Action Alert!

Archbishop Gregory’s appointment: ‘safe’ in the hands of the mainstream media

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Apr 05, 2019

Reacting to the appointment of Archbishop Wilton Gregory to the Washington archdiocese, Michelle Boorstein, the religion writer for the Washington Post, commented on her Twitter account: “Largely a very safe choice. It will primarily piss off only the far-right.”

That’s true enough (although not very elegantly expressed) if you define as “far right” those Catholics who unapologetically profess all that the Church has traditionally taught. And come to think of it, most writers for the secular press (and not a few for Catholic publications) do think that way. So those of us who are appalled by the DC appointment can accept no sympathy from the mainstream media. In that sense Boorstein is right; Archbishop Gregory is a “safe choice.”

But think for a moment about why the choice is so safe. Isn’t it precisely because the mainstream media won’t pay attention to the protests? In that sense Boorstein’s reaction could be classified as a self-confirming prophecy. The appointment is “safe” because the only people who are upset are the people who will be ignored.

If reporters were inclined to pursue the story aggressively—as they would, if a different sort of prelate had been appointed—they might take a hard look at the new archbishop’s track record. They might recall that it was then-Bishop Gregory who, as president of the US bishops’ conference, assured us that the bishops were doing everything they could to prevent abuse—in fact claimed that the progress had been “nothing less than miraculous”—and then sent Theodore McCarrick out before the TV cameras as a representative of that progress. They might question his administrative competence, reminding us that in 2008, answering questions about sexual abuse in the Belleville diocese he had led, he testified that he was not informed about problems in his own diocese.

Tough-minded reporters, noting that the last two archbishops of Washington have left under a cloud, might have asked whether it’s true that Archbishop Gregory was actively promoted, at different points in his clerical career, by both of his predecessors. Or, turning the question around, they might have asked the incoming archbishop whether he planned to look into the files and hunt down any evidence of corruption and/or dishonesty in the previous regimes.

Did you see any of those questions raised in the media coverage of the appointment? Neither did I.

Last August, Julia Duin, who had once been religion columnist for the Washington Times, wondered aloud why reporters weren’t following up on some obvious leads in the wake of the McCarrick scandal. The nation’s most influential outlets still haven’t chased down those leads, and at this point it’s pretty obviously why they haven’t. They aren’t interested in identifying McCarrick’s enablers, in exposing the cabal of episcopal corruption. They aren’t interested, therefore, in learning whether Archbishop Gregory is a part of the problem. They aren’t interested in making life difficult for the “moderate” new leader of the Washington archdiocese. In the deft hands of the mass media, his appointment is “safe.”

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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