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Watching our contents

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,

The material published in the Catholic News was once subject to the scrutiny of a censor, the purpose of this was to “fulfill the substantial control demanded by Canon law and Dominican order”.

Correspondence from Archbishop Finbar Ryan OP, July 7, 1959 to Fr Declan Michael Gowen OP, the Editor (June 1959 – December 1959) sought to respond to his query about “censorship of matter” to be printed in the paper.

Archbishop Ryan’s response stated the Dominican Father would act as his “official censor” for all matter submitted to him. “In regard to editorial policy to be expressed in the leader, the Editor would be personally responsible to me or Vicar taking my place (during my absence),” the letter states.

It reveals Archbishop Ryan had regular contact with the Editor through weekly meetings “to formulate, as far as might be necessary, our policy in regard to current affairs.” His letter suggests his influence over the publication as the Editor was free to use his discretion but “subject” to his supervision, in printing matter supplied by “officially sponsored Fides” and Catholic agencies.

The correspondence states “the Editor would normally be regarded as censor natus in regard to matter offered for publication by Fathers of the Dominican Order, with the obligation, in case of doubt as to propriety of publishing any particular matter, of consulting me and/or one of the official censors named by the Dominican Superiors”. Several Dominican fathers served as Editor of the Catholic News through the years.

The letter suggests the arrangements outlined were not new and had been agreed to by successive Provincials out of “practical necessity in view of the exigencies of fixed days of publication and of undelayed decisions regarding matter to be published”.

The purpose of censorship, it explains, was “to prevent publication of matter which the Ordinary judges to be undesirable not only, much less exclusively, from a doctrinal or moral point of view but from prudential judgement in consideration of all the circumstances”.

The Catholic News sought clarification on the use of the term “Ordinary” and was informed it was used with reference to the Archbishop but it also can be used for the Vicar General, Auxiliary Bishop, Major Superior of a Religious congregation, all of whom by their office, carry similar authority as the Bishop of a Diocese.

The Editor was alerted that publication of matter, for example the giving of the “Imprimatur”, was not to be interpreted as a “certificate of positive orthodoxy nor of the personal approval of the Ordinary who gives such permission to print”.

Chancellor Fr Roger Paponette, who is trained in Canon Law said, “the Bishop is being very careful in stating that the process for censorship was intended to guard against matters contrary or harmful to the faith as well as to exercise prudence against matter that may be harmful to the faith or faithful yet he is also stating that even though the official go ahead – (imprimatur and Nihil Obstat) – which are standard Catholic approvals for material to be published, that this approval does not mean that the material or article is the opinion of or has the personal approval of the Bishop.”

He added, “Nor does it mean that the article or matter is actual Catholic teaching. It may not be harmful to the faithful or the faith but does not constitute Catholic teaching in itself.”

Source: Archdiocesan Archives, RC Archdiocese of Port of Spain.