Writing a Letter to the Editor

Marty Barrack

Marty Barrack

The letter-to-the-editor is by far the easiest way for a Marian Catechist to publish. Father Hardon insisted again and again that Marian Catechists, whatever else they do, should write letters to the editor at every opportunity.

Most magazine and newspaper publishers these days have literally no devout Catholics on staff. Often their reporters interview heretical Catholics for information because they’re colorful, and because they have no clue that they are renegades. Only if they get a battery of letters after each article on a Catholic issue, explaining what the Church really believes and how they can find out for themselves, will it occur to them to try a different source.

For example, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, an Orthodox Jew, keeps handy a Catechism of the Catholic Church. When someone calls in and says the Catholic Church teaches so-and-so, Laura flips to the appropriate page and sets the caller straight.

Letters on Catholic subjects should of course be precisely consistent with the Magisterium, but simple enough for most readers of the publication to understand. Letters should be appropriate for the publication. A letter to be published in First Things will be written at a higher level than a letter written to the New York Post.

I recommend not writing letters to the serious Catholic magazines such as Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Crisis, New Oxford Review, etc. Marian Catechists can, of course, but these magazines already have faithful Catholic editors. I think we get the most bang for the buck by writing letters to three broad categories of publications:

The first category is mass market secular magazines such as U.S. News, Newsweek, Time, etc. They get a lot of letters and so the odds of being published are small, but if they get enough letters from a Catholic perspective they may print one or two which will reach a lot of people who know little or nothing about the Catholic faith.

The second category is “American Catholic” magazines. They will generally not be receptive to Magisterium teaching, but if they get enough letters maybe they will print one or two, and maybe we will even convince someone. The Catholic Press Association maintains a list of Catholic magazines and diocesan newspapers. I would expect most Marian Catechists to know which are friendly and which are hostile to the Magisterium.

The third category is magazines of other religions. Broadly, we can peruse these; when we see that they are addressing a Catholic issue, we look more closely and see whether some correction would be appropriate. The Jewish magazines include Commentary, a good solid Jewish journal, the Jerusalem Letter, an Israeli commentary from a Torah perspective, Jewish World Review, a conservative journal, Lilith, a Jewish feminist magazine, hostile to Catholics, and Tikkun, another liberal journal. The major league Christian magazines are First Things and Touchstone. They have faithful Catholics on their editorial staffs, but every so often they could benefit from a solid Catholic explanation. Magazines much less familiar with Catholic teaching include Books and Culture, Christianity Today, Charisma, Christian Century, Guideposts, New Man, Adventist Today, Anglican Journal, Presbyterians Today, The Lutheran (ELCA), and United Church Observer. These generally confine their reporting to Protestant issues, but when they mention the Catholic Church they nearly always go awry. We can challenge them by suggesting that if you want to know what Catholics believe it makes sense to ask a Catholic source, and provide corrective explanations. We can also offer our services to responsible editors; we can accept criticism of the Catholic Church in their pages provided that they are correctly describing what the Church teaches.

Once we’ve identified a magazine and decided to write a letter to the editor, the first thing we do is try to find its criteria for letters. Usually, they are printed at the end of the "letters" section. Most important is the word limit. If the journal or newspaper says the maximum is 300 words, then we use our word processor’s "word count" feature to make sure we’re within the limit. If possible, we submit the letter electronically, so it will get there fast. But if we have to use postal mail, we do.

Anyone with a good idea on how to coordinate letters to the editor is welcome to write to me. However, it probably means you’ll become the letters to the editor coordinator. Anyone thinking of writing to suggest more work for me should pray a 20 decade Rosary until the impulse passes.