Catholic News Service director and editor-in-chief Greg Erlandson said calls for Pope
Francis to resign are “extremely dangerous” adding that he felt some people have “crossed the line” in doing so. “Even if you absolutely felt compelled to make that statement, that will turn this into a political matter,” he said. “That [is what] I am very concerned about.”
Mr Erlandson spoke before Catholic journalists and communicators at the Australian Catholic Communications Congress in Brisbane on September 5. He was former president and director of Our Sunday Visitor as well as a member of the committee on the reform of Vatican communications chaired by Lord Patten, which led to the creation of the Secretariat for Communications. He has been a Catholic journalist for about 30 years.
“It’s just so distressing to see this become an ideological battle,” he told people at the congress.
“I realise there are legitimate issues and Catholics need to be able to debate and engage in the issues,” he continued. “But I think we have to [consider] the dangers of polarisation and escalating everything to the point of crisis and even breakage.”
He said in the United States, comments like “schism” and “civil war” are being used to describe what is going on in the Church.
“I think the damage that would be done should the Pope be forced into a resignation like this would last for generations,” he said in the question and answer portion of his talk. “But at the same time, these charges had been made and by someone who had been in authority in the United States, we can’t just sweep it all under the rug.”
Mr Erlandson said Pope Francis has put the onus journalists to investigate Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s accusations in his (Vigano’s) 11-page letter released last month.
“This is a tremendous compliment. It’s where the Pope actually said, ‘hey, journos go out and do your work’. I think we should take that as an endorsement,” he said.
At the same time, though, he said he hopes Pope Francis would respond to the allegations. As of press time, the Pope’s cardinal advisors said the Vatican is “formulating possible and necessary clarifications” .
“In the United States, it’s just a punch to the gut on top of everything else that we are going through. And the trouble is it just muddies all the waters. Suddenly, you are not saying how did Cardinal [Theordore] McCarrick get appointed as Archbishop of Washington? Suddenly, you’re saying should the Pope resign?” he said.
In his speech at the conference, Mr Erlandson underscored the importance of the Catholic media communicating hope at a time when many in the Church and in the world are despairing.
He said the stories of “missionary witnesses of the power of faith will always be the most effective, eloquent means of communicating hope to a despairing world”.
“Today, Catholic media can seek out the stories of Catholic laity at home and abroad who are modelling for their fellows what it is like to live the faith and fully engage the world. These stories can be found in our parishes and our lay movements, among those who struggle to live according to the Church’s teachings in a modern world, among those who
care for the defenceless, the hidden saints and healing sinners.”
Mr Erlandson said the Catholic press remains the primary source of adult faith formation and needs to be intentional in this role.
“Catholic media not only informs and forms. It also is capable of inspiring. It is often stories of faith that inspire us.”
He added that giving voice to the voiceless “remains a critically important task of Catholic
“The Church needs its own voice to engage society and be heard in the public square. It needs a voice to inform Catholics about religious persecution or ethical conflicts, life and human dignity issues, social concerns such as the treatment of immigrant and refugees, or threats to the family. It needs a voice to tell the stories that are not being told, or not being told well, and it needs a voice to mobilise Catholics,” he said.
Catholic media, he stressed, is neither narrowly pedantic nor propagandistic.
“There are many who view journalism solely through an ideological lens, and who equate works with which they disagree as disloyalty. All of this is more complicated if the journalist or editor in question is employed by a Church institution,” Mr Erlandson noted.
He said some diocesan editors in the US are still being told to play down events concerning the scandals that are currently unfolding there.
Such avoidance, he said, “neuters the Catholic press” and makes it irrelevant to its Catholic readers and the society in general.
“To have this credibility, however, and to play its own role in the Church’s renewal, Catholic media must be able to confront, and report on, the challenges that the Church is facing. It plays a critical role in the transparency and the truth-telling that is necessary if the Church is to regain its credibility with its own members and with society as a whole,” he said.