Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why Won’t Catholic Outreach Talk to the Media?

When The Warrior did a quite favorable feature on Catholic student organizations on the Marquette campus, one organization was conspicuously missing: Catholic Outreach.

Since Catholic Outreach is a project of the University Ministry, this was a rather glaring omission.

But the reason for the omission was explained in a column by Mike Rudzinski, Warrior editor.
It seems we weren’t the only student-run organization asking the question [who are we?]. This issue, we focus on Catholic leaders on campus who ask the tough questions: “who are you Marquette, and what is your true mission?” Go Roman Week sought out the soul of Marquette as a Catholic, Jesuit institution.

The answer to our paper’s own identity search came while investigating this week’s feature story. Catholic Outreach, a university sponsored Catholic organization, wanted to be included in the story but was unable to do so without university approval. University Ministry needed to review our questions and approve the article before it could be published.

This contradicts our journalistic code of ethics. As students, as Americans, as human beings we all have the right to speak freely without censorship. As an independent publication and voice of the student body, The Warrior refuses to be censored, and so should you.
We quickly established that what Rudzinski says about attempted censorship is accurate -- or at least, it correctly reflects what The Warrior was told when it tried to do an interview.

Wanting to get to the bottom of this, we yesterday phoned Ann Mulgrew, the University Ministry staffer who oversees Catholic Outreach. She said she was unaware of this situation, and would get back to us.

We also attempted to reach three officers of the organization: Riad el-Azem, Aaron Morey and Rebecca Baehrend.

Two of the three failed to respond to our multiple e-mail and voice mail messages. The third talked briefly, giving evasive and apparently disingenuous answers before terminating the interview.

We called Ann Mulgrew back today, and she was extremely huffy, objecting to the fact that we had tried to reach the officers of the group. Some, she said, had contacted her to “complain.” Apparently, in her view, journalists should accept the “authoritative” view of events that she hands out, and not try to develop independent sources.

In other words, she inadvertently reinforced the impression that the whole Warrior affair gave.

She then refused to talk further. It seemed to us that she was using a contrived grievance to evade answering embarrassing questions about University Ministry policies.

This raises some serious questions about the University Ministry, and about the bureaucratic culture there.
  • Why are they so fearful about letting students speak? They, after all, constituted Catholic Outreach and chose the officers. Why don’t they trust their own student officers?
  • Why are the student officers so fearful of the University Ministry? Why do they consent to be censored?
  • Why the mania on the part of University Ministry to control information? They claim to want to prevent “inaccurate” information from getting out. But in the minds of bureaucrats obsessed with control, “inaccurate” is likely to equal “information that reflects badly on us.”
The truth, of course, is that if you let people speak freely, some will say inaccurate things, some will say dumb things and some things will be misreported.

Apparently in a couple of past instances, Catholic Outreach officers have gone a bit too far and said things that the University Ministry thought to be out of line.

That’s the risk anybody operating in the public arena takes. Why does the University Ministry think different rules apply to them?

The University Ministry is, at least nominally, a Christian operation. So it ought to be known for speaking truthfully and speaking boldly. Instead, it seems to be a haven for risk-averse bureaucrats.

And the ethos has infected the students in the organization’s orbit.

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