Crack media team created for papal visit to the UK -- and why it's needed

A well-briefed, media-trained speakers' bureau of Catholics is being set up in the UK in advance of Benedicts XVI's visit in September. Declaration of interest: I'm one of those behind it.

Catholic Voices is a project of the Catholic Union, a venerable institution created in the late nineteenth century to raise the voice of the Church in the public sphere, whose president, Lord Brennan, is one of the project's patrons, along with a Benedictine abbot, Christopher Jamison, known to millions through his role in the hit BBC series The Monastery.

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Zenit has the story here, the Guardian here. The Catholic voices website is here.

Without mentioning us, the Tablet columnist Clifford Longley makes an excellent case for Catholic Voices in this week's issue.

He writes of his frustration at the media spin that developed around the Pope's remarks to the English and Welsh bishops on Monday (see earlier post). Although the Pope was almost certainly not referring to the Government's Equality Bill recently rejected by the House of Lords, but to the anger felt by Catholics at the forced closure of their adoption agencies following legislation enacted in 2007 -- in other words, about past, not current, legislation -- the template set by the media assumed that this was an "unprecedent intervention" (BBC) in UK politics, which was "improper" according to one commentator. 

Clifford explained the facts to one correspondent, whose paper still ran the "pope-intervenes-in-UK-politics" story. "I later asked the correspondent who had rung me why the false interpretation had persisted beyond the point at which it had been realised," writes Clifford, "and the reply was: 'As you know, sometimes newspapers are afraid to be a lone voice'." The story had been fixed in a particular way, and a result "for ever and a day, people will believe that the Pope had joined the debate over legislation before Parliament, and they also believe this was in some way unprecedented and ... uttterly improper". 

The template here is about religion, and Catholicism in particular, as an anti-progressive force in society. So even if the Pope didn't mean to attack the Equality Bill, the "greater truth" served by this type of news reporting was that he would have done if he had thought of it. And never mind that he was speaking carefully, defending the church's religious freedom while praising the British tradition of freedom of speech, and indeed, of promoting equality. He was deemed to be trampling all over gay rights in general, not to mention parliamentary sovereignty.

And he concludes:

What the Catholic Church neeeds is a sophisticated media-rebuttal unit that knows the way the media thinks, and than can intervene to put out media fires before they can take hold. Sometimes spin-doctoring is a necessary evil.

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8 years 11 months ago
I saw a discription of Catholic Voices elsewhere as "astroturfing".   Even master spin doctors can't obscure the fact  that the pope doesn't believe LGBT people in Britain deserve an equal  opportunity to work in a non-religious church job, or  to adopt from a Catholic agency.
Andrew Jones
8 years 11 months ago
One thing I have always admired about the Catholic Church is their sense of unity and the way they deal with adversity and disagreements. There is a great deal to be learned and esteemed...

what is the bible?
Jim McCrea
8 years 11 months ago
“The Pharisees’ sin has come to be called ’scotosis,’ a deliberate and willful darkening of the mind that results from the refusal to acknowledge God’s presence and power at work in human stories. If the neglect of Scripture is a form of sin, John suggests, a blind adherence to Scripture when God is trying to show us the truth in human bodies is also a form of sin, and a far more grievous one. Both our own sense of integrity as Christians, and our hope of entering into positive conversation with those who disagree with us, obligate us to engage Scripture with maximum devotion, love, and intelligence. If it is risky to trust ourselves to the evidence of God at work in transformed lives even when it challenges the clear statements of Scripture, it is a far greater risk to allow the words of Scripture to blind us to the presence and power of the living God.” 
 
Luke Timothy Johnson, Commonweal, June 15, 2007 http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=1957
 
And it is even worse to allow the words of a very fallible, defectible and historically indefensible human church to do the same.

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