Yesterday the Boston Globe pulled the plug on its support for the Catholic website CRUX.
I had the privilege of attending the star-studded launch of CRUX about a year and a half ago. I was in Boston at the time and went along to meet the folks and find out what was up. I knew John Allen and had hopes for his vision of a new Catholic website that would avoid what Allen called the “tribalism” in American Catholicism.
I was flattered that editor Teresa Hanafin asked me to write for CRUX and I’ve enjoyed being one of their freelancers during their short Globe-backed life span.
While I admired their vision, it seemed to me that CRUX was never able to pull itself out of its own tribe of what might be called Boston Catholicism. The editorial slant was consistently left of center and seemed to be loaded with unshakeable out of date assumptions about how the media works and what the Catholic religion is, and CRUX’s view of the Catholic religion was weighed down with conventional, predictable and rather dull liberal assumptions.
“Yes. Women will be ordained one day. We just have to wait and work harder at it. Yes. Same sex marriage is a good thing and eventually our dear old Catholic Church will get itself up to date. Yes, abortion is ok. It’s a matter of a woman’s conscience. We’re cradle Catholics. We have fond childhood memories of Friday night fish fries, Sister Mary O’Hanrahan and her ruler and bingo in the church hall. Of course we don’t go to church EVERY Sunday. We’re not extremists!” You get the idea.
Teresa Hanafin made a good effort to expand that vision and include voices like mine that expressed a more historic Catholic faith, but I’m not convinced that it worked or that CRUX really found the wide and contemporary international Catholic audience it needed. Meanwhile news based websites like CNA, ZENIT and RomeReports gave us the Catholic news while European based Aleteia expanded and updated with a wide range of writers and viewpoints–becoming in many ways what CRUX was trying to be.
At the same time more and more Catholic blogs, websites and apostolates continue to be produced by newcomers. Websites like Catholic Gentleman, Those Catholic Men, Women of Grace, Integrated Catholic Life, ChurchPop, Crisis, RealClear Religion, The Catholic Thing, National Catholic Register. Catholic Online and many more crowd the market and compete for readers’ attentions and loyalties. By the time you add Catholic podcasts, personal blogs, vloggers and personal YouTube channels, the market is saturated.
Were the owners aware of all this competition? I don’t know, but I doubt it. It seemed to me that the CRUX team and the readers I engaged with were in their own “Boston Catholic Bubble.” Nevertheless, it would seem that the owners were expecting a good financial return for their investment through advertising revenue. Anyone who works in Catholic media knows that very few who write or publish receive more than a pittance. Catholic writing must always be seen as mission not a money maker, and because so many people are writing and publishing as a mission (and are therefore happy to write and publish for far less monetary return) they undercut a purely financially driven market just as low wages undercut any job market. To put it simply, the finances didn’t work because Catholics are used to writing for very little for websites that provide the content for free.
John Allen, whose balanced, expert reporting provided CRUX’s backbone has vowed to keep the site going. Let’s hope he finds the backers he needs and the writers he’s looking for who will help him keep alive the vision to produce a Catholic website that not only avoids the extremes of left and right wing attitudes, but does so without being bland. What is needed is a lively, intelligent, balanced and dynamic voice that is fully orthodox without being fundamentalist and fully relevant without being modernist.