Zenit.org: Good News And Bad News


Zenit (www.zenit.org) is a Rome-based free Internet news provider and self-proclaimed instrument of evangelization. Each weekday Zenit sends out church news in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and German; a weekly news analysisappears each Saturday. The news focuses first and foremost on the pope's most recent pronouncements and activities, turning then to the Roman curia and to developments elsewhere in the church. Besides straight news stories (which inevitably present the church favorably), Zenit also features spiritual reflections, homilies, and interviews with well-spoken Catholics.

Like CASE, Zenit knows that modern people, especially young people, are to be found on the Internet. Its approach is ideally suited to the present pope, who, while lacking the telegenic charisma of his predecessor, does have a gift for writing clear and inspiring texts, statements that imaginatively free upkey phrases and symbols. As the pope showed in Deus caritas est, he is adept at taking words we all use, like loveand freedom,and revealing their extraordinary meaning in the light of the gospel. Not only does Zenit do Benedict the service of getting these messages into chanceries, parishes, newsrooms, and homes on a daily basis; it also effectively frames the messages, highlighting aspects of the text likely to speak to the average reader.

Like Sant'Egidio, Zenit has grown remarkably, recently boosting its daily reader count from three hundred fifty thousand to over four hundred thousand in an aggressive Christmas subscription campaign. Evangelizers take note: Zenit doesn't wait for people to visit; it goes to them. And who else can claim such rapid progress in reaching so many Catholics at so little cost?

But I do have one serious reservation. Zenit's Web site lists the agency's owner as Innovative Media Inc., a nonprofit organization of New York State,providing no further information. Innovative Media turns out to be a front for the Legionaries of Christ, which also owns the National Catholic Register. That the Legion-a religious group noted for its conservatism, secrecy, and success at recruiting priest and lay associates-should establish media outlets in connection with its mission is fully acceptable. But I am troubled by the lack of transparency. The Jesuits don't hide the fact that they publish America. Openness about the source of news reports enables readers to judge the objectivity of those reports. One searches in vain in Zenit's archive to find a report that reflects badly on the Legion. Take, for instance, the much-publicized accusations of sexual abuse leveled against the order's founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel. These charges-well documented in Jason Berry and Gerald Renner's Vows of Silence and recently corroborated by the Vatican-go essentially unreported by Zenit. A January 28, 2005, Zenit report dismissed them as theories circulating in the media, including some that seem to be slanderous.More recently (May 19, 2006), Zenit ran its story about Maciel's removal from public ministry under the disingenuous title Holy See Halts Investigation of Legionary Founder - as though Pope Benedict's decision had vindicated Maciel and not served to validate the credibility of Maciel's accusers.

Working too hard to save appearances can create a host of new, even worse problems-this, if nothing else, should be a lesson from our recent church history. I still like Zenit's model and still appreciate the good news it provides. Sometimes, though, what we need most to confront, in order to purify our faith, is the bad news.

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