With a controversial Catholic in the White House, there was no way Cardinal Wilton Gregory could confront a pack of Beltway journalists without answering political questions.
Job 1 was addressing President Joe Biden’s statement, “I respect them – those who believe that life begins at conception and everything – I respect that. I don’t agree, but I respect that.
The head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, DC, has made it clear that Biden can receive Holy Communion. However, Gregory also noted: “The Catholic Church teaches, and has taught, that life – human life – begins at conception. So the president does not demonstrate Catholic teaching.
It was the headline after this event, but that was not the topic that Gregory came to the National Press Club to discuss. In his recent speech, he praised the American mainstream press, especially journalists who – during this “time of anxiety” – have openly pushed for change on issues of racism and social justice.
“You are the one we rely on to keep us informed, updated and connected as a global community of diverse religious traditions,” said Gregory, America’s first black cardinal. “Like all industries, journalism has certainly changed over the years. Technology has expanded your reach and your ability to share our life stories, our dreams and our hopes.
“You are the professionals with the right words, who immerse yourself in a community, a situation or even a crisis – to bring us the facts, people and lessons that can help us work to live in true peace and equality for all, without threat of violence or harm. “
According to a sobering burst of data from Gallup, the Cardinal’s criticism of the national press would ring true for Democrats and political progressives – but not for Republicans and cultural conservatives. Catholics can be found in both of these camps, of course.
In their Sept. 1–17 poll, Gallup researchers asked, “In general, how much confidence do you have in the mass media – such as newspapers, television and radio – when it comes to reporting the news completely, accurately and fairly? – a lot, a lot, not a lot or not at all? ”
The results were the second lowest figures on record. Only 7% of American adults said they had “a lot” and 29% said “a good deal of confidence in the mainstream press, compared to 29% who said” not a lot “and the 34% who chose” none at all. “
Breaking down the numbers by political ties, 68% of Democrats trusted the press a lot or somewhat – compared to 11% of Republicans and 31% of self-identified independents.
Cardinal Gregory, for his part, pointed out that the mainstream press is part of what unites Americans, while helping to hold accountable leaders of public institutions – including religious groups. While the growing impact of social media is often positive, he also acknowledged, the “blatant destruction and vulgarity” found online. This has caused “great harm” to the nation by “fraudulent, unverified and biased information which passes for news”.
From the Cardinal’s perspective – as a leader among progressive Catholics – the key is that mainstream journalists are now openly calling for change on a multitude of issues, including systemic racism, immigration, poverty, discrimination based on on sex, the death penalty and “environmental justice”.
“It is you, the modern day American journalist who amplifies the voices of the community speaking out against injustice and inequality and calling for the necessary change in our systems and long-standing prejudices. That’s the impact. powerful of your multimedia images and your carefully written words which help us connect with the citizens of the world who are fighting for exactly the same hopes and dignity, ”said Gregory.
The bottom line, the cardinal concluded, is that journalists must continue to promote civility in America.
“As you well know as journalists, words have the incredible power and ability to build, damage or destroy,” said Gregory. “As news media, you have a role to play in guiding us towards civility – online, in print, on TV or on the radio. Civility and respectful dialogue for the purpose of sincere understanding can and should be encouraged, especially when we hold different or opposing political, religious or other views.