persons, places and things: Open communications


By Barb Arland-Fye

We were instructed to sit in small groups in a huge conference room to discuss “What does it mean to be a faithful Catholic media organization in the 21st century?”

Our small-group discussion on June 3 in New Orleans would provide feedback to a panel of U.S. bishops participating the following day in the first-ever dialogue on communications between the bishops and the Catholic Press Association and Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals.

It was exciting to be part of the preparatory process as well as to participate in such a momentous event during the 2010 Catholic Media Convention. Our preparatory session began with a videotaped greeting from Pope Benedict XVI. He said, in part, that if our mission is to be truly effective, we must “encounter the persons in communities who witness the case of Christ by their faith and their lives.”

Afterwards, Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee, shared his thoughts on what it means to be a faithful Catholic media organization in the 21st century. Excerpts from his talk appear on the National page in this week’s Catholic Messenger and the full text appears on the USCCB Blog.


I would like to share several observations from Bishop Zavala that resonate with me:

“…Catholic media has a responsibility to the larger Catholic community. Two useful words here are ‘loyalty’ and ‘service.’ As I said before, I am not suggesting that Catholic media should engage purely in apologetics. Rather, I think that faithful Catholic media organizations are loyal in that they wish to see the Church succeed and care about its health and well-being. Their service to the Church is to report the truth, because the truth does set us free.  … I am suggesting that the faithful Catholic media organization is one that both reports the truth and does so with an eye to how that reporting can best serve the Church.”

Bishop Zavala said it is OK to point out when mistakes are made. “As humans, all of us make mistakes. But I think that when Catholic media point out mistakes, it must be done with fairness and civility.” The bishop also believes that one of the unique roles of Catholic media is to model civil and respectful media.

After his talk, 19 small groups — each composed of around seven individuals — discussed four questions that encompassed: serving the Catholic faithful and the challenges in doing that, maintaining integrity as journalists, exploring what it means to be a universal Church in a global environment,  and identifying the boundaries between being a Catholic news organization and a Catholic public relations agency.

The Bishop Panel Discussion on June 4 wasn’t intended to have pat answers to questions or solutions to challenges; it was a great first step in opening lines of communication between the bishops and the Catholic press, in my opinion.

Our panelists were Archbishop Gregory Aymond of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; Canadian Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta; Bishop Ronald Herzog of the Diocese of Alexandria, La., and Bishop Thomas Doran of the Diocese of Rockford. Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, also was in attendance.

One issue the media broached with the bishops was the need for financial support. Bishop Doran noted that diocesan newspapers are extremely important for the good of the Church and that resources ought to be allocated  as needed. “We can’t shortchange the communications apostolate.”

In discussion about tackling tough issues, Archbishop Aymond noted that the U.S. bishops do not speak with one voice “and that definitely is a problem.”

He promised to propose that the bishops’ communications committee address expectations the bishops have of the Catholic media and what those media organizations expect of the bishops, such as access to information and Church officials. Later, when asked what he hopes would come of this first dialogue, Archbishop Aymond said, “I would hope this would be the first of many dialogues between us.”

That’s my hope, too.

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