Catholic blogger has plenty of fans

  • March 9, 2007

TORONTO - With a thick Philadelphia accent, Rocco Palmo talks a mile-a-minute rattling off quick facts about Vatican hierarchy or a quip about the latest hot-button Catholic issue. This is a guy who spends his day keeping up with the goings-on of the Catholic Church.

Palmo, 24, pens Whispers in the Loggia ( ), a blog about Catholic politics, culture and hierarchy. He keeps tabs on things of atypical interest to the average 20-something such as new cardinal installations and bishop resignations.

“It’s like being a beat writer for a sports team, you follow them around, sometimes I have to be critical, but you only do it because you want to see your team do well,” said Palmo.

To many, keeping track of who’s who in the world of Catholic hierarchy may sound like a quick guide to becoming a geek, but Palmo has proven there is a niche for this type of market.

Since June his web site tracker has counted more than two million visitors. And to avoid soliciting advertisers or paid subscription, he’s completely reader-supported.

Palmo started his blog in spring 2004, the same time he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor of arts in political science. He said his love for all things Catholic developed as a child.

“I had a lot of wonderful people around me growing up, priests, religious, lay people, and they were always keen that the church was open to me and wanted me.”

Palmo said the biggest scoop he ever uploaded before any other press was the appointment of Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. A priest friend at the Vatican leaked to him that two weeks after Pope Benedict XVI’s election, Levada had been offered the job. A week after Palmo reported it, Time Magazine did as well.

His sources are mainly people inside the church: priests, bishops, religious, national officials.

“I think they too get frustrated with the sense of misconception that things are decided in silence,” said Palmo, adding that while the church tends to move slowly to filter out ineffective parts of new developments, in doing so it loses a sense of immediacy.

Reporting on things before the official church does wins Palmo fans and enemies.

“I have a lot of diocesan spokespeople who I work with who are dear, dear friends and many who are furious with me and seek my destruction in the most painful way possible. I have people say I’m a scam and I’m a prophet of the new generation,” he said.

Palmo works independent of any ecclesial following, but insists his work is accurate and credible.

“Everything’s confirmed and reconfirmed, but I do have a bit more liberty because there is no editor of the blog itself. But I am accountable to my readership. I have to be credible to a fault.”

Aside from his blog Palmo also writes for The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly published in London, England, and authors a column for Busted Halo, an online magazine on spirituality and culture run by the Paulist Fathers in the United States. He’s commented on Catholic issues for The New York Times, BBC and Associated Press among other print and broadcast outlets.

One of his supporters is the newly installed Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto.

While archbishop of the Edmonton archdiocese Collins sent Palmo a donation as an

encouragement to keep going. However, Palmo said he has since stopped this practice of taking money from people he covers.

“I can’t take donations from the people I cover. I’ve had to turn away donations from bishops and senior officials because that’s a conflict of interest.”

When Collins was installed in Edmonton Palmo e-mailed to congratulate him, something he started doing as a teen to bishops internationally. Palmo flew to Toronto to attend Collins’ installation and they spent an afternoon together later that week.

“He’s someone I’ve known and respected for such a long time. I came to Toronto to celebrate this sign of hope.”

And hope is what Palmo believes is the one thing people want.

“Maybe (my blog) is something that will give people a laugh in the morning, but also a sense of hope that the future is a lot brighter than a lot of naysayers would think it is.”

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