PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, in his role as publisher of The Tablet, has been presented with the Catholic Media Association’s Bishop John England Award for his defense of First Amendment rights.
“I am honored to have won this award. I have been a strong supporter of Catholic journalism, which is more important than ever in today’s highly secular culture,” said Bishop DiMarzio, who added that he is proud of his record.
“I fought for our First Amendment rights when our churches were being discriminated against during the COVID pandemic,” he explained.
Bishop DiMarzio was referring to the lawsuit the Diocese of Brooklyn filed last year against then-governor Andrew Cuomo over the restrictions he placed on church attendance at the height of the pandemic. The diocese argued that the attendance limits Cuomo placed on houses of worship to stop the spread of COVID-19 (in some cases only 10 people permitted inside) violated religious freedom.
The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in the diocese’s favor in November 2020. The story and all of its developments were covered in-depth in the pages of The Tablet.
The award, established in 1992, is named after Bishop John England, a 19th-century publisher who founded the first Catholic newspaper in the U.S., the United States Catholic Miscellany, which began publishing in 1822.
In order to be nominated, the CMA website states that the bishop “should clearly have acted in defense of the publication or used their publications, in accordance with its mission, to defend the First Amendment rights of the publisher, the institution owning the publication, and/or the Catholic Church as a whole.”
Bishop DiMarzio said he takes the role of journalism seriously “because the press ensures we hear all sides of a story and gives the people the information they need as part of an educated and informed society.”
Vito Formica, executive director of news content & development for DeSales Media Group, the non-profit that produces The Tablet for the diocese, nominated Bishop DiMarzio for the award.
“What we do would not be possible without the support of Bishop DiMarzio,” he said.
Formica said the bishop should be commended for allowing The Tablet to cover the full scope of the Catholic experience, even when it comes to publishing negative stories — such as the sexual abuse crisis of recent years.
Bishop DiMarzio himself faced negative press when he was accused of sexual misconduct in 2019. Those claims were ultimately found “not to have the semblance of truth” by the Vatican in 2021 after an independent investigation led by New York attorney John O’Donnell, a former federal prosecutor, and the law firm of Herbert Smith Freehills. The law firm then hired former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s firm to conduct the third-party investigation.
In the nomination letter, Formica pointed out that The Tablet was not precluded from covering the allegations.
“The Tablet had the duty to report some pretty difficult stories and [Bishop DiMarzio] has supported us in doing that. He’s never once told us, ‘You cannot publish that.’ It adds a lot to the transparency that so many readers are looking for. And when it comes to sexual abuse, telling the full story becomes part of the healing process.” Formica said.
Bishop DiMarzio explained that it is important for Catholic media to report the tough stories.
“When news about the Church is negative, it hurts. But ultimately it is valuable to report it because Catholic journalists will not add the anti-Catholic bias sometimes seen or read in secular media,” he said. “Trust in the Church has been damaged by the sex abuse crisis. Honest reporting helps us rebuild trust with Catholics.”
Formica said it’s a responsibility that his team takes seriously. “To entrust the laity with the duty of reporting on all aspects of the diocese and the Church takes courage,” he said.
Msgr. Sean Ogle, chairman of the board of DeSales Media Group, said Bishop DiMarzio is a First Amendment champion for many reasons — not just because of his willingness to take the government to court.
“The litigation is part of standing up for the First Amendment, but the bishop also writes a weekly column and lays down in the public square about what the Church thinks, believes, teaches, and does,” Msgr. Ogle said. “He establishes the Church as a player in the public square.”
The Tablet, which was established in 1908, continues to thrive at a time when other dioceses around the country are shutting down their newspapers. Bishop DiMarzio said he would urge against such closures.
“There is plenty of negative, anti-religion media messaging out there so diocesan media needs to counteract that,” he said.
A diocesan newspaper can also serve another purpose, according to Bishop DiMarzio: “The Tablet has not only reported the news but it has been an outstanding vehicle for evangelization to the people of God here in New York.”
CRITERIA FOR NOMINATION
The recipient of the Bishop John England Award should clearly have acted in their role as publisher of a CMA member publication and clearly have acted in defense of the publication or used their publications, in accordance with its mission, to defend the First Amendment rights of the publisher, the institution owning the publication, and/or the Catholic Church as a whole. The award recipient may or may not be a cleric.
2020: Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, The Tablet 2019: Msgr. John E. Kozar, ONE Magazine 2018: Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas, Tucson, Az. 2017: Thomas C. Fox, National Catholic Reporter 2016: Greg Erlandson, Our Sunday Visitor 2015: Francis Cardinal George, Chicago, IL 2014: Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Washington, D.C. 2013: Most Rev. David D. Kagan Bismarck, N.D. 2012: Most Rev. Matthew H. Clark Rochester, N.Y. 2011: Most Rev. Daniel Buechlein, Indianapolis