Last month marked the 51st anniversary of the “Decree on the Means of Social Communication,” (“Inter Mirifica”), promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. In that document the council fathers considered how social communications “contribute greatly to the enlargement of people’s minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God.” The decree also addressed the essential role of Catholic journalists in “employing the means of social communication to announce the good news of salvation.”
The Catholic media, then, have a vital role to play in the new evangelization. This was the topic of a forum in December that America co-hosted with Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College here in New York. “In the Service of the Word: The Catholic Media and the New Evangelization” brought together the editors of First Things, America, U.S. Catholic, Commonweal and The National Catholic Register to examine the state of the Catholic media today. (We intended to have this forum last year, on the 50th anniversary, but a Northeast snowpocalypse forced its postponement.)
It was clear throughout the proceedings that in addition to whatever role Catholic journalists have as new evangelists, we must also provide fair and balanced news and analysis, reporting that encourages transparency and accountability. As Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, has put it, “The church needs a media that is not afraid to expose mistakes and failures but whose motive is to challenge the community of believers to continue on the path of conversion.”
The vocation of the Catholic journalist is more important than ever before, precisely because news reporting is now exponentially faster and more complex. This is a challenge for a global church, which is attempting to have a meaningful conversation in an unprecedented way. In his interview with Elisabetta Piqué, which we are pleased to reprint in this issue, Pope Francis identifies the way in which journalists can sometimes stoke the flames of fear, even unintentionally: “Some people are always afraid,” the pope says, “because they don’t read things properly, or they read some news in a newspaper, an article, and they don’t read what the synod [on the family] decided.” If that is true for the consumers of news, it is just as true for reporters of news.
As challenging as this moment is, however, it also presents an opportunity for members of the Catholic media to be both Catholics and journalists in the most robust sense of both. “No stealthy mumbling when there is disagreement,” the pope says. “It’s healthy to get things out into the open; it’s very healthy.” The pope, it would seem, believes that it is better to discuss an issue without resolving it than to resolve an issue without discussing it. That call for an open dialogue, from the very heart of the church, should excite the hearts and minds of Catholic journalists everywhere. This is our moment.
Yet it is also essential, as it is in every dramatic moment of challenge and opportunity, that we remember who we are. As Archbishop Celli has noted, being a Catholic journalist “means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile, in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically.” In other words, we ourselves must be open to conversion if we are to inform and evangelize with integrity and with any hope of success. We must model the very thing to which we are calling the church and the world.