Church and communication: a challenge of 21 centuries

Advertise the good news of salvation is a fundamental task of the Church, which must make use of every language of communication present in society.

Pablo Alfonso Fernández-April 4, 2024-Reading time: 6 minutes

A journalist videotapes the Pope during a trip ©CNS photo/Paul Haring

Since its origin, the Church has been entrusted by Jesus Christ with the task of communication: its evangelizing mission consists in proclaiming the Gospel. the good news of salvation. In order to carry it out, he counts principally on the help of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens, impels and vivifies his Church. But, as theology teaches, grace is no substitute for nature, and for this reason it is appropriate to employ the human means at our disposal to facilitate its action in souls.

Among these media are the so-called Information Sciences, with all the technical background and specifications of an increasingly professionalized activity.

Communication tasks have evolved with the media and specialized training, so it is important to consider the best way to carry out institutional communication in the Church, while respecting and facilitating the work of professionals.

This is a necessary collaboration, which benefits both the communicators in their work of presenting and disseminating events of informative relevance, and the Church itself, which becomes better known and can show the world the beauty of the Gospel in the events presented as news.

An ethical task

As in other professions, the task of the communicator has a strong component of trust. The information source we choose is determined by the guarantees of veracity and integrity in the interpretation of the reality that it transmits to us.

For this reason, the Church cannot remain unaware of the moral implications of the use of the media, and it is in her interest to contribute to their development in a way that respects the dignity of the person. This is affirmed in the Decree Inter MirificaThe first of these recognizes the human right to information and its link to truth, charity and justice.

It also invites us to think about the consequences that what is transmitted has on people's behavior, and therefore reminds us of the responsibility of professionals, recipients and the civil authority when selecting and disseminating content.

Basically, it is a matter of remembering that there is a difference between the informative resonance that an event may have and its relevance. We must recognize that it is in our interest to be up to date, but we must learn to read events in a different key than sensationalism, in order to know how to interpret what is happening: a fallen tree always makes more noise than a growing forest. And this applies both to events in the world and to those that have to do with the life of the Church.

The British priest Ronald Knox (1888-1957) explained that in Jerusalem everyone knew at once that Judas had hanged himself, but very few noticed Mary's simple and fruitful fidelity.

For more than 50 years, the Church has been helping to reflect on this task from an ethical perspective, with the Messages for Social Communications Day. The Pope publishes them every year on the occasion of the feast of St. Francis de Sales, and they make us look at some relevant and topical aspect that awakens consciences. For example, in his message for 2024, Pope Francis mentions some of the consequences of the use of artificial intelligence.

With its own dynamics

The aforementioned document of the Second Vatican Council also reminds us that "it is primarily up to the laity to enliven these means with a human and Christian spirit". This is one of the expressions of the Social Doctrine of the Church, to which it generically referred to Benedict XVI in his first Encyclical. There he explained that it is not the task of the Church to undertake on its own the political enterprise of realizing the most just society possible.

It is true that it cannot and must not remain on the sidelines of this struggle for justice, but it is inserted in it through rational argumentation and must awaken the spiritual forces, striving to open the intelligence and the will to the demands of the good (cfr. Deus caritas est, n.28).

With regard to the tasks of communication, it is understood that the role of the ecclesiastical authority is not properly that of having certain means from which to contribute to public opinion, but rather to enliven the various initiatives of the citizens with the Christian spirit.

It is true that the Church does not have as its own mission an institutional presence in the world of communication, nor in the world of education, hospital care or the provision of social services. But, at the same time, it enjoys the same rights as any other public or private institution to direct or promote initiatives in these fields of social life.

For this reason, it is also understood that the promotion of Catholic media is possible (and to this proposal the Decree dedicates the Decree Inter Mirifica Chapter II), who can act in the world of communication with professionalism and present their informative proposal, like any other valid interlocutor in society.

Institutional Communication in the Church is increasingly carried out with greater professionalism, and the efforts of ecclesiastical Universities to give importance to the preparation of professional communicators who can lead Media Delegations in the dioceses or launch initiatives in the world of news agencies about the Church are to be welcomed.

A recent encounter

In a recent colloquium organized by a Spanish diocese, a group of journalists were invited to discuss Church communications in a climate of frankness and mutual respect. For example, the discussion on the management of information on abuses served to call for greater professionalism on the part of reporters and better channels of communication with Church authorities.

The conclusion of the meeting was that the media are willing to publish more information about the Church, and that the work of the Media Delegations is appreciated and valued by the professionals of the general media.

In fact, most of the news about the Church are positive references, about Caritas, testimonies of people involved in educational tasks or the care of the religious artistic heritage.

In general, social interventions promoted by the Church are of informative interest, as are some religious events that involve the mobilization of resources in the places where they take place, such as pilgrimages or patron saint celebrations.

A necessary contribution

In any case, the vision of the activity of the Church from some media is still limited, either because of ignorance or ideological interests. Some professionals are still entrenched in a certain closed-minded mentality towards spiritual life, which tends to marginalize the opinions and actions of believers simply because they belong to people who understand their faith as something important and decisive in their lives. No attention is paid to the reasonableness or interest of the proposals, and they are directly branded because of their origin without even listening to them.

This is well reflected in a passage of the novel The awakening of Miss Prim (Natalia Sanmartín, 2014). The protagonist of this story maintains a dialogue with the owner of the house where she works as a librarian. At one point in the conversation she rejects an argument, considering that its origin lies in the religious convictions of her interlocutor. But he invites her to reason, and to tell him whether or not she thinks what he has said is correct: if she can only contradict him on the grounds that it comes from a believer, it is not a valid argument.

Some would like Catholics to return to the catacombs, or at least not to leave the sacristies. In some circles it seems that the Edict of the emperor Julian (361-363), which demanded that the teachers of the schools of Rhetoric and Grammar believe loyally in the gods, should remain "confined in the churches to comment on Matthew and Luke".

There is an effort to show the contributions of faith to social life as irrelevant, or to reduce its impact to a limited sphere without recognizing its influence on so many cultural manifestations that shape coexistence.

Believing thought is tolerated at most as a folkloric expression that has its place and its moment, as a concession to an inevitable regionalism, but it is not admitted as a reasonable and sensible posture that can help the development of the world.

Servants of truth

The Church is called to share in the destiny of mankind and therefore has the right and the obligation to make herself known in her words, in her actions and in her contributions to the common good. For their part, those who work in the elaboration and diffusion of informative messages must be ever more conscious of their responsibility as servants of the truth.

This was recently recalled by Pope Francis in an address on March 23 of this year to the directors and workers of RAI and their families, in which he described their work as a true public service that is a gift to the community, and encouraged them to cultivate an attitude of listening that would help them to grasp the truth as a reality. symphonymade up of a variety of voices.

The true service of a professional communicator, in the words of the Pope, contributes to truth and the common good, promotes beauty, sets in motion dynamics of solidarity and helps to find meaning in life in a perspective of good. Their work involves everyone, and brings new perspectives to reality, without pursuing audience quotas to the detriment of content.

It may seem an idealized or somewhat naive vision, but the alternative would be defeatism, and it seems that Francis is not willing to throw in the towel: a greater supply of quality content can be built, it all depends on the ability to dream big.

And it concludes with an invitation to media professionals to turn their work into a surpriseThe Church should be a place of companionship, unity, reconciliation, listening, dialogue, respect and humility. This is a challenge for journalists and for those who collaborate with them in their work in the Church.

The authorPablo Alfonso Fernández

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising