It's a new fact of news life: Reporters have to start reading the alternative Catholic press

The scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church the past few months are only intensifying.

The allegations to come out of Pennsylvania (as well as Ireland and Australia) and accusations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick not only revealed how much the church is hurting, but also the stark ideological split within it. These events have also seen a rise in the power of online media.

The growth of conservative Catholic outlets, for example, and their ability to break stories against “Uncle Ted” has coincided with the internal struggle contrasting what traditionalists see as inadequate news coverage from the mainstream media regarding Pope Francis’ leadership. Filling that void are conservative journalists and bloggers on a mission to expose what they see as the Vatican’s progressive hierarchy.

In 2002, an investigation by The Boston Globe unearthed decades of abuse by clergy never before reported to civil authorities (click here for links). These days, accusations of wrongdoing within the Catholic Church are being exposed by smaller news organizations. No longer are mainstream outlets setting the pace here. Depleted newsrooms and not wanting to do negative stories about the pontiff have spurred conservative Catholic media to fill the journalism void.

Indeed, it’s a small group of influential blogs and news websites that has helped to inform millions as well as drive the debate.

The sex-abuse scandals that dominated news coverage over the summer are not going away. In the latest allegations to hit the U.S church, John Jenik, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, is under investigation after being accused of sexual abuse. First to the punch with the story soon after Cardinal Timothy Dolan made the announcement was CruxNow, a Catholic news site, and not any of the three competitive New York City dailies.

The revelations regarding Jenik could be just the start of a new flood of allegations going into 2019. The Justice Department recently sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the country ordering them not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse cases. The request to preserve those files, first reported by the blog Whispers in the Loggia, is yet another sign that the prove is expanding after the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

The blog, which reports on the Catholic hierarchy like no other, has become one of several must-read sites that have come to prominence in the past year. Indeed, The New York Times picked up the story — running it in its Sunday editions on Oct. 28 — a few days later.

Whispers in the Loggia is operated by Rocco Palmo, a former correspondent US correspondent for the British-based Catholic weekly The Tablet. Palmo, who is based in Philadelphia, also co-chaired the first Vatican conference on social media convened by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Social Communications.

Palmo isn’t alone when it comes to niche sites breaking news on what may be the biggest scandal in the church’s 2,000-year history. While Palmo and CruxNow treat the subject he covers like a traditional journalist without an agenda, those with a particular point of view have been strong in helping report out this story.

The key takeaway here is this: it has been sites featuring mostly conservative voices — doctrinally speaking — where some of the best reporting has taken place over the past three months. Specifically, the independent blogs run separately by noted Italian journalists Aldo Maria Valli and Marco Tosatti.

Fluency in Italian (or help from Google Translate) is important here. Both Valli and Tosatti were contacted by whistleblowing Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who penned an 11-page letter this past August 25 describing a series of events in which Pope Francis was allegedly aware of the allegations made against McCarrick years ago and that restrictions placed on him by Pope Benedict XVI had been ignored. It was those bloggers who helped spread Vigano’s memo to several key websites, including the right-leaning National Catholic Register and LifeSiteNews.com.

Another place to look is journalist Rod Dreher’s popular blog at The American Conservative. (Full disclosure: Dreher and I were once colleagues at The New York Post). Not only is Dreher an astute observer of the church, he also breaks news as when a Vigano letter in September appeared on his blog before it landed on other sites.

Aside from Valli, Tosatti and Dreher, another major player in more conservative circles has been Church Militant, a website aimed at Catholics unhappy with the direction this pontiff is taking the church. Founded by Michael Voris in 2006 as St. Michael’s Media, Church Militant was considered a fringe player until this summer. The growing scandals, fueled by a Pennsylvania grand jury report that showed decades of abuse by prelates, catapulted Church Militant into larger view. Voris’ editorials and news coverage, highly critical of the Vatican hierarchy, brought with it newfound readers and viewers.

Voris’ exclusive interview with Paul Kalchik, a Chicago priest suspended after removing and burning a rainbow gay pride flag used in his church’s sanctuary — an action taken despite the diocese’s objection. In years past, such an interview would have been obtained by that city’s largest local newspaper, in this case The Chicago Tribune, or by one of the major national TV or cable networks (if they were interested in religion, which is rather rare).

There are also voices on the religious left worthy of journalism attention. America, the Jesuit-run magazine, has been one of the biggest advocates of the pontiff and his progressive stance on issues such as the acceptance of the LGBT community and issues surrounding climate change. While they have not broken stories regarding the ongoing sex-abuse allegations, the magazine has produced a series of opinion pieces aimed at defending the pontiff’s role and the church as a whole.

Led by Father James Martin, the magazine featured a newsworthy piece in August by him under the headline, “The witch hunt for gay priests.”

Sidestepping traditional news organizations will only increase as media companies move away from objective reporting. While the Internet has led to the fragmentation of audiences, it has also benefitted journalism when it comes to the church scandals and this deep wound continues to afflict the Catholic Church. Journalists and general readers alike need to bookmark these sites in order to know and understand what’s going on with a story that isn’t going away anytime soon.

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