The family synod showed that the Church is still struggling to come to terms with the digital era
The Catholic Herald website has long been the best in the business, I hope you’ll agree. And now we have this ridiculously smart redesign, launched today just before the Herald newspaper turns itself into a compulsively readable and thrillingly well-presented weekly magazine. I’m sorry to gush with all these superlatives, but – like the ambassador in those old Ferrero Rocher ads – Mr Editor, you are really spoiling us.
On the other hand, to quote another advert, we’re worth it. By “we” I mean the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in the English-speaking world who devour online information about the Church and circulate it on social media. The “Francis effect” would have happened anyway, but it was websites such as catholicherald.co.uk that transformed Catholics on the web into messengers bearing good news. One click of the RT or “like” button and the Holy Father’s latest impromptu remarks at his early morning Mass are on a million iPhones.
Bad news, too, mind you. Plus critical analysis. The Herald takes its digital responsibilities seriously – but it is the world’s premier online Catholic newspaper and therefore an essential feed for Catholics who chew over every morsel of news that indicates how this pontificate is developing. I say “morsel”, but it’s been more like a feast recently, what with the family synod that (as I’ve argued elsewhere) didn’t work out exactly as planned.
The synod perfectly illustrates the Church’s difficulty in coming to terms with the internet. The press conference that appeared to signal a startling change of tone in Catholic attitudes to divorcees and gay people was generating melodramatic headlines within, what, 10 minutes of it starting. These in turn stirred up the faithful to a pitch of excitement or indignation for which the Vatican press office – surprise, surprise – was wretchedly ill-prepared. Bloggers with an agenda had a field day. Several field days, indeed, because before the week was out one leading cardinal had accused another leading cardinal of racism.
The Church’s default position in these moments of crisis is to blame online “troublemakers”. It doesn’t seem to occur to prelates and press officers that, if Rome or a bishops’ conference mismanages an event in the digital age, then it is not just asking for but actually making trouble. Which is why websites such as catholicherald.co.uk are indispensable. No other online Catholic resource is so good at performing the trick of reporting and analysing sensitive news stories while remaining faithful to the Magisterium. Indeed, “miracle” might be a better word than “trick”. And now it has been re-ordered with infinitely greater skill than the sanctuary of the average parish. But I’d better stop there. Enjoy! And subscribe!