The Bishops' Panel: What it Means to be a Faithful Catholic Media Organization

The role of the Catholic press is a complicated one, as newspapers and magazines work to balance the desire to spread the Good News with the responsibility to report truthfully on the not-so-good news in which our church sometimes finds itself involved. To address this complex role, the annual Catholic Media Convention brought together journalists and bishops for a panel discussion on what it means to be a faithful Catholic media organization in the 21st century, paying special attention to diocesan papers, many of which have seen drastic cuts in staff and budgets in recent years.

In preparation for the discussion, conference attendees formed small groups which presented questions and concerns—regarding issues of autonomy when reporting the news, obtaining sufficient financial backing to produce quality newspapers, and media training for bishops—that were collected and put before the four panelists: Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, La., and Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill. The discussion was moderated by Dominic Perry of the U.S.C.C.B.

Aymond said that honest dialogue between bishops and Catholic journalists is key to a healthy relationship between the two. “There needs to be a certain level, a respectful level, of autonomy.” he said. “…As we know, there are times when we don’t have to agree. By disagreeing in a respectful way, we can come to a better understanding of our mission and, obviously, the mission of the church. ...I think that in terms of handing on church teaching, you have a powerful responsibility to help us in terms of not telling people what to do but in helping them inform their conscience.”

The topics discussed ranged from new policies in some dioceses of distributing diocesan papers for free to all registered parishioners, to the slow-moving bureaucracy of the U.S.C.C.B. The bishops promised to bring the fruits of the discussion back to the U.S. and Canadian conferences for further consideration, including one suggestion for more media training for the bishops and a faster response time from the conference on timely issues. “We do have to have somebody, somewhere, empowered to give the immediate answer,” Doran said. “...And of course that’s what the secular press wants, the sound byte for the evening news. And when we can’t give them that they interpret that at reticence or secrecy.” Then he quipped, “So I hope that that suggestion goes somewhere, in two, three, four, five, six years when we have an answer for it.”

The bishops’ hour-long conversation, including questions from the crowd, is available below. The introduction is provided by Dominic Perry. The first bishop you'll hear is Herzog; the second is Doran; the third is Aymond; the fourth is Smith.

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The discussion moved Archbishop Claudio Celli, the president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, to offer some concluding remarks of his own. He spoke of Catholic media as a kind of invitation to people of all faiths to engage in dialogue and to be instrumental in the creation of a more welcoming church.

 “I am just questioning myself to see how [the Catholic media's] presence in the world today can be the expression of the church that is looking for something, a church that is expressing her love of humanity today, and where people can find a place where they can say, ‘Yes, I feel accepted. I feel understood; I feel that somebody is sharing what I have in my heart.’ ...I also believe in a church that is receiving and open to people, [a church] with open arms. We are not always there to judge or to criticize or condemn, but we are open people, still being clear what we are, how we believe in Jesus, so as not to hide or change what we are. We are what we are. But we are here to have an existential dialogue with people. So I am asking how our media can be instruments, can give an image of a church that is open, can give an idea of a church that is understanding. People are running their own way; they have so many difficulties today. It is not easy to face, day by day, our lives. I think we must give an image of this passionate church for human beings, for the men of today. I would [hope] that a man that doesn’t share my faith can say, ‘My goodness, how nice it is to be here. I like to be here; I feel respected. I feel understood; I feel this church is able to have a real dialogue with me.’ ...I like to belong to this church because I feel that my human being is accepted, is respected, is loved, and I would like to share such a love with everybody.”

Listen to his entire, 13-minute speech below.

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Kerry Weber

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