Column: “Are you a Catholic writer?”

Published on July 15, 2008

Some readers had a ready question after they read last week’s criticism of the GMA network’s “proud to be Kapuso” tagline. What about “Team Kapamilya”?, they asked.

I haven’t seen many of ABS-CBN’s new in-house plugs, but I think I do get the drift. They illustrate the difference between identification and promotion. Journalists who identify themselves as “Kapamilya” or indeed as “Kapuso” are doing the necessary thing, claiming responsibility for their journalism. Those who identify themselves with every report or newscast as “proud to be Kapuso” or (if ABS-CBN falls down the same hole) as being “in the service of the Filipino” are doing promo work.

In most instances, every piece of journalism must be identified as the work of some one or some group. That is the news media’s minimum responsibility. (Of the many publications available in the country, it is only The Economist which eschews bylines or taglines—-although, to be sure, it has learned to give due recognition to the authors of its famous special reports, which this magazine which calls itself a newspaper calls “surveys”. Newspaper editorials, of course, are still unsigned, because they are meant to represent the view, not of one person, but of the institution.)

Journalists must identify themselves; it’s a necessity. There is no necessity, however, for journalists to turn every story they file, every report they produce, every newscast they present, into a marketing opportunity.

If a newspaper were to change its byline policy, and turn identification into promotion, the results would be risible. Imagine a story about a political crisis, or a story on a new kidnapping, bylined this way: By Juan de la Cruz, Proud to write for the No. 1 newspaper.

The promotional tagline brings us teetering, not down a slippery slope, but on the edge of a cliff. What, to give a for instance, is to stop Mike Enriquez (who speaks excellent English, by the way, a surprise if you buy his sanggano persona on AM radio) from signing off with the promo of the month: “Mike Enriquez po, Proud to be No. 1 in the July ratings again.”

Nothing, except delicadeza.

* * *

A reader much smarter than I am (he has two degrees in physics) responded to a column I wrote last May with a thoughtful meditation on the growing intolerance that seems to be the mark of a culture of opinion.

“This is the climate nowadays; people, especially the young, are losing the confidence to trust in their own capacity to know the truth, and no wonder, most of them are falling into a state of meaninglessness.”

I do not know about the meaninglessness part; man is a meaning maker, and often we make meaning out of the most unpromising material, in the most inhospitable conditions. But it is possible that he defined the situation correctly, about the loss of trust in our capacity to know the truth.

It was his postscript, however, that set me thinking. He asked: “P.S. If you don’t mind, are you, we might say, a ‘Catholic’ thinker?”

He wrote his letter on May 20; I have been mulling his question ever since. (I’m a slow study.)

* * *

On the thinking part, the answer is emphatic and definite. No. In my mind, a Catholic thinker is a synthesist like Augustine of Hippo or Thomas of Aquinas. Or, much closer to our time, paradigm-shifters like Rene Girard or Paul Ricoeur, whose word Dr. Leo Garcia has done so much to spread. Or, even closer to our simple trade, happy polemicists like G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Those are the ones who do the thinking.

Hence, the transposition in this column’s title, from “thinker” to “writer.” I am just a journalist.

But I do see myself as writing in a tradition, one that pays special attention to the social teachings of the Church. As I have said before, I am a child of Vatican II.

Now, if we understand the late years of the John Paul II era and the first years of the Benedict XVI papacy as the closing of the windows opened during John XXIII’s great aggiornamento, then I’m in trouble.

On certain issues, I think the Church hierarchy in the Philippines has gotten it wrong. There is nothing controvertible, for instance, in the crisis of legitimacy that surrounds the President, like a pall of permanent exhaust. The bishops’ position on population growth and the marital responsibility of Catholic couples continues to be based, mistakenly, on what the great theologian Bernard Haring characterized, with deliberate irony, as the absolute sacredness of the biological.

But on other issues, I think the bishops called it right. On the conflict tearing the Couples for Christ movement apart, for instance, the hierarchy has sought to honor the original charism of the movement. That is only as it should be. The Church’s light cavalry, the Jesuits, on the other hand, have been very much on the side of Tony Meloto and his social apostolate. Sometimes the alignment is explicit, as in an op-ed piece written by Bishop Emeritus Francisco Claver. Sometimes it is merely suggested, in the same way El Shaddai’s Brother Mike Velarde signaled support for Fidel Ramos in 1992: They literally stood on the same side of the stage. Meloto and Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, Ateneo de Manila’s president, were keynote speakers at the recent Ateneo alumni convention in Chicago. They shared the same stage.

* * *

Reviewing 12 months’ worth of columny, I am struck by the number of church-related issues written up in a mainly political column. That must be because I believe both the Church and Catholic culture to be eminently political. A Catholic writer? Would that it were true.

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