Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

So who owns the Catholic ‘brand’?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 11, 2024

It’s the Age of the Laity and all that, but Stephen Millies, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, worries that things are getting out of hand.

“Who owns the brand?” The honest answer probably is that it no longer is owned (at least in the same way it used to be) by the successors of the apostles, our bishops and pastors.

Millies illustrates his point by showing that organizations run by lay Catholics are raising large sums of money, even while the bishops are seeing a decline in diocesan and parish offerings. (The amount of money collected, apparently, is what determines who “owns the brand” of Catholicism.

While bishops and pastors struggle to sustain schools and soup kitchens—indeed, while the U.S. bishops contemplate shuttering the Catholic Campaign for Human Development—Catholics contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year to these (and many other) activist and social communication organizations that have redefined the Catholic “brand” in the United States.

But wait. Is it a bad thing that lay people are raising money for Catholic causes? That donors are enthusiastically supporting new initiatives? What really bothers Millies is that the successful new initiatives run by lay Catholics support causes that he does not endorse—whereas apparently he does endorse the radical political activism that is the stock-in-trade of the CCHD.

At least I think that’s what bothers him. The sentence in which he explains his discomfort is a bit of a grammatical puzzle:

Much of the difficulty about Catholics in U.S. politics owes to how worried I think our bishops are that they’ve lost control of the narrative.

Sorry, Stephen, but it’s not the bishops who have lost control of their narrative. When you write for the National Catholic Reporter, you’re in an awkward position complaining that other people misuse the “Catholic” brand:

As a legal matter, anyone can create a corporation or achieve nonprofit tax-exempt status with a Catholic-sounding name. The IRS does not seek the permission of bishops when that happens.

If IRS officials did consult the bishops, they might note that on at least two occasions, the bishop of the diocese where the Reporter is located has informed the paper’s editors that they should not advertise their product as a “Catholic” newspaper.

So now again, who owns the brand?

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: MatJohn - Jun. 12, 2024 3:01 PM ET USA

    The Reporter sees the comments of their diocesan bishop as badges of honor. The publication is infatuated with the word cafeteria.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Jun. 11, 2024 6:47 PM ET USA

    I see that he is the Director of The Bernardin Center in Chicago, also, which may call into question the narrative which he would like to see as the controlling one.