Another day, another must-mention John L. Allen, Jr., Crux think piece about the 2015 synod in Rome.
Which reminds me that, since I've been on the road for several days, I never got around to discussing his essay on how the format of these meetings, with the crucial content being shaped behind all-but closed doors, is pushing reporters into territory that makes it hard to do basic reporting. As Allen put it:
The dirty little secret is that we’re not really covering the synod at all. For the most part, we’re covering people telling us about the synod, which is an entirely different enterprise.
To actually cover the synod would mean being inside the hall during the discussions, being able to develop our own impressions of what’s being said, to gauge the reaction, to watch body language and intonation and atmosphere, and to get an overall sense of emerging themes for ourselves.
That’s how one would cover a session of Congress, for instance, or a UN summit, or any other important gathering, but that’s decidedly not how things work at a Synod of Bishops.
At the synod you have the public documents, but little direct information about how the documents came into being. At that point, reporters have to interview people who claim to know the inside stuff, but cannot talk openly. At which point readers should hear warning sirens, since sources who work like that have agendas about 99.9 percent of the time.
As a rule, your GetReligionistas try to dig into hard-news products, although we do point readers toward "think pieces" that point readers toward essays that directly focus on issues linked to mainstream religion-news coverage. Allen writes a ton of those.
So this brings me to his analysis about the winds that are swirling around the "letter-gate" controversy (coverage here), in which a circle of bishops -- precise size uncertain -- signed some version of a letter to Pope Francis in which they criticized the way this synod on family issues is being run, or directed, or steered, or undermined, or all of the above.