Aggregator websites continue to grow and evolve for good reason. We rely on them to sift the welter of online news sources and narrow choices to a manageable level. Most of us follow several at once for things we want to know, plus the things we wish we did not know but need to. What matters is the quality of discernment behind the selection of headlines and bylines. Is the curator an algorithm for all-you-can-eat news hounds or a living person whose sensibilities align with your own?
Enter Frank Walker, creator of Canon 212, a hub for conservative Catholic thinking on contemporary culture and politics, both secular and clerical.
Launched this past June, the site is structured as a Drudge Report for Catholics. It is owned and managed by Frank Walker, the genie behind Pewsitter.com for seven years before establishing his own portal. Walker covers all things Church-related with a sharp eye for secularism phrased in a Christian idiom. And for signals of the mounting cultural cost of secularization.
Given media attention lavished on Pope Francis, it is easy to think that Catholicism is already well represented in the media. But, to be honest, it is not. All news is a product. Like broccoli at Trader Joe’s or designer carrots at Whole Foods, it is harvested, packaged, and sold to a particular market. Mainstream Catholic news is stocked by suppliers in the Vatican (e.g. the newly created Secretariat for Communications) and in chancery public relations offices. Press-agentry leads a band of pitchmen, promoters, and image handlers .
Popular media views Catholicism through the lens of academicized liberalism, an approved stimulant in journalism schools. In the going narrative, Francis, our Pope of Hearts, is a revolutionary gust of fresh air in a harsh, hidebound institution that needs to open itself to the mercy of modern ways. In many respects, the trope is a sequel to press approach to Vatican II in the 1960s. Back then, journalists were in thrall to winds of change that blew partly through their own heads. And which they felt obligated to fan.
Right now Aggiornamento 2.0 is in full swing. Part I, with its naive optimism, left the Church in disarray. Walker has geared Canon 212 toward Catholics concerned to keep Part II—marked more by its hostilities than by the Gospels—from heading deeper into the ditch.
The traditionalist movement too often finds itself caricatured as a nest of reactionaries even in the dominant Catholic press. Francis himself, on Vatican Radio this October, raised the temperature of hostility by blasting traditionalists as rigid hypocrites. He referred to them as “sick.” (An unfortunate term. It reminds us that many Catholics place the Vatican itself among the sick men of Europe.) In truth, Francis’ despised intransigents are primarily Catholics who take seriously St. Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians to “hold fast to the traditions.”
This means accepting the deposit of faith as something received, not something gerrymandered or re-invented to suit the peculiarities of the moment. If Canon 212‘s captions tend to sound combative, it is easy to see why. Catholics mindful of the sustaining value of liturgical and moral traditions in the face of institutional drift toward the spirit of the age have a fight on their hands.
The site takes its name from a paragraph in the Code of Canon Law. Within a section devoted to “the obligations and rights of all the Christian faithful,” Canon 212 addresses the responsibility of the laity to call their shepherds back to the sheep-hold when they drop their staffs and begin to sidle off.
- 3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons. [Canon 212]
Walker’s apostolate has an edge to it. Since his website exists as both complement and counter to publicity feeds from official organs, he does not trouble to decaffeinate the tone of his headlines. This is a portal with attitude:
- Meditation for Sunday: Did I commit the mortal sin of proselytizing?
- Does the Pope Regard Traditional Catholics as Niggers of the New Age?
- Soros parrots Bergolio parrots Soros parrots Bergolio parrots Soros parrots . . .
- De Mattei: With Democrats’ Loss in the U.S., Francis Becomes the Leader of the Global Left
- Head of Venezuelan Bishops Diego Padron: Dictator Maduro using all this FrancisDialogue to buy time and keep power
There is a risk to feisty captions. They can fend off readers who are not already in assent to Walker’s grasp of the destructive nature of this pontificate. And that would be a loss because behind the headers is a valuable mix of historically informed, and theologically literate writing. The Catholic blogosphere is wide and substantial. Canon 212 combs it from a distinct point of view: a militant commitment to the plenitude of Catholic thinking on every aspect of contemporary life.
Readers of mainstream religious news are largely unfamiliar with such sites as Rorate Caeli, One Peter Five, or The Catholic Thing, and their quality of commentary. Walker links to news items from around the Anglophone world — particularly Britain’s Catholic Herald —that raise issues overlooked by the dominant press.
To illustrate: An African cardinal asks: If Westerners in irregular unions are permitted to receive Communion, what about indigenous polygamists? How would disciplinary changes that appeal to liberals in New York or Berlin affect Catholics in Nairobi or Dakar where polygamy is common? Questions like these are less likely to occur to mainstream journalists sympathetic to loosening Church discipline on divorce and remarriage.
But for links from Walker’s hub The Denzinger-Bergolio, created and maintained by necessarily anonymous diocesan priests, would be unknown. (Did someone blow the whistle? Postings were abruptly discontinued after criticism of Francis’ problematic Amoris Laetitia appeared in October. Only the archive remains. It is a useful compendium of reasons for dismay with Francis before and after the exhortation.)
In all, Canon 212 is on the qui vive against a Church tilt toward becoming a profane service organization that claims divine sanction for material purposes. This is not a popular mission. The measure of its success will be determined by the character of the next pontificate.