This week, we will hit our 6-month anniversary blog post. Before we get to that milestone, in response to reader complaints and frustration with the content of Cardinal Sean’s Blog, today we weigh in with some thoughts on his latest post and his blog in general.
We respect the significant commitment the Cardinal has made to his blog as a means of communicating, and he obviously has been at it a bit longer than us. Still, we have learned a few things over 90+ posts and felt he and the people who support him with writing, editing, and technically implementing the blog content might benefit by some feedback.
In the Cardinal’s most recent post it took digging through 53 pictures and photographs and 35 page-downs to learn what Cardinal Sean did in Paraguay: he stopped in Buenos Aires en route, celebrated a number of Masses, visited the nuncio and his menagerie of animals, received an honorary doctorate degree and medallion, gave a talk on Catholic education, met with some Paraguay bishops, had a service at a Capuchin church, flew on a small prop jet to the City of San Pedro, received a key to the city from the mayor (in appreciation for benefactors in Boston who supported initiatives to feed local-area poor families and children), and met with the U.S. ambassador to Paraguay and President of Paraguay.
A lot of activity and photos in one trip, but one might ask, how did any of this help the Archdiocese of Boston, or even Paraguay for that matter? We cannot tell from the post.
We realize there are certain things one has to do as Cardinal. But the question we keep asking ourselves every time we read his blog is whether Cardinal Sean’s blog reflects what he is actually spending most of his time doing, or does it just reflect the parts of his weekly schedule that he and his advisors feel are of interest to Boston Catholics? Either of two situations must be going on:
The blog does accurately reflect what the Cardinal spends most of his time doing—traveling outside of Boston, attending fund-raisers, performing ceremonial functions, and celebrating Masses in different locations. If so, then what should the priests and laity of the archdiocese do to encourage the Cardinal to limit his travel and whatever even small amount of time is spent blogging, and instead spend more time on the responsibilities of the ordinary to teach, sanctify, and govern in Boston?
The blog and other public communications do not accurately reflect what the Cardinal is doing to teach, sanctify and govern in Boston. If so, perhaps if the Cardinal and his team get some feedback that people want to see his teaching, sanctifying, and governing more strongly demonstrated publicly, then he might change the content of his blog, his public schedule and other public communications to address this need—all for the greater good of the archdiocese.
We do not have direct access to the daily schedule for the Cardinal so cannot tell you definitively how many days per month he spends in Boston vs elsewhere and whether we are dealing with Situation I or Situation II. We will simply share thoughts on the blog in general that would apply in either case.
Why People Want to See More About Teaching, Sanctifying, and Governing
In Pope John Paul II’s general audience of October 28, 1992, he said the following:
As successors of the apostles, bishops are called to share in the mission which Jesus Christ himself entrusted to the Twelve and the Church. ..The mission of individual bishops is fulfilled within a strictly defined sphere…The individual bishops…exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care, and not over other churches nor over the universal Church” (LG 23).
The majority of bishops exercise their pastoral mission in dioceses…We read again in the [Second Vatican] Council: “Individual bishops who have been entrusted with the care of a particular church–under the authority of the Supreme Pontiff–feed their sheep in the name of the Lord as their own ordinary and immediate pastors, performing for them the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing” (CD 11)
Are we in Boston entitled to want to see these sorts of activities more visibly demonstrated and communicated by our bishop through venues that might include his blog? Does Cardinal Sean’s blog reflect this exercising of his office? We wish it did, but just do not see it in the blog.
What Could Be Improved with Cardinal Sean’s Blog
The most typical complaints we hear about what is posted to his blog are the following: too many pictures, too many functions that seem to have nothing to do with Boston, too many parties and photo-opps with big-money donors and wealthy advisors, too much travel outside of Boston, too little use of the blog for teaching, and too little about governing in Boston.
We also hear complaints about how the Cardinal (or his writer, Pilot editor Antonio Enrique) expresses his experiences amongst the rich and famous. Here are a few examples:
- Last September, in communicating his presence at the funeral of Sen. Ted Kennedy, Cardinal Sean wrote:
“the music was outstanding with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus enriching the liturgy along with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham who later sang an absolutely striking rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Cellist Yo-Yo Ma graced us with his beautiful solo performance of Bach and later joined Placido Domingo, who sang the “Panis Angelicus.” Placido has a superb voice. I told him how much I like the Zarzuela, the Spanish classical musical theater productions. His family had a troupe that presented Zarzuelas in Mexico and he promised to arrange a performance.”
On July 23 of this year, the Cardinal wrote about presiding over the wedding of billioniare philanthropist Peter Lynch’s daughter, Elizabeth, to a French count.
Peter Lynch’s daughter Elizabeth married a French count, Gonzague de Montrichard, a very fine Catholic gentleman. Peter Lynch, a Fidelity executive, has been involved in the Catholic Schools Foundation and is a promoter of Catholic philanthropy.
The wedding was very beautifully executed. The boys from our choir school at St. Paul’s in Cambridge sang. The reception was at the Lynch’s home. The dinner was preceded by spectacular fireworks — they could have been in Washington, D.C. at the mall for the Fourth of July! There was 40 minutes of music in the background, and the fireworks show was over the water. It was quite amazing.”
We recognize we are not exactly Shakespeare ourselves so are not exactly in a position to criticize the writing style of others. Still, in the wording of these posts and in others as well, it is no doubt unintentional on the part of the Cardinal or his writer, but the wording causes the Cardinal to come across sounding somewhat awestruck by the trappings of wealth and fame he is exposed to. That is not a personal attack—it is just the objective reality of the blog topics chosen and the wording in the posts.
Let us for purposes of this post give the benefit of the doubt that maybe the Cardinal or the people who photograph his every move and/or help him write the blog just do not realize how the blog is making him appear: increasingly detached from the day-to-day needs and governance of the Boston archdiocese and increasingly associated with the rich and famous.
That being said, we offer what hopefully will be seen as helpful suggestions for consideration to help address the issues we have described in this post: #1-5 of our Top 10 Ways to Improve Cardinal Sean’s Blog
- Put an editorial calendar of topics in place and use that to drive content. (We shared a list of topics on Nov. 8, and you will see we have slowly been picking through them). Instead of just having the blog chronicle the Cardinal’s comings and goings somewhat randomly like a travel diary, create a list of important topics that help advance the mission of the Catholic Church in Boston (ie. prayer, the sacraments, evangelization, marriage and family, bringing God into every moment of your day, etc.), and follow it weekly.
- Filter out content not likely to be interest to the average Catholic in the pews or priests & religious. Limit photographs to no more than 5-7 per post, and cut out most of the details of the Cardinal’s travel and social schedule—especially when it involves the rich and famous–so the blog can instead focus on the important topics of #1. The rest of our items #3-10 are related to topics we think people want to hear about.
- Cover some teaching from the lectionary’s scriptural readings of the Sunday Mass. Maybe it is a written excerpt from the Cardinal’s homiletic preaching on the Sunday Mass readings. He used to do this, but it seems to have been absent for at least the last 6 months. When there is occasionally a homily, it is via video, not text, so many people skip it. Better to write out the key points so people can read them and/or share them, even if a video accompanies it.
- Cover how the Cardinal is (hopefully) meeting with pastors of the 40% of parishes in the red to brainstorm, apply the best minds and resources from the Pastoral Center, cut archdiocesan fees, share best practices from other parishes, and figure out how to help as many as possible become financially solvent ASAP.
- Cover how the Cardinal is (hopefully) diving into the issue of the six-figure salaries of his top 10-15 lieutenants, and directing his team and the Finance Council to cut $1 million in unnecessary expense from those salaries, so those funds can be freed for ministries and advancing the main mission of the Church in Boston. Share the committed timeframe for implementing those cuts.
Seems to us, coincidentally, that the visibility of Cardinal Sean’s teaching, sanctifying and governing was much greater in his first few years in Boston–before his getting elevated to Cardinal, before his blog, and before the arrival of Jim McDonough, Jack Connors and some of the other senior leaders at 66 Brooks Drive we have been writing about on the blog. We just share that as an interesting coincidence.
We have more than 5 additional topics to suggest tomorrow and are still narrowing down the list, but if you would like to submit your suggestions, feel free to do so via comments.
Please, no personal attacks in the comments (and no comments about whether the Cardinal should or should not have presided over the Kennedy funeral). This post is about what people want to see and/or not see covered on the Cardinal’s blog.