Are Catholic online news sites being censored?

Update, July 9, 11 a.m. EDT:

Independent Catholic News has confirmed that the Dowling speech was removed because of a glitch in Reposting. The original post was missing some words at the beginning.

Update, July 8, 3 p.m. EDT:

Independent Catholic News has reposted the speech by Bishop Dowling. So far, no additional explanation of its removal has been given. Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter has posted its own version of the speech as well.

Two recent events have raised the specter of online censorship, or at least of undue pressure by Catholic Church officials on Catholic news organizations.

Today the British-based Independent Catholic News, a daily online Catholic news site set up by a group of Catholic journalists, apparently pulled down the reprint of a June speech by South African Bishop Kevin Dowling it had published yesterday.

That event followed on the heels of an incident in May when the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress was pressured to remove from its website a report on a speech by Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The Kathpress report on Schönborn's outspoken criticism of Cardinal Angelo Sodano and other Vatican shortcomings resulted in international headlines and eventually led to what the National Catholic Reporter described as "an almost surreal kiss-and-make-up session" between those two cardinals last week at the Vatican.

Like Schönborn's, Dowling's speech, delivered to a group of laity in Cape Town, included unusually frank criticism of the Vatican. Dowling, one of the few "liberal" Catholic bishops left in the English-speaking Catholic world, lamented "what has been happening in the Church especially since Pope John Paul II became the Bishop of Rome and up till today – and that is 'restorationism,' the carefully planned dismantling of the theology, ecclesiology, pastoral vision, indeed the 'opening of the windows' of Vatican II – in order to 'restore' a previous, or more controllable model of Church through an increasingly centralised power structure."

That power structure, Dowling said, "now controls everything in the life of the Church through a network of Vatican Congregations led by Cardinals who ensure strict compliance with what is deemed by them to be 'orthodox.' Those who do not comply face censure and punishment."

He added that "the rise of conservative groups and organisations in the Church over the past 40 years and more … has led to a phenomenon which I find difficult to deal with, viz. an inward looking Church, fearful of if not antagonistic towards a secularist world with its concomitant danger of relativism especially in terms of truth and morality – frequently referred to by Pope Benedict XVI; a Church which gives an impression of 'retreating behind the wagons,' and relying on a strong central authority to ensure unity through uniformity in belief and praxis in the face of such dangers."

Dowling said he thinks "the moral authority of the Church’s leadership today has never been weaker" and that this is compounded by "the mystique which has in increasing measure surrounded the person of the Pope in the last 30 years, such that any hint of critique or questioning of his policies, his way of thinking, his exercise of authority etc. is equated with disloyalty."

A friend had e-mailed me the ICN story yesterday, but when I tried accessing it again this morning, I was greeted by the following message: "Error accessing this article information. It may have been deleted."

In response to e-mail and voice-mail messages inquiring about the removal of the article from the website, ICN's editor Jo Siedlecka this morning replied that it was "too complicated to explain" and that she would be "putting it up again soon."

Stay tuned. We'll update this story when we find out more.

Meanwhile, our savvy web editor, Meg Sweas, let me know that "nothing is ever really taken down on the web! Thank you Google!" She found the cached page of the ICN story by searching cache:URL in Google.

As for the removal of the Schönborn article from the kathpress website in early May, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse has reported that "inside sources" in Rome attributed the removal to "discreet counsel" kathpress received from the Vatican press office.

About the author

Meinrad Scherer-Emunds

Meinrad Scherer-Emunds was the executive editor of U.S. Catholic. He is currently the director of communications for Maryknoll Lay Missioners.