For some context and analysis on the recent bombshell by The Pillar, CNA interviewed Dr. William J. Thorn, associate professor emeritus of Journalism and Media Studies/Institute for Catholic Media at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication. He holds a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Minnesota, an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and a B.A. from Loras College.
Here’s some of what he had to say:
Does a source paying for information change the calculation about whether or not a journalist should use that source?
A source paying for information automatically raises questions about the motivations of both payee and recipient as well as the reliability of information.
Many are celebrating the resignation of Msgr. Burrill and the efforts that led to his resignation. From a Catholic ethics perspective, does this apparently successful end validates the means?
The end never justifies the means, even if they are digital and seem credible because of technology. The celebration raises questions about ignoble motives, e.g., revenge or personal animus connected to the investigation.
Another argument with competing voices centers on whether corruption needs to be brought to the light to be healed. Please explain, from the perspective of Catholic ethics, when and where and to what degree it would be appropriate to publish information alleging or proving corruption that is gravely sinful but not criminal.
Healing depends, in part on the harm involved. In Msgr. Burrill’s case there is only circumstantial evidence of behavior based on GPS location with no eye witness or other factual evidence such as a credit card receipt. Data mining based on Grindr’s location routine seems a bit specious for “bringing to light corruption,” an adage based on rooting out the corruption of politicians and public officials. Within a Church context like USCCB, the question turns on the precise corruption and how it can be healed by exposure. Grindr location data insinuate but do not demonstrate the alleged corruption, or perhaps a level of ignorance in the user about the actual privacy of the Grindr app. Healing of sinful behavior does not require public knowledge, as the Sacrament of Reconciliation demonstrates. On the other hand, abuse of public trust or misuse of church funds may help heal the community if exposed, e.g. the sex abuse scandal or embezzlement of Church funds.