DIRECTOR and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service Greg Erlandson tries to look beyond the daily barrage of bad news engulfing the Church.
“However painful each new revelation is, however tired we are of it all, our commitment must continue to be: Whatever it takes; whatever it costs; however long it lasts,” the 65-year-old said from CNS Washington headquarters, ahead of a visit to Australia next month.
“Why must the Church endure this pain? In part because she needs purification – in part because only then can she help a despairing world.”
CNS is a vast news gathering service – text, photos and video – providing coverage and analysis from around the globe.
It doesn’t shy away from reporting on investigations into child sex abuse by priests, the faltering efforts to rebuild trust and confidence in the Church hierarchy, and the erosion of trust amongst the faithful.
In terms of true and fair journalism, Mr Erlandson thinks the Catholic press is critically important.
“It is the only place where Catholics can be informed and formed,” he said.
“But the Catholic press must be able to report the ill as well as the good if it is to retain its credibility.
“It is our witness that is most likely to attract others to the truth of Christianity.”
Mr Erlandson will speak in Brisbane on September 5 at the National Catholic Communications Congress, bringing together Catholic communications specialists and journalists from dioceses, social services and religious institutes from across Australia.
He will deliver a keynote speech entitled “Communicating Hope in a Despairing World” – which just might be a call-to-arms to Catholic journalists everywhere to look beyond the daily cycle of bad news.
It’s clear to Mr Erlandson there is plenty of good news to tell, and that much hope can be found in stories at the Church’s grassroots.
“The woman working in the Catholic Charities centre, the volunteer catechist, the parish priest reaching out to the marginalised in his community – the countless stories that are begging to be told about people living their faith in small daily ways,” he said.
“I do think that Pope Francis is a beacon of hope. He is challenging the Church in a prophetic way, challenging clericalism, challenging self-centredness, challenging consumerism.
“He is no more perfect than the rest of us, but I think he comes at a particular time of crisis, and is trying to re-centre the Church. We ignore his appeals at our peril.”
Mr Erlandson rejoined CNS two years ago after nearly 27 years with Catholic publishing company Our Sunday Visitor.
He became OSV editor in 1989, was promoted to editor-in-chief of its editorial operations in 1992, and then named president and publisher in 2000.
“CNS is one of the gifts of the US church to the rest of the Catholic world,” he told CNS soon after his appointment.
“Catholic News Service has for decades been the backbone of the Catholic press.
“It has enabled diocesan media to have a dependable source of national and international news, of great columnists and great features.
“It has also provided timely and trustworthy reporting to a wide variety of Catholic publications and organisations as well as to bishops and communicators around the world.”
Mr Erlandson worked for CNS from 1986 to 1989.
After a brief time in the Washington office, he worked at the CNS Rome bureau until he left to become editor at OSV.
Over the years, Erlandson has had an active role as an advocate for the Catholic press.
He served as president of Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada from 2011 to 2013 and continued on the organisation’s board after his term.
He has a powerful faith message to tell Catholic colleagues in Australia.
“Both Australia and the United States are materially successful, but there is a profound spiritual crisis behind the consumerist pleasures,” he said.
“This is manifesting itself in micro and macro ways: suicide, divorce, alcoholism, abortion on the micro level, but also the regional unrest that is fuelling a rise in nationalism and increasing opportunities for class, ethnic and military conflict.
“For the Church to communicate hope to the larger world, it must recapture its own sense of hope that comes from our deeply felt awareness of our own redemption. This is why the purification is necessary.
“We – clergy and laity and especially bishops – need to recover a sense of our discipleship and what that asks of us. We need to live this.
“When we say Jesus is our hope, we have to believe it, and act as if we believe it.”
Mr Erlandson has a bird’s-eye view of Washington, the Trump presidency and the debate over “fake news”.
“We live in a terribly polarised age,” he said.
“Ideology permeates everything, inside the Church unfortunately as well as outside.
“I think that US media has regained a certain energy in its role as watchdog, but it does not always resist the temptation to editorialise when it should just report.
“It is suffering from the same distrust of institutions and authority that plagues the Church as well as government and science.”
In all his discussions about faith, hope and the world, Mr Erlandson doesn’t lose sight of the essential journalistic craft of writing a good news story.
“My old boss (at OSV), Bob Lockwood, said that the only ‘unforgivable sin in Catholic journalism was to make religion boring’. It should pulse with relevancy and engagement,” he said.
The Australian Catholic Communications Congress runs from September 5-7 in Brisbane. It incorporates the Australasian Catholic Press Association Conference. Program details at: https://www.catholic.org.au/communications-congress-2018/program2018