And Now, the News Through Catholic Eyes

The Boston Globe has launched a separate site dedicated to coverage of the Catholic Church, betting that people want to read about the world through the lens of their religion.
Pope Francis talks with reporters on a papal flight to Jordan in May 2014. (Andrew Medichini/Reuters)

All of us are seekers, in one way or another. In everyday life, we seek meaning, understanding, ways to pass the days. On the Internet, everyone's looking for something, be it news articles or cat pics. But there's a spectrum: Websites like Beliefnet or Biblegateway.com cater to a more stereotypical version of "seekers," offering endless inspirational quotes and meditative-looking stock photos. Traditional news sites satisfy a different kind of craving, a desire for straightforward information about what's going on in the world—readers are just seekers by another name.

It's a tricky thing to try balance seeker and reader, but The Boston Globe is going to try. On Tuesday, the newspaper launched a new site called Crux, dedicated to coverage of the Catholic Church. The site will include reported pieces about the Vatican, discussions about topics like abortion and gay marriage, and "lighter fare, including quizzes, travel coverage, and recipes ... and a column called 'OMG,'" which will focus on ethical and moral dilemmas, according to the press release.

On a strategic level, a lot of things about this venture make sense. In 2012, the Archdiocese of Boston estimated that the metro area had 1.9 million Catholics—nearly half of the population. Pope Francis is extremely popular and a source of endless fascination. A decade ago, the Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Church sex-abuse scandal. Plus, there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. "My vision is that we’re aiming not just for a national audience, but also an international audience," said John Allen Jr., a longtime Vatican reporter and one of the lead writers for the site.

But on a more abstract level, this is a fairly radical move. "It’s definitely a first to have a website from a legacy news publication launch a religion-specific site," said Diane Winston, a professor of religion and journalism at USC. It's true that there are several prominent Catholic news sites out there, including the National Catholic Register and the National Catholic Reporter. In the broader world of religion writing, there are sites like the Baptist Press, which focuses on evangelical news, or Deseret News, a site owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that wants to be "a leading news brand for faith and family oriented audiences in Utah and around the world." And there are a limited number of totally religiously unaffiliated faith news sites, like the Religion News Service.

To a limited extent, big newspapers have also created religion-focused verticals in the past, like On Faith, an independent site that started at the Washington Post. Even so, this is a new experiment: Crux not only offering reported coverage of one particular Christian denomination; it's also selecting topics and presenting information through the lens of Catholicism. As Winston pointed out, it would be like The New York Times starting a news site just for Jews.

It's also a counter-intuitive time for a news organization to pour money into any kind of religion reporting. "We all know that in the U.S., religion is in a steep decline," said Winston. "The future of Catholicism, based on the stats we have, isn't really rosy." This is particularly true for the Internet's primary constituency: Millennials, who are more religiously unaffiliated than any American generation before. 

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also writes about religion and culture.

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