In the pages of The New Republic, Elizabeth Bruenig looks at how the phenomenon of Francis has impacted media, and what that could mean for the Church:
In America, the role of religion in politics is always grounds for op-eds and letters-to-editors, if not reams of articles and stacks upon stacks of books. This has especially been the case over the last several decades, thanks to the ascendancy of the Religious Right in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But the inverse concern—the place of politics in religion—also has its own hearty tradition of debate, unfolding sometimes in public but more often in the religious-specific publications of particular denominations. In 2015, however, we saw the two genres intersect often in the pages of the country’s most-read publications, much thanks to the larger-than-life presence of Pope Francis. The result was an unusually public debate about the internal workings of the Catholic Church, its ethics and practices, and most crucially its future. But did all that argument—much of it fraught with old tensions—serve the Church or act as an unfortunate airing of dirty laundry? And how will the year’s headlines factor into the legacy of “the Francis effect,” that curious aura of influence hoped to bring the lapsed back to pews and the faithful to greater awareness of God? While Francis’s unique persona may have sparked a year of particularly vibrant coverage of the Church, some important preconditions set the stage for strong, concerted religion coverage. Awareness of the role of religion in politics and society has risen over the last several years, due both to international conflicts involving religious extremism and to domestic arguments over religious liberty, leading several publications to expand their general religion coverage. The willingness of major publications to closely consider religious belief and practice has occasioned the birth of sites like Crux, which, since its launch in the fall of 2014, has served as The Boston Globe’s catch-all for coverage of Catholicism and Catholic-related issues. Crux and other religion verticals have acted as bridges between general, secular news coverage and media attention to the internal workings of religion, making the intense intra-Catholic debates of the last year possible.
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