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Even in the year of ‘Spotlight’ and Pope Francis, the Boston Globe is casting off its Catholic news site

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Dec. 23, 2013, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, left, welcomes Pope Francis as they exchanged Christmas greetings, at the Vatican. (AP)

If a Catholic news website could work anywhere, at any time, it should have been Boston this year.

With a wildly popular and frequently controversial pope who traveled to the United States for the first time this year, plus an Oscar-winning film treatment of the Globe’s own investigation into abuse by Catholic priests, the Boston Globe’s Catholic-focused site Crux had plenty to cover.

But on Friday, just 18 months after launching the site, the Globe announced that it was giving up on it.

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Crux will continue, its associate editor John L. Allen Jr. vowed on Friday. The Globe gave Allen the site for free when it announced it was washing its hands of it. He says he will keep it going, along with the site’s Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín. But he hasn’t yet figured out who will fund it. And in the meantime, the site’s journalists — national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin, San Martín and Allen himself, who has covered the Church for almost 20 years — are all out of jobs.

“We lost our sugar daddy. We’re not shutting down. We intend to continue,” Allen said to the Post on Friday afternoon. “Big picture, it’s not really a surprise. I knew going in that it was kind of a novel venture for a mainstream outlet in the United States.”

At the time the site launched, Globe editor Brian McGrory said optimistically to Nieman, “There’s a real hunger. We’re at a unique moment.”

And that moment proved to be even more interesting than anyone knew. No one foresaw a spat between the pope and Donald Trump, or a Best Picture win for “Spotlight,” the movie depicting the Globe’s quest to cover clergy abuse. In between, Crux turned out thorough coverage of the ins and outs of Catholicism. Allen said Friday that some of his proudest moments were the site’s coverage of anti-Christian persecution worldwide, which took him as far as Egypt and India.

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Allen said he aimed to make Crux stand out from other publications covering the Church because it wasn’t owned by the Vatican, and because it avoided either a liberal or conservative ideological bent.

The audience for the site’s work, Allen said, included frequent readers who work in Catholic organizations or otherwise care deeply about the daily doings of the Vatican, everyday Catholics who sometimes wanted news on the Church and outsiders interested in major religious events.

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“It’s like having a website for stockcar racing or quilting or something like that. It appeals to a particular niche,” Allen said. “To make a niche publication profitable exclusively through advertising sales, I don’t see too many examples of that working…so I have always thought that the future of niche publications has got to be a mix of sponsorship, donors, partnership arrangements. You have to think of yourself, to some extent, as a nonprofit.”

Allen said he foresees a few possibilities for the site’s future. Perhaps another news organization will step in as a funder where the Globe left off. Perhaps Crux can team up with a Catholic organization. Or perhaps Crux will form its own nonprofit so that it can seek donors and sponsors to fund its journalism.

Readers who care about vigorous coverage of one of the world’s most interesting religious bodies should hope that Crux succeeds in its next steps.

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