About Robert B. Moynihan, PhD
Below is of the story of how Dr. Moynihan became the producer of magazines in his own words:
I just received an email from Father Joseph Fessio stating that Catholic World Report would become a purely internet publication after its December 2011 issue, ceasing to appear in print after more than 20 years of continuous publication. The news struck me in a personal way, since as its first editor I had helped launch the magazine in the fall of 1991. I wrote an email to Father Fessio and told him I felt a “twinge of sadness” that CWR is going “out of print,” and he invited me to recall those days when —despite many difficulties, problems and cross-currents—we conceived the magazine and brought it to birth.
The story begins in 1984. I was a graduate student, and went to Rome to do research in the Vatican Library. (I was doing a doctoral thesis at Yale University under Jaroslav Pelikan, the great historian of the development of Christian doctrine.)
In September of 1984, I had had an extraordinary meeting which was to affect my whole life. The Brazilian Franciscan theologian, Father Leonardo Boff, had been summoned to Rome for a meeting with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I watched the reports on Italian television, and I recognized the name “Ratzinger” because I had been reading a book entitled The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, by a certain… Joseph Ratzinger. Reading the book, I had no idea that the Cardinal Prefect of the doctrinal Congregation was the same man as the author of the book I was reading.
Just a few days after that, one morning as I walked across St. Peter’s Square toward the Vatican Library, I saw the same man I had seen on television. “Are you Cardinal Ratzinger?” I asked. “Yes, I am,” he said. “Well,” I said. “I’m a student here in Rome, working on my dissertation, and I’ve been reading your book, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure…” “Ah!” he said, laughing. “Well, you are the only one in Rome who has read that book of mine.”
The Ratzinger Report
I then read the book-length interview Ratzinger gave to Italian writer Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report (published in English by Ignatius Press). The book contained such a mixture of “truth-telling” about the problems in the Church since the Council yet hope for an eventual return to a more balanced perspective on our faith that I felt moved to become more involved in the effort to keep the Church and her message strong and present in our own time. I grew less interested in the debates and conflicts of the 1200s and more interested in the issues facing us today.
In the fall of 1985, the “Extraordinary Synod” occurred. A little newspaper called the International Courier had sprung up in Rome under the direction of Christopher Winner, an American. I had gone to him to ask if I could write articles. “On what?” he had asked me. “The Vatican,” I said. “You’ve got it,” he agreed. And so I became a Vatican reporter.
Just before Christmas, 1985, I received a phone call from America. Fran Maier, editor of the National Catholic Register (now the chancellor of the archdiocese of Philadelphia), asked me to write for him. I accepted, and in so doing, sealed my fate. I did not realize it then, but in fact, I would become a “Vaticanist” myself, and not an academic.
In Rome there was a group of young Italian journalists who were breaking new ground in covering Vatican affairs. They were not the musty old vaticanisti I had just begun to get to know; they were the “young Turks,” the brash, bold, energetic young men and women of the Italian “Communion and Liberation” movement who were putting out the monthly 30 Giorni nella Chiesa e nel Mondo (“30 Days in the Church and World”). Alver Metalli, Alessandro Banfi, Lucio Brunelli, Tommaso Ricci, Marina Ricci (sister of the philosopher Rocco Buttiglioni), Stefano Maria Paci, Rocco Tolfa. And a brilliant young graphic designer, Giuseppe Sabatelli, who chose the photos and did the layout. I went to see them. They knew all the players—the curial cardinals, the Italian politicians, the European opinion-makers. It was a world many Americans never catch a glimpse of.
In October of 1987, Father Fessio flew to Rome to meet with these Italians, to hammer out an agreement to publish 30 Giorni, in English, as 30 Days. I was at that meeting. The Italians thought I might be the right person to be the editor and translator of the English edition, and Father Fessio agreed.
I finished my thesis on March 1, 1988, and began to work preparing the first issue of 30 Days the next day. (I took a copy of the dissertation to Cardinal Ratzinger, and he leafed through it with interest, and said he would read it. My thesis was accepted, and I received my Ph.D. from Yale that spring.)
In America, Father Fessio was concerned that the content of the magazine not be “too Italian.” But the Italian editors wanted the English edition to follow the Italian. I remember an article about the Italian politician Ciriaco De Mita., national secretary of Italy’s Christian Democratic Party. The Italians said they wished to put pressure on De Mita “in America” by publishing an article in the English edition, but Father Fessio thought the entire piece irrelevant for Americans. I do not remember now whether the piece went in or not, but I remember the Italians saying “Put it in,” and Father Fessio saying, “Leave it out, put something else in its place.”
That was a difficult spot for me to be in.
The magazine flourished. Backed by Ignatius Press, 30 Days, launched in April of 1988, went up by about 3,000 readers a month for more than a year—3,000, 6,000, 9,000, 12,000, and so forth—reaching 36,000. Exciting times.
But I left 30 Giorni at the end of the summer of 1990, after two and a half years and 27 issues. I was hired as an assistant professor of medieval history in an American university.
In the months that followed, tensions between the Italians in Rome and Ignatius Press in San Francisco grew, and in the spring of 1991, at the time of the first Gulf War, the relationship broke down.
This long and winding road led to the birth of Catholic World Report
In the spring of 1990, I received a call from Father Fessio. “Bob,” he said, “I have a proposal for you. I have closed down 30 Days. I would like you to go back to Rome and start a magazine to replace it. You may not be the only one who could do it, but I think you would be the best person.” I hesitated. At 30 Giorni, we had had 15 journalists to follow and cover every aspect of Vatican affairs.
In the end the chance to edit a new magazine was too attractive to pass up. I accepted.
We did not know at first what we would even name the publication: “The Report” was one idea; “The Catholic World” was another. Finally we settled on The Catholic World Report, with a slight ambiguity about whether we were focused on “the Catholic world” or on “the world as seen by Catholics.” But we knew we wanted the word “Report” emphasized, because we knew we wanted the charism of the publication to be evangelical, a “report,” not just hearsay or speculation or chit-chat, but a clear, reliable “report” on what was happening in Rome and around the world-a report that would concern the Catholic Church, but also the entire world the Church is “in but not of”-hence, Catholic World Report.
I made a trip to California, and over several days, we worked out the rubrics of the magazine. We looked at various type fonts and chose the ones we wanted to use. The new magazine was coming to life.
I then began making calls—to Phil Lawler, to Father Richard Neuhaus, to David Schindler, to Deal Hudson (who at that time was known as a Maritain scholar), to Stratford Caldecott, and to many others. I was seeking insight into what people thought was needed. What message would The Catholic World Report proclaim? I knew I did not want it to be superficial or knee-jerk; I wanted it to be profound, provocative, and fearless, looking at the world from a thoroughly Catholic perspective.
One great concern I had was that we would be “too American.” Then Father Fessio explained that we would not be alone, but together with some French and Spanish editors in a group which would be called “I.Media,” short for “International Media.” The French would be financed by Vincent Montagne’s publishing group, Media-Participations, the largest Catholic publisher in France, and the Spanish by the Legionaries of Christ. I agreed that we would be better off by having an international team, but I still felt that we would be lacking the Italian component. After all, no one knows Rome like the Italians; it is their home.
I arrived in Rome in the first days of September, 1991, and went down to the office on via Sforza Pallavicini, not far from the end of Borgo Pio. There I met Jean-Marie Guenois from Paris, and a very young Jesús Colina, from Burgos, Spain, later the founder of the Zenit news agency. The first day we were in the office together was September 11, 1991. The next day, Blandine Becheras, from Lyons, France, a member of the Emmanuelle Community centered in Paris, joined us as the office secretary. So we were four.
The first issue came out five weeks later with “Quo Vadis, Europa” on the cover (“Europe, Where Are You Going?”). We were all very proud that what had just been an idea was now beginning to be a reality.
When I met with Cardinal Ratzinger and explained the new situation, he seemed distressed. “I am sorry there had to be this division (between 30 Giorni and Catholic World Report),” he said.
By Christmas of 1991, we had successfully launched the magazine, and we had managed to retain about 20,000 subscribers. Father Fessio, however, had problems I knew little about. He had originally made an agreement to be a one- third owner of I.Media, but in a meeting not long after we opened the office, the French investor, Vincent Montagne, told Father Fessio and the Legionaries that he would take back the 33% offer, and own 100% of I.Media himself. It was a fait accompli.
Father Fessio moved my contract over to I.Media, and I suddenly found myself working for the French.
On March 24, 1993, after one and a half years and 15 issues of the magazine, I was replaced as editor by Phil Lawler, who then continued in that post for many very successful years.
In the days that followed, I decided to try to take all the experience I had acquired during five years of “making magazines” and create a third publication. I did not know what to call it. I thought of “Vatican Insider” and “The Rome Report” (but I did not want to use the word “Report” again). So finally I settled on Inside the Vatican. I called my friend Grzegorz Galazka, a Polish photographer, and the graphic designer of 30 Giorni, Giuseppe Sabatelli, and asked them to help me with the new magazine. “Let’s make it more beautiful than either of the others,” I said. “Let’s use full color. Let’s use large photos. Even as big as an entire page. Let’s make it gorgeous, so it can speak through pictures as well as through words.”
In this sense, the true “heir” of 30 Days is, in many ways, Inside the Vatican—we still have the same people making the magazine as in the 1980s.
And so, with the help of these two friends, I launched Inside the Vatican with a “Zero issue” in April of 1993. I took copies of the “Zero issue” to Fr. Stanislaw Dsiwisz, the Pope’s secretary; to Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s spokesman; and to Cardinal Ratzinger. The first two were pleasant and encouraged me.
Cardinal Ratzinger was encouraging, but also perplexed. “It seems there is a multiplication of magazines here,” he said. “First, 30 Days of the Italians, then, the 30 Days of Father Fessio (Catholic World Report), and now, the 30 Days of Robert Moynihan. Could you not all work together?”
Many years passed. Father Fessio and I did not see each other or speak to each other. But, just after the year 2000, we met, by chance, at the main entrance of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
“Bob,” he said, then paused. “You know, there is something I’ve been meaning to tell you. I was wrong… you are bringing out a great magazine.” He paused. “Is there some way we could work together?”
The Demise of Printed Magazines
Since 1988, I have been making magazines. Twenty-seven issues of 30 Days, 15 issues of Catholic World Report, and now 183 issues of Inside the Vatican… 225 magazines in 23 years.
And despite all of these years, the challenges just keep increasing.
Father Fessio in his letter to readers wrote: “For several years now, Ignatius Press has been subsidizing these two magazines (Catholic World Report and Homiletic and Pastoral Review), and the loss has been in the $200,000-range each year. We have continued to subsidize them because we believed—and still believe—they have provided an important service to the Church. However, it doesn’t take any prophetic gifts to see what is happening to print magazines. The rapid growth of electronic sources of news and opinion has led to the demise of many magazines, and this is clearly a trend that is going to continue.”
When I read that Catholic World Report was going out of print, I wondered if some of the magazine’s readers, because they might still like a paper magazine, might like to subscribe to Inside the Vatican. So I wrote to Father Fessio to ask if he would let his readers know that Inside the Vatican still exists, and is going to try to keep publishing. And he said, “Why don’t you tell the whole story, and we’ll put it in the last printed edition of Catholic World Report, in December?”
Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam
So that is what I have done. I have told the story.
And I think Pope Benedict would be pleased that some of us are now working together again ad majoram Dei gloriam (“for the greater glory of God”), after so many divisions in the past.
Thus, as someone who devoted a part of my life, with great passion, to the launch of Catholic World Report, I wish well to all those associated with the online initiative, and invite all those who would like to have a paper copy of a magazine that also covers Church and world affairs to consider subscribing to Inside the Vatican magazine, which is, in a sense, the child of Catholic World Report. If we have accomplished any good thing, it is little in comparison to what we wished and hoped to accomplish.