Sunday, September 18, 2016

Farewell to the WCR: A sheep's lament

Image result for shepherd and sheep"The priest who seldom goes out of himself ...misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. ... Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers... I am asking you -- be shepherds with the odor of the sheep, make it real as shepherds among your flock."
--Pope Francis, Holy Thursday 2013

This week I learned that Edmonton's award-winning Western Catholic Reporter,  which covered the faith life of people in our province and western Canada, and published news from around the world, is being closed down. I can't help feeling sad and disappointed because it seems like another example of our Shepherds choosing to ignore their sheep.

I know that newspaper readership has been in decline around the globe, but up until our latest Shepherd took over the flock, the WCR had a strong business case. It exuded the "odor of the sheep" by serving its readers well for over 50 years and entering the digital age some time ago even as it continued to mail out hard copy newspapers for those who didn't want to read online. Both paper and website were visually appealing and had many interesting columnists and features to educate and inspire those who subscribed. I had a digital subscription and looked to it for information about local and world events related to my faith... but now I'm not sure where to turn to continue my faith formation. The WCR was a handy resource, and it published a calendar of events that I will definitely miss!

Our Shepherds seem to think that one archdiocesan communications person can put out a weekly bulletin to keep the public informed... but the WCR was more than just a bulletin. It was a dialogue between people in our faith community. It shared stories about what was happening in our Catholic school system. It carried human interest stories, and events in local Catholic church communities, as well as ecumenical news. It filled us in on the debates around assisted suicide and educated us about tenets of our faith. It published letters from its readers that helped us to be critically-thinking Catholics. 

Perhaps that's the problem. Though we aren't mindless sheep, it seems our Shepherds don't really want to hear from us if we happen to disagree with them. When we call Shepherds to a reality check regarding things like supporting LGBTQ students in our Catholic schools, discussing women's ordination, supporting charities of our choice rather than the Bishop's appeal, or practicing inclusivity when it comes to allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion (among many other issues) our "sheeply odor" seems to be too much for them. Our Shepherds have their agenda, which is not to be messed with. Meanwhile the WCR was trying to objectively meet the sheep's need for information and communication, allowing us to learn about and discuss questions of importance to us. I'm not sure the Shepherds liked that.

So now our lay columnists on social justice, life with disabilities, peace activism, and many other topics have been shut down with the paper. Six people will be unemployed, several more will lose their places as regular writers, all of them people who had their ears to the ground for issues that mattered to he flock. The Archdiocese's weekly bulletin pushes out the news according to the Shepherds' agenda, but if the Shepherds are too busy following their own agendas to listen to the sheep, how will they know what the sheep might really be needing to hear and discuss? The WCR was a publication that gave the laity a voice by sending reporters out to cover events and mingle with the sheep, by connecting with many different columnists and local lay writers, by meeting with and communicating with different faith groups across Alberta, and by publishing our letters.

But all that will soon be gone. The last issue of the WCR comes out at the end of September, and I'm not sure how long the website will last. So what do we do? How does the flock go on? After giving it some thought, I'm going to subscribe to the Prairie Messenger, our last Catholic paper on the prairies, to support their Catholic journalists as best I can. I hope to rejoin the flock's dialogue there, though heaven knows, it won't be the same. I'll miss all my friends from the pages of the WCR, even though I've never met most of them in person.

My deep gratitude to the editor, staff, journalists, columnists and contributors of the Western Catholic Reporter for your dedication and excellent work over the years. You will all be missed.

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