At least once every month or two I get a junk-mail letter -- with spam emails coming more frequently -- from the business office of Time magazine, a publication for which I happily paid good money for several decades.
Perhaps you get these as well, the messages that say, "We want you back!" urging me to renew the subscription that I cancelled a year or two ago. Apparently these people do not pay attention to return messages or even the people who do their telephone research with former subscribers.
Does Time want me back? If so, why do the magazine's editors keep dedicating oceans of ink -- real and cyber -- to opinion essays about religious, moral and cultural topics that deserve serious journalistic attention? Is this just the spirit of the MSNBC-Fox age spreading over into the old prestige media? I assume so.
Take, for example, the new essay that ran under the headline, "The Great Nunquisition: Why the Vatican Is Cracking Down on Sisters." This piece is the complete anti-news package. I will give the editors credit, since this essay is clearly marked "opinion." My question is, why not write a news piece about this topic? Why settle for a cheap first-person essay by an activist?
The article even has a photo of traditional nuns, while the text focuses on the work of nuns who consistently have clashed with the church hierarchy over doctrinal matters. Here is a key chunk of the piece, which essentially argues that nuns are an endangered species and that it is the Vatican's fault.
If you think the news is bad now, a world without nuns would be a far worse place. The nuns ... are much too humble to tout their achievements and all of the good they contribute to society, but make no mistake, they are an integral part of the fabric that holds our civilization together.
In 2014 there were just 49,883 religious Catholic sisters in the United States, down 13% percent from 2010 according to figures from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. To put it in greater perspective, that is a 72% decline since 1965.
The essay then proceeds to laud the work of a series of modern, progressive nuns, which would be perfectly valid -- essential even -- content in a news story on this topic. What it does not do, of course, is detail the actual content of the statements and documents by some nuns that have caused these clashes with Vatican authorities.
That would, I assume, provide "false balance."
GetReligion has, of course, printed quite a few posts on mainstream coverage of this issue. As often happens in media reports, the Time essay actually hints, at one point, that there is another side to this story, the side of the story in which the editors have zero interest. Pay close attention:
The Vatican doesn’t celebrate these women. In fact, it has done the very opposite. Attacks on American nuns have been happening since 2008, when the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life initiated an “Apostolic Visitation,” a euphemism for investigation, of the nuns. ...
The nuns nicknamed it the Great Nunquisition and in the past eight years they’ve come under scrutiny from the church patriarchy.
A 2012 Vatican document highlighted the Church’s problem with the Leadership Council of Women Religious, the largest group of nuns in the United States.
Ah, so the controversial LCWR is the "largest" group of nuns in this country. This implies that there is at least one other, smaller group. That would, of course, be the more conservative Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.
If one was building a journalistic case for the statement that nuns are an endangered species, it would help to know if the orders aligned with this other group, and the Vatican, are suffering from a similar rapid decline. Are these orders doing better, when it comes to finding young women willing to take vows and join in their work?
I will leave it to Catholic readers to offer information and links on that topic in our comments pages.
Meanwhile, Time editors: I urge you to pursue journalistic coverage of this and other topics on the modern American Catholic scene. Please seek information from articulate and qualified progressive and conservative Catholics to include in these reports. Quote both sides at length.
Come on. Give it a try.
Some people might pay for that kind of coverage. Again.