In Changing Times – Our Newspaper/New Magazine and the Church
Editorial by Rosanne Shields, chairperson of the board of directors of The Southern Cross
It is a sad day when an institution like The Southern Cross newspaper, as a print publication, has to close — just a few weeks short of turning 100 years old.
This has been a time of deep reflection for all of us involved, difficult discussions with the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, crisis management by the board, and great sacrifice on the part of the loyal staff, culminating in their retrenchment since we cannot go on as normal when all of our parish points of sale are closed.
Even though our digital subscriptions will have doubled in number by the time the churches reopen, this is not enough to replace the income from the printed weekly edition.
A pandemic such as Covid-19 and the resultant lockdown has a way of focusing one’s thoughts and cutting through the fluff that so often surrounds us within the Catholic Church, with its complex hierarchical structure that in many ways is at odds with how we function as modern people in the 21st century, and in particular as Catholic media.
One hears two consistent views from many, not all, in the institutional hierarchy.
Firstly, that the Church operates largely apart from the norms and standards shaped by society, a constant in the face of changing morality.
Secondly, that Catholic media should reflect the Church’s unchanging and unbending position, as dictated by those in authority. Translated: Do not “air dirty laundry”, keep problems and disagreements “within the family”.
In this case it is the story of the Church-run home for unmarried mothers and babies in Tuam, Ireland.
In 2017 excavations at the site of the home revealed human remains in a mass grave, a 20-chamber underground structure near an unused sewerage tank. These remains were of 796 infants and children, some lost in the final trimester of pregnancy, mostly buried in the 1950s.
They were buried in unconsecrated ground, with no dignity, because they were born to unmarried mothers.
Would this be tolerated by society now? No. Would the Church condone such un-Christian and shocking behaviour by those running a similar home now? No.
So, society changes and, however slowly, the Church changes too because it is a living, breathing body made up of all of us.
How does Catholic media and its role come into this? We need to ask ourselves whether we would have known all the details of this story and many others had it not been reported, had journalists not engaged with the researchers and the campaigners who took it on themselves to rectify this travesty.
What would have happened had the many instances of clerical abuse of power and sexual abuse not been brought to light by media, including Catholic media, around the world? Would we have the commissions, the apologies, the protocols and help given to survivors if this scourge had been allowed to thrive in the darkness?
Of course the role of Catholic media is not just about waiting to pounce on the failures within Church and society. A very important task is to bring hope, to share the good news stories, the supreme sacrifices made by people serving God, holding them up so that we can see the way and emulate them.
Our role is also to analyse how the economic, political and social behaviour of those in power in our country compares with the values Christ has given us.
Our contribution should be part of ending poverty of mind, body and spirit, telling the story of the underdog and juxtaposing different viewpoints.
Because we believe we have such a role to play, three outgoing senior staff of The Southern Cross have agreed to work on a freelance basis to maintain our growing presence online and to launch a monthly printed magazine for sale through the parishes and via print and digital subscription.
Moving forward there is much that The Southern Cross can do differently and do better. We need to reach a greater and more diverse audience, to be more things to more people, but keep our focus.
This is a delicate balancing act and we invite you with open arms to journey with us as we write the next chapters of our history.