Chatting with 'The Catholic Guy'

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
New York

Last night, I was interviewed for a half-hour or so by “the Catholic Guy,” Lino Rulli, host of a program by that name on the new Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio. Rulli vowed that it would be “the most random” interview I’d ever done, and while I’ve actually faced far more bizarre lines of questioning, never before had they been so clearly labeled as such up-front.

Thus it was, for example, that we talked about the reasons for my transition roughly a year ago from a full beard to a goatee (a choice driven mostly by my wife, although my handler at CNN did say it’s “better TV”), what it’s like to fly on the papal plane (not nearly as exciting as it might seem, and far more expensive), and what’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever said to a pope (on my first meeting with John Paul II, I was so paralyzed with awe that all I could spit out was an anodyne, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”).

This was also the first time a host actually apologized on-air for stalking me. Rulli explained that when he lived in Rome, he would often see me at restaurants or papal events, and would sometimes hang around the edges, but never actually got around to presenting himself.

We also, of course, discussed more substantive matters, such as the significance of Benedict XVI’s recent trip to Turkey, and whether Benedict as pope is a surprise with respect to what we might have expected from the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Rulli, who still speaks a passable Italian, has a background in TV journalism, but also seems very much at home in radio. The “Catholic Channel” has only been on the air for a couple of weeks, and it will be interesting to follow its development.

One thing about Rulli and his crew that struck me as especially promising: the absence of an agenda. That is to say, Rulli comes off as interested and engaged in Catholic affairs, with a healthy sense of humor about the whole thing, but not someone committed to one or another of the Catholic “tribes” currently slugging it out in the church’s version of the culture wars. Instinctively, he seems open to different perspectives and temperaments, with no strong need to pass judgment, yet without in any sense fudging his Catholic identity or his love for the church.

If that’s the spirit with which the “Catholic Channel” moves forward, it could represent a valuable addition to the American Catholic conversation indeed ... random or not.

Information on the “Catholic Channel” can be found here: The Catholic Channel


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