Vested in secrecy

CatholicVestmentsMany conservatives are, at the moment, cheering for several U.S. Catholic bishops. So be it. However, Julia "Stairway to Heaven" Duin has a timely Washington Times column today about another reality -- the vestments of secrecy that continue to surround the life and work of the nation's Catholic shepherds. In fact, there is evidence the situation may be getting worse, at least in terms of how the bishops relate to mainstream reporters (forget bloggers and new media at this point, let's settle for the printing press).

The hook for the column is a new book entitled "Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and the Communion in the Catholic Church." That's a timely and important topic, especially when the author of the book is Russell Shaw -- the press aide for the bishops 18 years. It's also interesting that this book was published by Ignatius Press, a conservative Catholic company.

I have that book in my in basket at the moment, while I read another interesting book on a similar topic, which is "Witness to Truth: Lessons learned by a veteran journalist through four decades of watching the church" by Louis Moore, who did national level work at the Houston Chronicle (where Duin spent a chunk of time, as well) before working directly for the Southern Baptist Convention in the years after the great revolution of 1980s. I plan to write columns about both of these books, which pull important lessons from two radically different -- yet at times, similar -- flocks of clergy.

If you care about religion news, you can start by reading Duin's fine column. Here is a sample:

The TV cameras with Eternal Word TV Network used to pan the room when various bishops spoke up during their sessions. Helpful subtitles would appear under the name of each speaker for those of us who didn't have the visages of all 300 men memorized. But two years ago, the subtitles were removed and the cameras were trained only on the front podium, making the discernment of who was who unbelievably difficult.

Back in the 1980s, reporters were able to walk about the main meeting room during breaks to ask the bishops questions. Now you have to submit a media request form - with the exact question you want answered - to the USCCB's media desk, which transmits the request by courier to the desired bishop.

The bishop can agree or decline to talk.

Shaw knows that the bishops have to walk some high wires in private, when dealing with the Vatican, dissenters and, well, you know what. Still, most debates work better in the light of day.

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