Crux be a lady: Globe's Catholic site aims at middle-aged female audience

Crux be a lady: Globe's Catholic site aims at middle-aged female audience

"Covering all things Catholic" is the slogan for the Boston Globe's new online venture, Crux. Judging by the look of it -- especially at the moment it went live yesterday -- "all things Catholic" translates largely to "all things we think a middle-aged Catholic woman would like to read." The site's original content (as opposed to its syndicated content) includes a preponderance of opinion pieces. Even the front-page headlines for the hard-news stories are opinionated in the way that the editors seem to imagine is "edgy" for a 50-something female audience, i.e. "Muller: Nuns are still being bad" -- though the headline on the actual article is more newsy ("Vatican's doctrinal chief renews criticism of US nuns").

The initial Crux page included Lisa Miller's agony-aunt column "OMG" oddly placed at top right, next to John L. Allen Jr.'s feature "Hard questions we're not asking Pope Francis." In the middle of the page was an ad seeking entrants for a liberal women's religious order, featuring a cheery-looking sister in her 60s wearing outdoorsy plainclothes. Buried toward the bottom of the page, almost as an afterthought, was a sports article, as though some editor felt a bone should be thrown to male visitors.

As I write, the page's layout has shifted somewhat: Miller's column is now buried, but the overall feel of the page is still directed to Catholic women of a certain age (i.e. my age). In the top-right spot now is Margery Eagan's "On Spirituality" column, the title of which suggests a desire to reach the Oprah-style "spiritual but not religious" crowd.

Eagan, incidentally, is the same writer who penned the notorious Boston Herald op-ed in response to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, "Court's Catholic justices attack women's rights" -- which makes this middle-aged Catholic female reader wonder whether Eagan is herself "spiritual but not religious."

Other than Miller's and Eagan's columns, most of the content of Crux is hard news or guest op-eds, taken from a variety of outlets.

GetReligionistas can certainly rejoice that the reporting by veteran Vatican watcher Allen is heavily featured on the site. Otherwise, Crux mixes original content with a good deal of syndicated material from Religion News Service and the U.S. bishops' Catholic News Service. Currently, the original articles include an interview with Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, a report on a national gathering of Catholic Native Americans and a commentary by a Catholic priest who is a convert from Anglicanism.

In terms of the quality of writing, the clergyman's commentary is by far the best of the bunch. Under the attention-getting headline: "I'm a Catholic priest - and I'm married," the story by the Rev. Jonathan Duncan, a Texas parish administrator, begins:

My desk is covered with sermon notes, Bible study materials, parish records, and so forth. I straighten it up when I know I have a meeting, but mostly it’s a mess.

That part is not so unusual for Catholic priests.

What may be a little different, however, is the fact that on any given afternoon, my office plays host to my two young sons arguing over who will be the altar server and who will be the priest in today’s installment of “play church.” The winner gets to carry the small brass chalice around wearing miniature-sized priest vestments, while trying to put a Styrofoam communion wafer in the dog’s mouth. If our youngest son, Alexander, doesn’t get to be the priest that day, he registers his protest by stealing the sacrament (an excommunicable offense) or by simply walking around chanting in monotone, just to annoy his older brother.

This is a Tuesday afternoon at the offices of St. John Vianney Catholic Church, which also happen to be the living room of my family’s home. And this is what a married Catholic priesthood looks like.

Duncan does a great job of summing up, in just under 1,500 words, why he became Catholic and why, to the surprise of some, he defends its teachings on celibacy:

For some, married priests are a panacea for every woe the Catholic Church has or could ever have.

Decline in vocations? We need a married priesthood.

Sexual abuse scandals? The answer must be … you guessed it, a married priesthood.

People are always surprised, then, to hear me defend celibacy, and I always tell them that if they want a full-throated defense of priestly celibacy, they should just talk to my wife, Elizabeth, who puts up with my busy schedule. She understands the Church’s rationale for celibacy better than most. She knows what a married Catholic priesthood looks like: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The priest also speaks about how he responds to Catholics who think that he and his wife are "a kind of Protestant Trojan horse." It's refreshing to read solid autobiographical writing from someone who has clearly wrestled with the Church's teachings and has come out of the conflict with a stronger faith.

On the opposite end, we have Miller's "OMG!", which places the determinedly liberal former Washington Post writer (on whom Newsbusters has a bulging file) in the odd position of offering "advice on ethics" -- Catholic ethics. In her first column, she counsels a woman who wants to know whether she should confront a married male friend who she has learned is having an affair:

There is no question where Catholic teaching stands on the question of adultery. Marriage is a sacrament and fidelity is required of those who undertake that union before God. But your friend is the adulterer here, not you, and it is he who needs to make amends before God and to his spouse. ...
When Pope Francis asks, “Who am I to judge?” he is not coining a phrase, but echoing millennia of tradition and teaching all the way back to Jesus, who challenged those who were without sin to cast stones. Keep your accidentally begotten information to yourself. 

Apparently, in the Gospel According to Miller, Jesus didn't urge adulterers, as a good friend would, to "go and sin no more." OMG indeed.

It's a major theme here at GetReligion that, in this day and age, opinion is cheap and reporting is expensive. Let's hope Crux invests more time and money on news and information.

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