Some years ago, I interviewed an archbishop - a high-ranking official at the U.S. bishops’ conference - about the state of financial affairs for the Church, and for the conference especially.
The interview took place in the ballroom of the hotel in which the bishops meet each November - a beautiful and elegant building on the waterfront of Baltimore Harbor. When the bishops come to town, the conference rents a few ballrooms at the hotel, along with dozens of smaller meeting rooms and suites.
Buffet meals are set up in hallways, private security station themselves at escalators, and the meeting sprawls across the hotel for the better part of a week.
Hours before my interview, the bishops had been asked to pass an emergency funding measure for the conference, which had gone over budget while revenue was shrinking.
I asked the bishop I interviewed about cost-cutting measures. I mentioned the expense of the meeting we were attending: six figures, spent twice a year. Surely, I suggested, costs could be cut. I asked whether a cheaper location might be found.
The archbishop looked at me for a moment, and buffed his fingernails on the lapel of his jacket. He stared down at his polished shoes, which rested on the ballroom’s thick carpet. Then he spoke.
“Well,” he said, “the Church is both human and divine. I mean, really, where should we go? A retreat center?”
He scoffed, and the meeting soon ended.
Of course, the archbishop wasn’t wrong, exactly. The Church is both human and divine. And meetings need to happen somewhere.
The bishops’ conference is a collection of older men, who likely benefit from the escalators, clean restrooms, and predictable familiarity of their meeting space. Moreover, a large hotel is accustomed to providing the kind of technical and logistical support needed for a meeting like the bishops’ conference. A waterfront Baltimore hotel might very well be the best choice for the bishops, and it might even be the most economical - I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know.
At the same time, the archbishop dismissed a legitimate question, and failed to recognize that the appearance of extravagance might be a source of scandal, especially in the absence of information. He conveyed an attitude of clerical entitlement - the kind of clericalism, however unintentional, that can have disastrous consequences.
There is a kind of journalism which would use that story to paint a one-dimensional caricature of Catholic bishops, or use clericalism among bishops to diminish the veracity of their religious claims. There are commentators who would dismiss out of hand, with no research or analysis, the possibility that an expensive hotel might actually be the economical choice for bishops’ meetings, stirring up anger, not answers, in an effort to get clicks and attention.
There are also journalists who would never question the expense at all. And then there are those who might raise the question, but have no idea how to get the answer.
We want The Pillar to be a different kind of journalism.
At The Pillar, we aim to take seriously the issues in the Church, and we aim to do so in a way that respects the complexity of the Church’s cultures, doctrine, history, and institutions. We look for answers, instead of driving an agenda, a foregone conclusion, or a partisan narrative.
We aim to do serious, responsible sober journalism about the Church, from the Church, and for the Church.
I love the Church. I am, and will always want to be, a man of the Church - a loving son, a faithful servant.
Being a Catholic is who I am -- the part of my identity that shapes all the rest. Being Catholic is what shapes my work as a journalist, too. Journalism is, or has turned out to be, a means by which I can serve the Church, in the way that God has called all laypeople to serve.
Good reporting assumes that people deserve the facts, unvarnished and without spin, in order to make judgments about real things that matter in their lives.
That premise, it seems to me, is predicated on fundamentally Catholic ideas: that telling the truth matters; that people, and their intelligence are worthy of respect; and that facing reality is a necessary precondition to asking the Lord for transformation or renewal.
The Pillar aims to serve the Gospel through investigative journalism, taking a long, measured look into the issues facing the institutions, bureaucracies, and leadership figures within the Church. Along the way, we’ll offer analysis, insight, and context into the Church’s day-to-day challenges, but much of our time will be spent away from the news cycle, diving deep into issues that matter. It’s our belief that this kind of reporting is a way to help the Church and her members face real challenges, and offer them to Christ for transformation.
We’ll work in a way that respects our readers, respects the Church, and respects the issues we investigate. We won’t create narratives of polemics, sensationalism, or self-aggrandizement. We won’t treat it like a four-alarm fire every time the pope says something confusing. And we won’t waste your time with more than the facts and the context that gives meaning to those facts. We won’t do those things because we don’t need to.
We believe in good, faithful, measured reporting. We know you care about the facts, not our opinions. You care about proof, not personalities.
I have spent most of my adult life working in chanceries, with religious orders, in seminaries, at parish finance council meetings. I understand something about how those places work, and I hope that understanding informs our reporting and analysis. I hope that we offer intelligent, sensible, trustworthy coverage of the Church’s life, and I hope that if we stray from that mission, you - our readers - will call us on that.
The Pillar exists for our readers. For people who love the Church, and who want to understand her better. For people who hope in the power of God’s grace. For people who believe that light -- shining in the darkness -- is the first step to conversion, to holiness, and to freedom.
The Pillar exists, in short, for you. We hope you’ll find it worthwhile. And we hope our work will gain your trust, and serve our mother, the Church.