Archbishop tells editors where to put dissenting views

In the wake of the controversial resignation of the Jesuit editor of the New York-based America Catholic news magazine, Vatican official Archbishop John Foley has said so-called dissenting views should receive less than equal weight in the Catholic Press.

Archbishop Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, insisted that he had nothing to do with the ouster of Fr Thomas Reese, who was criticised for sometimes giving equal weight to dissenting views in the hope that their "error" would be plain to readers.

In a speech given in Florida to Catholic media personnel, Archbishop Foley paid tribute to Fr Reese, but said he agrees with a recent editorial in the US Our Sunday Visitor Catholic Newspaper and an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that a priest-editor, who in some way is expected to represent the magisterium of the Church, "cannot appear to give equal weight in a publication sponsored by a religious community to articles which present the teaching of the Church and articles which dissent from it."

The occasion for the Vatican official's comments was addressing a joint meeting of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada and the Catholic Academy of Communications Arts Professionals.

He recalled a personal experience in the media when widespread dissent erupted over a magisterial teaching.

"In August 1968," he said, "the editor of The Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia was on vacation when 'Humanae Vitae' was published -- and I found myself in charge.

"A number of Catholic publications ignored the fact that there was dissent from the encyclical; a greater number highlighted the dissent and put the encyclical in a subordinate position. I decided to use the encyclical as the lead story and to use the dissent as a separate story on an inside page with the jump of the encyclical story from page one -- and then I did an editorial in support of the encyclical."

Archbishop Foley said: "I felt that the encyclical represented the official teaching of the Church, which had to be highlighted and with which I happened to agree then, as I do now, but that the dissent was a significant fact that could not and should not be ignored.

"I also thought that the official teaching of the Church should be supported editorially -- both through comment and through story placement. If I were still an editor, I think that would remain my publication philosophy today."

Vatican Official Comments on Handling of Dissident Views

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pontifical Council for Social Communications
International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP)
Australian Catholic Press Association

Vatican official tells Catholic journalists to aim high (CathNews 15/10/04)

Clarification of the 'America' Affair (Jesuits Australia 26/5/05)
Archbishop Foley's Address to Communicators: Refers to America Magazine (Zenit 25/5/05)
Where Bishops Blog
Document says Americans have right to quality, diversity in media (Catholic News Service 17/5/05)
"Boredom" Greatest Sin in Media, Says Archbishop (Zenit 11/5/05)
Scottish bishop: "Church has a duty to use the media" (Independent Catholic News 4/5/05)

27 May 2005