Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

CWN has turned 15

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 30, 2011

While my mind was on other things, the Catholic World News service quietly passed its 15th anniversary. Thanks to the loyal readers who have been with us since the beginning!

At a time when so many internet enterprises are foundering, I think the birthday is worth at least a small nod of recognition. So I’m reproducing here a piece that I wrote 5 years ago, after CWN turned 10, explaining what makes our service unique. These thoughts were originally posted here on October 27, 2006. (I was even later acknowledging the anniversary that year.) The time references are dated now, of course—you’ll need to add 5 years to each one—but I still didn’t feel the need to change a single word. CWN has been guided by the same editorial vision since Day One.


Why CWN? What makes our news service different from the news provided by other outlets? In the new world of global communications, when readers can choose among the thousands of different resources available on the internet, why should they choose CWN?

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our news service, and plot our directions for the next decade, I have been asking myself these questions. Maybe regular CWN readers will be interested to know how I answer them. And just maybe, if you find my answers convincing, you could tell a few friends why they should be reading the CWN headlines every day.

Three Characteristics

There are three characteristics that set CWN off from other internet news sources. Some other news sites may boast one or two of these characteristics; very few can legitimately claim all three:

1. CWN is professional.

The internet has given us all access to enormous amounts of information. We can easily receive daily reports from all over the globe, on any topic that interests us. But the internet does not provide a simple way to know which reports are reliable--to separate the wheat from the chaff.

With a few minutes of web-surfing every morning, you could pull together dozens of stories about Church affairs. But how would you know which stories were accurate, and which were merely rumors, or some blogger’s wishful thinking? Without a reliable guide, you couldn’t. CWN acts as your guide.

CWN deals in facts, not rumors. Working with veteran journalists in Rome and around the Catholic world, we confirm stories before we report them. If we cite "informed sources at the Vatican,” we are talking about officials of the Roman Curia, not gossips in the hallway.

You may sometimes see a rumor floated first on another site. But when you read it on CWN, you can be confident the story is true.

2. CWN is loyal.

CWN is owned and operated by faithful Catholics, loyal to the Magisterium of the Church, devoted to preserving and spreading the faith.

There is no “hidden agenda” behind the CWN news coverage. Quite the contrary, we are very open about our goals. We hope that, by offering a vision of daily world events as seen through the eyes of the faith, we can help to strengthen the faith of our readers, and help people appreciate the wisdom of Catholicism. We pray over our work, seeing it as a form of evangelization.

When CWN covers disputes within the Church, we are not working subtly to undermine traditional Catholic teachings, or to lobby for doctrinal change. We support traditional teachings, we embrace Catholic doctrine, and we respect the authority of the hierarchy as expressed by the Holy Father and all the bishops in communion with him.

3. CWN is independent

On questions of faith and morals, we defer to the authority of the hierarchy. But on questions of journalism, CWN is fiercely independent.

CWN does not receive financial help from any diocese, religious order, or Church agency. Our work is supported solely by our readers and advertisers. Consequently, we never feel pressure to tailor our news coverage to suit the preferences of any Church leader.

Diocesan newspapers perform a valuable service for the Church. But as long as the bishop is also the publisher, readers will have reason to wonder whether the diocesan newspaper is giving them the whole truth. The editor of a house organ will always be tempted to downplay inconvenient facts, to put the news in the most favorable light.

At CWN we are committed to the belief that honesty is the best policy. We do our best to lay out the facts fully and objectively, letting readers draw their own conclusions. Sometimes the facts are unpleasant--heaven knows that has been true often in the past few years--but we believe that in the long run, truth is always the ally of the Catholic faith. Or as St. Augustine put it, “God does not need my lie.”

A Hostile Environment

We live in a society that has become steadily more secularized, more alienated from Christian moral principles. The teachings of the Catholic Church, on matters that were universally accepted just a generation ago, are now politically incorrect. Today, anyone who always, unapologetically defends the dignity of human life and the indissolubility of marriage will become a focal point of controversy.

CWN does defend those Catholic teachings. And if that defense makes us a lightning-rod for criticism, so be it. We will not pull our punches to avoid an argument. We try to present facts and analyze arguments in a calm, dispassionate manner. But we realize that our editorial policies will probably anger some readers. That is a price we are willing to pay.

In fact, if we draw criticism toward ourselves, CWN could be doing a service to the Church. If readers are angry at us rather than at the Church, perhaps it will be easier for them to be reconciled with the Church at some point in the future. They may still think we are wrong — and since CWN is not infallible, they may be right! No grave harm is done when someone disagrees with CWN. Although we do our best to present an authentically Catholic perspective, we do not claim to speak with the authority of the Church; we speak only for ourselves.

And in speaking for ourselves, we are carrying out the mandate of Vatican II, working as laymen to transform the secular world through the light of Christian faith. We are following a venerable tradition of Catholic journalism, a field in which laymen have often opened new frontiers.

This year the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano is marking its 145th anniversary. It's interesting to note that L'Osservatore was originally founded by Italian laymen, at a time of great political turmoil, to function as the voice of Catholics loyal to the Pope. In its early days the newspaper was highly controversial, plunging into the disputes between Italian royalists and supporters of the papacy. Only many years later did L'Osservatore become a quiet in-house publication--and it's worth noticing that today the Italian bishops publish another daily newspaper, Avvenire, which competes directly with the secular media in Rome.

Twenty years ago I was hired as editor of the Pilot. Today the Pilot is the official newspaper of the Boston archdiocese, but it, too, was founded by Catholic laymen. At the peak of its influence, late in the 19th century, when it reached a half-million readers every week, the Pilot was the newspaper of record for Irish immigrants living in America. The editors had found a formula for success. Irish Catholic immigrants were already scattered all across the United States, but they still had a common sense of identity and a common perspective on their new land. The Pilot offered the news from the same editorial perspective.

In the Western world today, loyal Catholics have their own common perspective on life in a society marked by secularism and skepticism. At CWN we seek to serve their needs.

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Oct. 02, 2011 7:55 PM ET USA

    All truth is God's truth, and CWN has always told the truth. That includes not hiding the truth due to some misguided sense of loyalty--the very thing that allowed the scandal to flourish for so long. CWN has been a beacon of objective truth, which is the point...