Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Media Matters

The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper has been doing a lousy job covering the full range of Catholic responses to the "marriage amendment." Of course, it's not the only mainstream media outlet to have fallen short in this regard. Yet given its standing as the major newspaper of the Twin Cities and the fact that it actually has a religion editor, I find its failure to offer broad, well-balanced coverage on the range of Catholic opinion and action on the marriage amendment to be all the more egregious.

I've been aware for some time now that, for whatever reason, the paper is extremely reluctant to acknowledge, let alone report on in any depth, the growing opposition of the Catholic people to the anti-gay, pro-amendment activism of the Catholic hierarchy. Locally, such activism is led by Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Minnesota Catholic Conference (of Bishops). As executive coordinator of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I find the Star Tribune's lack of coverage of the people, perspectives and activities of this group both disappointing and frustrating.

Here's one example of what I'm talking about: During Lent, C4ME-MN organized and held a series of Sunday vigils outside the chancery office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Eighty people showed up for the first vigil on February 26, and each subsequent Sunday saw an increase in the number of attendees. At the last vigil on Palm Sunday, over 250 people gathered in prayerful opposition to the Archbishop's expenditure of energy and money on promoting the marriage amendment rather than on actions that reflect Jesus' Gospel call to care for the poor and marginalized. Despite two different media releases sent by C4ME-MN to various staff writers and columnists, the Star Tribune failed to cover C4ME-MN's presence at the chancery. Yet a few months earlier, in October 2011, Archbishop Nienstedt's announcement that he was establishing committees in every parish to push for the amendment made front page news.

In January 2012 the Star Tribune had another front-page story about the Archbishop's pro-amendment activism, a story about how in a speech and subsequent letter to the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese, Nienstedt had demanded their full obedience to his pro-amendment agenda and expected no public dissent from them. Missing from the Star Tribune's coverage was the fact that the paper was tipped off about the Archbishop's communique by a media release from the Progressive Catholic Voice, which leaked the text of Nienstedt's letter. Now, I could take the matter personally, being as I am the editor of the PCV, but what I think is really happening is that, like C4ME-MN, the PCV is not "official" enough in the eyes of the Star Tribune to warrant a mention. Maybe the editors of the paper take Archdiocesan spokesperson Jason Adkins's word that those of us involved in such groups are "masquerading" as Catholics.

What convinces me of this theory is that the sole voice of opposition that the paper does quote is that of Father Michael Tegeder, an outspoken critic of the Archbishop. Tegeder is also, of course, an official part of the church hierarchy. Now, I admire and respect Mike Tegeder's tenacity and courage, but he is just one voice of opposition within the clerical caste system of the church that is pushing for the amendment. There are many, many others outside this system who are organizing, inspiring, and building a grassroots movement of respectful yet firm opposition. It's an opposition rooted in the Catholic tradition of social justice, the church's teaching on the primacy of conscience, and the ancient understanding of the sensus fidelium, the voice of the faithful. As faithful lay Catholics we have unique experiences and insights. We also have the duty to share these with those in positions of authority. Is it too much to expect secular media outlets to understand, explore and articulate such Catholic realities? Perhaps. But the near total lack of coverage as we've experienced with the Star Tribune is definitely a sad state of (media) affairs.

But wait! Thankfully, things appear to be changing – not, as far as I know with the Star Tribune, but in terms of media coverage on the existence and work of C4ME-MN and the reality of the growing discontent and opposition of "ordinary" Catholics to the political activism of the bishops around the issue of the marriage amendment. This coverage is coming from what some might call the "alternative" press, though given the changing nature of the media world, the "alternative" is fast becoming the new mainstream for many, especially for those under 40.

And so I'm happy to report that the online news journal MinnPost recently published an article by local writer Beth Hawkins that offers what I've long been waiting and hoping for: a cogent, in-depth and balanced report on the range of Catholic responses to the marriage amendment. Indeed, not since Tim Gihring's May 2008 Minnesota Monthly piece on Catholic responses to Archbishop Nienstedt, has a local Catholic issue been so thoughtfully and thoroughly explored.

Hawkins' MinnPost article is just the beginning. In the last few weeks I've spoken to reporters from both City Pages and Minnesota Public Radio and/or directed them to other Catholics to interview. Local media across the board, it seems, are finally starting to acknowledge and cover the full range of Catholic perspectives on the marriage amendment. And if the Star Tribune comes calling so as to "get on board," all of us at C4ME-MN would be more than happy to talk to them!

Recommended Off-site Link:
Conflicted Catholics: Consciences Wrestle with Church Actions on Marriage Amendment – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, April 18, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Responding to Whiny Catholic Bishops Who Cry Victim
"Come On, Ethel, We're Leaving!"
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Palm Sunday at the Chancery
Sharing the Good News of Marriage Equality at the Basilica Block Party
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality

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