Archbishop Amato - "The Magisterium and the Mass Media"
UPDATE: Zenit now has an online article up on the talk
So, about that communications conference I had mentioned before... it was really good! I was only able to go for some of it, but from what I heard myself it was a very worthwhile series of discussions on the purpose and mission of communications offices in the Church, and the need for continued discernment of the best means and methods of communications.
The first speaker I heard was none other than Archbishop Amato, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (Not seen in the above photo - sorry, I forgot I had a camera until later in the day, this is a shot from one of the afternoon panel of presentations in English)
Archbishop Amato's words have already have gotten out onto the worldwide press, but I have been very amused at the content of the press reports I've seen so far!! Why? Well, because they pretty much exemplify exactly the issues that the good Archbishop was warning against - in particular, the tendency of secular media to focus in on one point that is of biased interest to them, and make that the "full report". In his case, it was his words about boycotting the DVC movie.
Oddly enough, I remember him talking about that issue, but I didn't even write it in my notes. Anyway, I will try here to take what I can from the notes I made during his talk, so that perhaps some of you can get at least an idea of the breadth and depth of his very eloquent talk on the relationship between the Magisterium and the mass media.
Archbishop Amato – 28th of April, 2006
“The Magisterium and the Mass Media”
Conference on Professional Church Communications
Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome
(My later comments are in [ ] marks)
• Citing an interview in April, he says that young people of today request not “change” in the Church’s teaching, as commonly believed, but instead desire more modern communications to be used, to explain to the modern world what the Church’s teaching is and why.
• Pastorally, these complaints are significant and should be addressed by all Catholics, and particularly by bishops, bishops’ conferences, and the Holy See.
• Background of the Magisterium and Magisterial teaching authority [citing Dei Verbum, CCC, et al]
Magisterium and the Faith
• Listen to it, protect it, propose it to the faithful
• There is a closed relationship between the Magisterium and the Faith, because the Faith has been given to us by God, it is not ours to change.
• The task of communicating the Faith corresponds with a need for willing acceptance by the faithful – this relationship is essential.
• The situation we are in does not always [does it ever?] match our ideal, in our “post-modern” culture. The faithful can be unreceptive, or outright reject.
• The world still has very real persecutions, against not only Christians, which is very real, but also against the nature of man himself. The Christian anthropology of man, as being in the image of God, is challenged by the culture.
• The Christian perspective is met with skepticism, because man does not believe that he has an end – there is no meaning to life, and a relativistic denial of truth. Man is a person without truth.
• This understanding then combines with a weaker sense among the faithful that the Church’s Magisterium is truly the “Mater Ecclesia”, Holy Mother Church [and holds the teaching authority of Christ on earth.]
• You can see this by simply watching the typical TV “opinion” panel – even by Catholic media, on Catholic programs.
• The Catholic faithful themselves often cannot give “a reason for their hope”. Books like the Da Vinci Code present so many errors and lies – where to even begin? The Compendium, “the book of 2 popes” has just been released, presenting the faith as being lived out and prayed, in a easy to use Q&A format, is a good starting point to use to present the faith effectively.
• This blending of cultural objection overwhelms the young. In the Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis portrays a senior devil and a junior devil, in which the junior is told that his assignment, a young man, is accustomed to listening to 42 philosophies and how they are practical or up-to-date, contemporary – but not whether they are true or not, and so the best advice for the junior devil is to keep the young man outside of the Church. He should instead encourage public opinion to be the gauge of living, not the objective truth of reality.
• Today, we feel that we live in a kind of virtual reality, the result of manipulation. However, the Gospel is not a product of merely human minds – Jesus is the truth, He is the Gospel. The Church finds stumbling blocks not only in her communications, but in the reception of the message she presents.
• In 2002, JP II said, in speaking to the CDF, that the CDF should dwell on problems of reception of documents from the CDF - there is a problem of assimilating contents, and in putting it into practice. There is a problem here in the transmission of fundamental truths.
Mass Media & the Magisterium
• Limited only to particular situations? No – language is the problem.
• “Dominus Iesus” case – since publication, there have been many reactions. Many use typical sterotypes, “pre-concilliar” theology, anti-ecumensim, “denying” Protestants heaven, etc. These are some of the examples of falsification applied to the document, which affected its reception. It was a Methodist leader who came out and said that it was unfair to go to the press immediately, without reading it himself!
• There is a superficiality in the media today, combined with a great ability to influence people – including theologians.
• The doctrinal language was deprived of communicative effectiveness. Not the language, but what is being said, is understandable to everyone [I think he was saying that the effectiveness of documents is reduced when the mass media tries to reduce these documents to mere snippets, and often does not appreciate what the document is saying in the first place. When the faithful are then presented with this “shadow” of what was really said, they first of all think that they know what it says, when they do not, and second of all, decide that they do not have to read the original document anymore – both regrettable responses]
• We make our proposals, our documents, as “fishers of souls” – pastoral language is necessary – not lowered language, or compromising language, but clear and understandable language. This is also a lesson of Vatican II for our time. There is a need for “creative pastoral care”.
• Look at Pope Benedict XVI – his communication is understood by everyone! He speaks to little children [referencing the First Holy Communion gathering last October] and to prelates [referring to the Roman diocesan priest gathering not long ago].
• The reception of the Faith is also an ecclesial event, not a media event.
• The reception of “Dominus Iesus” is expected from a media perspective, reduced to 3 words by journalists, and the beauty of it was cancelled by manipulation.
• The same happened with the release of the Catechism – the only questions were about the death penalty and just war theory, secular questions – the true theme, of living a life of faith, hope and love, was never highlighted.
• Magisterial documents are presented too simply and with a biased selection of themes.
• We need to examine whether these works should be given to the media before the priests, laity – the universal Church. The Compendium was released among clerics, laity, etc – it was an ecclesial event, presented by Benedict XVI as a way for us to accept the divine gift – it was not the news of one day! (later, in Q&A time, he said that this is not a statement to deny the press office access, but a desire to give doctrinal understanding; that regular press may receive it at the same time as the faithful.) [In the past, the “press release” for a document was just that, a “press” release, and most people did not know it was happening before hand. This makes it very difficult to disseminate information to the faithful as a Christian community, to whom these messages are ultimately addressed to, without it being “filtered” so to speak by the general media.]
• Magisterial documents are important for formation – long term evangelical and ecclesial event for the whole universal Church.
• When Vatican publishers were told that there would be no press conference for the release [I think of the Compendium] they were disappointed, and thought that no one would buy it without one. They would not pre-print more than 20,000 copies. But at the end of the Pope’s own commentary and “press release”, 400,000 copies were requested, and 2.2 million by the end of December.
• For the natural assimilation of documents by the faithful, ongoing formation to prepare for individual documents. Long-term, not just “news bytes”; Catholic newspapers can give long-term explanation before it is released.
• “Deus Caritas Est” – Benedict XVI was the first to present it; he talked of it 3 times before it was actually released. He didn’t want to give it to the press first, but wanted it to be received by the faithful.
• Young people read it and find it compelling, they understand it – but of course, the theologians don’t!
• These two documents are pillars for catechesis today. Questions, and answers. The bearers of light to the mind, they must be enhanced in this time of globalization.
• There is currently an exciting opportunity for a permanent formation in the Faith, apostolic in nature, especially with professional lay people who know the language of both theology and communications.
• Reception of Magisterial documents is a pastoral event of catechesis.
• How to introduce documents to non-Catholics? Every document of the Church is first addressed to the faithful, who should be prepared to understand the content. But it is open for all to read and should be accessible – look at the very basic, foundational language used by Pope Benedict this past Holy Week and Easter. Example of the Bible – real language, that transmits real information, to all people.
• Considerations for all press, particularly the Catholic press:
• Cath. Press should not take on the secular agenda (ie, DVC, Gospel of Judas) as such [and merely repeat what the secular media considers as “newsworthy”]
• Catholic press should not be negative, “demolishing from the inside” the sometimes controversial positions of the Church. If the negative side is given, then Catholic publications should also ensure presentation of solid information on Church teaching and the reasons why.
• Catholic media should have the dual intention of news and ongoing training
• Catholic communications takes into consideration what is topical. If secular press presents criticizing opinions, in the Catholic press publications should aim for the search for truth, not just reporting like secular press. Give the Catholic faithful the answers to their questions, their doubts.
• Creative agenda designed from within, high quality & education of the Faith. Don’t just “stay on top of what is new” read the Fathers! 2000 years of study and thought, a resource library unlike any other. It is not a museum to visit or admire, but we should make the most of it! This will help to satisfy the hunger of young Catholics!
• A lack of professionalism; haste; lack of theological studies – all of these make a Catholic publication less capable, and the faithful are hurt by this.
• Benedict XVI has spoken on this, he has said that true communication requires determination and firmness; we should not accept partial realities. The media can contribute a great deal to the dissemination of what is good and true.