February, 28th, 2018 (Bob Zyskowski). As a journalist, I seethed watching news videos of the US President refusing to take a question from reporters, shunting them off and belittling them as “fake news”.  The tack is strategic, both to avoid questions the President fears answering and to impugn the integrity of journalists and media. As a Catholic journalist, I witnessed a Church leader do much the same at a meeting of the Board of Directors of a Catholic publishing company, disparaging the statement of a well-known Jesuit priest with the mocking words, “Well, that’s a Jesuit for you”, as he smiled and looked around the boardroom for acknowledging chuckles. Similarly, depending on one’s ideology, Catholics - clergy and lay alike - sneer alternately at “Vatican II Catholics”, “John Paul II priests”, nuns without habits, home-schooling moms, and more.

Our Church suffers, too, when leadership acts in a vein not far removed from the fake news charge, not as blatant as Mr. Trump, and not as public. There’s the three-ring binder a Church communications officer is ordered to develop, a dossier on local media, listing “friends” and “enemies”. There are the orders to communications staff to give “good news” and feel-good photo-ops solely to the Church’s media friends. The reason? Fear of the truth, the sense that someone or something must be protected from the truth. As an executive for a Catholic newspaper I was asked not to send certain reporters to cover certain stories because, a Church leader explained, “they ask hard questions.” Our Church’s worst strategy has been the belief that secrets are possible.

As I worked in the Catholic press, I asked myself when Church leaders would realize that there are no secrets. I sense now, blessedly, that the Church has moved into a new era, having learned that it is the secrets that need be feared, not journalists’ hard questions. And not the truth.

Bob Zyskowski, a former president of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, retired in 2016 after working for Catholic newspapers for 43 years.