such a gift to Holy Mother Church and her children. —Jack“
“Thank you. This was spot on. —Patrick”
Both were reacting to an essay by Viganò on the present “State of Religion” which I mailed out on February 21 as Letter #51 (link).
In that essay, Viganò had this to say about our time: “What we are witnessing is nothing more than the reverse application of the process that led to the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire and then throughout the world, a sort of revenge of barbarism and paganism on the Faith of Christ.” (Archbishop Viganò, letter dated February 16, 2022)
And another reader wrote: “My late beloved wife and I watched this kind of thing happen in the Episcopal Church where we’d been married some years ago. When we finally left there on a Sunday morning, she insisted that we leave by the large front door, not the usual side door used by everyone. As soon as we were outside, she stomped her feet. I asked what was wrong. She simply said, ‘I’m stomping the dust of this place from me.’ (…) As I’ve watched events under the current papacy, I have to confess that I’m seeing the same illogical, anti-Christian, Satanic secularization that reduced the size of the Episcopal Church by a huge percentage. It’s all the same evil secularization coming from a world-wide Satanic attack on all of us. If you speak with Archbishop Viganò, please tell him that he has a number of admirers here in Alabama who are grateful for him and who pray for him daily, as my wife and I did, and I continue for you also. —Joe”
Still, others have criticized me sharply for sending out Viganò’s letters:
“Why do you continue to provide an outlet for Viganò? Are the kernels of sense mixed in with his ridiculous conspiracy theories really that precious?… I believe you are still a rational man but you are so far down a rabbit hole of Church intrigue and apparent spiritual distress that I fear you may go over the edge. Good luck. —Bill”
“Good God, Bob! Why do you continue to devalue your own hard-earned, personal capital on the clearly delusional and pathetically self-aggrandizing +cmv? Whether through a medical or psychological pathology, he has left the path of lucidity. Let us pray for him. —Bill” [Note: a different Bill.]
“Partaking in his sin…”
Finally, a Catholic college professor of theology wrote:
“I’m doing my best to be frank without being insulting. I trust I can be frank since you know me to be of goodwill and I know you to be of goodwill. It will also keep this response shorter. 😊
“You do a lot of good for the Church and I’m grateful, but publishing Vigano’s very disturbed rants might be moving into the area of partaking in his sin. For the sake of his soul, I truly hope he is not culpable and it is mental illness behind all of this. (…)
“One way or the other, he is clearly betraying the Church now (and Bergoglio is not the Church, just the current prime minister) and Vigano is exhibiting destructive tendencies trying to burn down everything. (…)
“Uncritically publishing Vigano, it seems you miss that his rejection of an Ecumenical Council and getting others to do the same is the very grave infidelity that matters most. Being a pastoral council did not mean development of doctrine or clarification was absent. There were two dogmatic constitutions which re-situated the Church to do everything you are doing today and giving tools new and old from the storehouse of the Church’s wisdom. Do you really believe that as a layman, you could not be involved in Catholic/Orthodox dialog and ecumenism today without the Second Vatican Council? Do you believe you are guilty of grave infidelity for doing so? If not, why don’t Vigano’s attacks apply to you? I thought you organize events with Russian Orthodox and other Christian communities. You would have been called a traitor and sympathizer of heretics before Vatican II. (…)
“Only crazies think we need to ditch Lumen Gentium because people were at work to undermine the Council. When haven’t people been at work to undermine the Church?
“Big picture: Jesus is with us through it all. This means Vigano is at fault for attacking the orthodox faithful who accept the last Ecumenical Council (‘refusing to grasp their grave infidelities’) as though they are the same as people actually trying to undermine the Church. It’s crazy (or blindingly sinful) to make such arguments and not see the crazy while undermining the Church.
“Please forgive me if in my zealous argumentation I have insulted you.
“The tasks differ”…
I wrote back:
“Not insulted. Task of ✍️ writer and reporter is different from theologian or professor. All are required to be faithful. But the tasks and responsibilities differ.
“Also, God brings good out of even error, even evil — I think. So it is not quite the right response to censor — as hidden sectarianism and heresy could slink around and include more souls and minds. Better to publish and discuss (perhaps). So, I am thinking — and I may write on this…”
Who is “clearly betraying the Church”?
My friend Matt alleges that Viganò is “clearly betraying the Church now.”
But is it so clear as Matt seems to think?
Certainly Viganò is repeatedly, continually, insisting that he is denouncing the betrayal of the Church by others, evidently in the belief that his own positions are in continuity with, in fidelity to, the depositum fidei.
So someone needs to judge precisely this point: is Viganò “clearly betraying the Church,” or… is he carrying out the lonely, difficult, often-condemned task of protecting the Church from the betrayal planned by powerful forces over a long period of time, leading to the present situation of uncertainty, moral confusion, liturgical conflict, and doctrinal ambiguity?
Is it my task to make that judgment?
Who am I to judge?
A journalist, someone once said, writes the first draft of the history of his time.
From the point of view of a professional historian, the texts of the journalist, written in haste, without all the facts (and often with typos) are important sources, precisely because they reveal the lack of full knowledge within which we act, in these times, in all times.
We simply do not know very many things.
We do not really know, for example, if there was a multi-generational plan to alter the moral teaching and public worship (the liturgy, the Mass) of the Church, or not. (Though there are some declassified documents now revealed which suggest that there was; see David Wemhoff‘s long but fascinating book, link)
We do not really know, granted that there may even have been such an alleged multi-generational plan of alteration (as it seems there may have been), whether the intent of that plan was in fact to be more supportive of souls, as John XXIII and many of the Council Fathers said was their hope and intent, or (sadly) to be less supportive of souls, intentionally promoting ambiguity, confusion, and a type of practical secular humanism at the heart of the citadel of the faith in order to “free souls” to be able to live in our fallen world without a sense of fallenness, without a sense of guilt… because the reality of sin, and of the guilt for having committed sin, was thought to be too heavy for humans to bear, and so was going to be… removed.
Since we do not know so many things, the journalist must do what he can to increase the likelihood that all of us may someday come to greater understanding, that the evidence may (perhaps very slowly), come to light, allowing a better judgment to be reached, based on more complete knowledge of the facts.
Allowing the truth, one day, to be revealed.
In this situation, which we might poetically and ironically call “inhabiting the cloud of unknowing,” the journalist, like the investigator of a crime scene, like a historian looking at fragments of pottery and bone after the passage of millennia, must be extraordinarily attentive to details.
Each detail may be critically important.
Each detail may help us to arrive at the truth, and to determine who is the more faithful Christian, and who is the more likely actual… betrayer of Christ.
For this reason, the many texts of Archbishop Viganò must be regarded as historical documents which may be able to used in the future as evidence in the great sifting process which will be the trial before the tribunal of history itself.
And for this reason, these documents must not be censored or altered, but presented whole and entire, as an act of scrupulous respect for the historical artifact in an age of misinformation, disinformation, and fake information.
Therefore, the Viganò texts need to be published, and they need to be published in their entirety, without censorship of even a word or a phrase… though we ourselves might not have used a certain word or phrase, or might have omitted a certain word or phrase, had we authored the text ourselves.
So this contested matter must be published without alteration, out of professional scrupulosity with regard to the text itself. —RM
Without fear or favor
Here is an essay which explores the matter of Catholic journalism. I do not agree with everything David writes, but I do not edit his words, and let him speak for himself.—RM
“Above all, a Catholic journalist seeks the truth and reports it fairly, without fear or favor.” —David Gibson, a respected American Catholic journalist, in the essay published below
What’s a Catholic Journalist? (link)
By David Gibson
The state of Catholic journalism is a matter of intense debate in church circles these days, and for good reason.
The U.S. bishops’ decision in early May to eviscerate Catholic News Service, a wire service that has reported on the church with professionalism for more than a century, came as a shock to many, including more than a few bishops who didn’t realize what this would mean for their own diocesan outlets.
It also came as a gift to conservative Catholic media who will fill the void with the divisive rightwing agitprop that has already developed a large audience by slavishly following the decadent path blazed by Fox News and Breitbart among others.
This is no abstract debate: the vast majority of Catholics get news about their diocese, about the Catholic Church nationally and globally, and about the pope through Catholic media and via secular journalists who rely on church media for tips and context.
The decline of professional Catholic journalism means that news about the church and the Vatican is refracted through an increasingly partisan lens, one that skews to the right against Pope Francis, and away from the facts and the truth.
I wrote about the wider dynamics driving this trend and the entire information industry in an old-fashioned journalist’s cranky cri de cœur in National Catholic Reporter. One issue my essay only touched on, but which needs greater deliberation and amplification, is the question of what in fact defines a Catholic journalist.
The journalism trade today is what it is: a profoundly stressed business that is being buffeted by forces beyond the guild’s control—ever-changing algorithms that can doom your content, an “attention economy” that has more platforms chasing fewer eyeballs, and vampire capitalists who bleed vulnerable media dry.
The decline of traditional journalism shops has opened opportunities for many individuals to hang out a shingle and declare themselves Catholic journalists. Some do it with good intentions but mistake popular fluff for serious reporting; others are simply amateurish at best, or insidious at worst.
So how should we define what it means to be a Catholic journalist?
Here’s my elevator pitch: A Catholic journalist is a Catholic who writes in good faith about Catholic things while following the trade’s professional standards and ethical practices.
Above all, a Catholic journalist seeks the truth and reports it fairly, without fear or favor.
That seems like it ought to be uncontroversial, just commonsensical. Apparently not.
Many continue to believe that “orthodoxy” is the baseline trait of a Catholic journalist—defining orthodoxy the way they prefer, of course, usually tilting in a rightward direction.
Others see Catholic journalists as evangelists.
That is the cringey approach of many of the soft-focus, “lifestyle” approaches to Catholic news promoted by “content evangelizers” like FAITH Catholic, a media provider that is seeking to sell its products to dioceses and supplant actual journalism.
The founder of FAITH Catholic, which was recently the focus of an in-depth report by NCR’s Brian Fraga, was quoted as saying that “it is a higher call to be an evangelist than a journalist … When the ideals of journalism appear to take precedence over being a disciple who evangelizes, the diocesan journalist can lose his or her way.”
That is the apologist’s approach to Catholic journalism, a lamentable and all-too common view of the role of journalism in Catholicism that winds up serving neither evangelization nor journalism.
Clifford Longley, in a tribute in The Tablet to the recently deceased John Wilkins, a Catholic and a journalist worthy of both dignities, also took aim at that conflation of journalism and public relations.
But in his eulogy to his longtime colleague, and his elegy to their shared vocation, Longley argued that the roles of Catholic and journalist are inherently distinct and irreconcilable [Note: italics added]— “a source of tension which needs to be managed but can never finally be resolved because journalism and Catholicism follow different rules. If both can be described as searches for truth, then they follow parallel lines which can only meet at infinity.”
This is where I would disagree.
Journalism tends to focus on facts and Catholicism on faith.
But the shared search for truth leads to the same place.
Fudging the facts in order to protect the faith—to “avoid scandal,” as the Code of Canon Law has it—is a concept that has been distorted to argue for covering up anything that makes church officials uncomfortable.
Such a reading would inevitably put journalism and Catholicism at odds.
But a proper reading shows that hiding the truth is what scandalizes the faithful and hurts the Church.
We have seen how that happens time and again, and it’s inherently contradictory for a religion based on preaching the truth to believe it can be helped by hiding the truth.
That would be denying its own identity.
That’s also why a Catholic who is a good journalist has a good shot at being a good Catholic.
And given that the career path is more like financial martyrdom, there’s even a chance at sainthood.
—David Gibson is a journalist and author and director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University.
[End, David Gibson‘s thoughtful if slightly tendentious piece on Catholic journalism today — if there is such a thing...]
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[Link to the James O’Keefe video below]
The O’Keefe Affair
Here below is the transcript of a recently published video interview with James O’Keefe, the recently ousted founder and head of Project Veritas (link):
The interviewer asks O’Keefe:
“Has there ever been a moment in your career when you said, ‘I can’t do this again, this is really hard, this really uncomfortable?”
James O’Keefe responds:
“Yes. The first chapter of this book American Muckraker, which is a journalism textbook, is about suffering…
“Because I think there is a lot of trauma that has occurred in my life and in the lives of the people that work for me…
“Whether you are being a whistle-blower and you are violating your non-disclosure agreement…
“You’re fired from your job. I was arrested in 2010 by the FBI… Eventually exonerated for what they accused me of… We were raided by the FBI in November, these were Federal agents, taking journalists work product, rifling through anonymous sources in order to find out if you have been committing crimes…
“These are traumatizing things, that shake the foundations of what it means to be a journalist, of what it means to be an American.
“And you live through that…
“You are falsely accused… you get sued.
“You’ve got the most powerful people in the world — pharmaceutical companies, federal governments, the president, the attorney general — coming after you, and there are moments when you say, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore’…
“You know, I talk about that in that book. It’s a very personal story.”
“But then you begin to realize, that there are people out there who believe in you. And all they have is you, really. Is there anybody else?
“And you begin to realize there’s more of us than there are of them, in the sense that there are more people that believe in truth and transparency than believe in darkness and corruption.
“And then you have these whistle-blowers that come to you, and I say in the book, ‘The hunter becomes the hunted.’ So, they are more afraid of us than we’re afraid of them.”
[Below is a link to the video of this interview.]
The hunter becomes the hunted— James O'Keefe (@JamesOKeefeIII) February 26, 2023
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