Communication breakdown

Since this is a matter that’s attracted a lot of discussion, let’s return to the question of communications, and the difference between making a fair stab at an argument – which you may lose – and losing an argument by default, either by sheer incompetence or just being too lazy to turn up. In terms of Catholic communications, you really do wish at times that Fulton Sheen was still around.

Okay, there’s a media aspect to this. The difficulty on the media side often stems as much from incomprehension as anything else, as even when journos get their facts right – which can’t always be relied on – they often lack the background knowledge to make sense of what they’re hearing. Hence the media’s inability to explain stories, something that Roger Bolton has been very good on in terms of reporting religion. At the last British census something like 75% of the population reported identification with some religious faith – in many cases that will be very nominal, but it’s still a serious background factor in the culture – while there was a survey done of media workers, I think in the BBC, where only about 20% reported a religious faith. Even with the best will in the world, it’s a cultural gap.

This explains the familiar situation where the Pope makes a speech; I read the text on the CNA or EWTN feed; within about an hour there is learned commentary in the Catholic blogosphere about what B16 meant by his speech; I turn on the evening news to hear a report of the speech; I think “Hold on, that’s not what he said at all”; and then lots of well-meaning people go sincerely apeshit over what they think he’s said. At this point the only thing you can do is slap your forehead.

Well, the Holy See’s comms (or lack thereof) are one thing, and probably beyond our scope for this post. For a really appalling national example, look at the Irish bishops, who disbanded the Maynooth press office and then whined about all the (largely deserved) bad press they were getting. But, since we’ve been remarking a little on the English end of the concern, let’s stick with that.

Firstly, you have to get things in proportion, by realising just how bad the comms are. CCN press releases are something you really have to experience in terms of getting a feel for their stupefying awfulness, so you may want to take my word for it. Suffice to say, if Jack Valero has a reputation as a media maestro, that doesn’t mean Jack is the second coming of Max Clifford; it simply means he’s better at it than Peter Jennings. And that isn’t setting the bar terribly high, as I could do it better than Jennings. (Note to +Bernie: this is not a job application.)

As luck would have it, B16 has recently given us a few pointers for social communications. In his message for World Communications Day, the Pontiff urged priests to get blogging:

Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ. They will best achieve this aim if they learn, from the time of their formation, how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord.

This is not of course simply an idea for what might be done; there are already plenty of blogging priests out there, some of them doing sterling work, although they are not necessarily popular either with ecclesial hierarchies or the established Catholic media. This may not be unconnected to the orthodox element being a bit more vigorous online than the trendy element.

The other thing that comes to mind is the HF’s address to the English bishops following their ad limina visit some months back:

I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society.

You will, of course, note that Benedict felt that this was something the English bishops needed to be told.

Anyway, my view is that the Catholic blogosphere, chaotic and rowdy as it may be, can at its best be a spontaneous manifestation of the concept of the apostolate of the laity. Even leaving aside priestly bloggers, it’s clear that there are some lay bloggers out there who do a much better job of defending the Church’s position than either the official leaders of the Church or their press officers, and who have the ability to do so in a lively and populist way.

Which is a talent pool that needs to be tapped into. I can’t be alone in reading the papers and seeing all sorts of material from, say, Christopher Hitchens or Johann Hari or Peter Tatchell that isn’t actually true, and wondering how on earth they get away with it. The answer to that, of course, is that they aren’t challenged. Then you had the episode during the passage of the Children, Schools and Families Bill, when Ed Balls went on the Today programme and not only said that Catholic schools should be required to provide information on accessing abortions, and in a non-judgemental way at that, but actually claimed that Archbishop Nichols agreed with him. In the absence of any rebuttal from the ABW, some silly people may have been misled into thinking that +Vinnie actually did agree with Balls, as opposed to agreeing with the Pope.

And this vacuum leads us to the necessity for something along the lines of Catholic Voices. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said many times, I think Catholic Voices is a great idea in principle. Nor can we really moan about Jack Valero running the show – if Jack was the only guy with the initiative to do this, good luck to him. Although there was, as there often is in these matters, a certain cosmic inevitability in Jack’s being involved, or in him calling for support on that strange wee man who used to do Cormac’s press, and who has graciously agreed to take time out from impersonating Saul Alinsky to put his media skills to work.

This is not however to say that there are no questions that can be raised – questioning the execution is a bit tricky when everything is under Chatham House rules, but there are questions about the concept. Chatham House rules in fact come into this – if you go to, say, a Stop the War conference, there is a fair possibility that there’ll be a workshop on media for anyone who’s interested, without any need for it to be hush-hush. I get what the object of the exercise is – it’s intensive cramming, like in TV’s Faking It – and we know, because Jack has told us and we probably could have guessed anyway, what are the areas of discussion. That could only be an issue of controversy if – heaven forbid! – at least one of the expert speakers had been a little unorthodox. But there’s no possibility of that, thankfully.

There is also the need to avoid getting bogged down in the internal factional politics of English Catholicism. There are a lot of suspicious minds out there who are already casting a jaundiced eye at the whole government-Tablet-Magic Circle lash-up, especially as it manifests itself around arrangements for the papal visit. Conspiracy theorists might be tempted to speculate that Jack and his tracksuited Napoleonic sidekick represent the comms end of the lash-up. And that is why it’s important to underline CV’s independence of the Bishops’ Conference. If, and I’m speaking purely hypothetically, if Vin Nichols had been spotted at one meeting and Charles Wookey at another, that would only serve to stoke the conspiracy theorists’ paranoia. What a relief that I’m only speaking hypothetically.

This isn’t, let me stress, purely a matter of orthodoxy versus Tabletism. What’s perhaps more to the point is that the whole culture of Magic Circle backscratching and old boys’ networks makes it rather difficult to hammer out the issues that need to be hammered out. On the other hand, it makes it much easier for those who are on the square to coast along year after year without being challenged. That’s why I’m constantly driven to teeth-grinding by hearing talk about transparency from those who certainly don’t want light to be shone on them.

Rud eile: This whole transparency issue is possibly flagged up by events in Belgium. I’m no great fan of the Belgian police, given their inability to first catch and then hold onto Marc Dutroux. Nor am I sure what they think they’re going to discover by drilling into archbishops’ tombs and violating the dead. But I can’t help thinking that Cardinal Danneels and the Belgian Magic Circle have brought this on themselves.

Rud eile fós: James has the scoop about those ever-changing venues for the Newman beatification.

42 Comments

  1. birkenstock said,

    June 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    ‘It’s clear that there are some lay bloggers out there who do a much better job of defending the Church’s position than either the official leaders of the Church or their press officers, and who have the ability to do so in a lively and populist way.’ Paul Priest and James Preece have been magnificent, which is why it’s such a nonsense that they weren’t chosen for the CV project.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      June 27, 2010 at 1:25 pm

      Indeed. But apparently, it’s more important to have the Right Sort of People.

  2. birkenstock said,

    June 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Well, the ‘Right Sort’ are making a right fist of it.

  3. birkenstock said,

    June 27, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    NOT

  4. June 27, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Fabulous post & blog!

  5. June 27, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Perhaps you might link to my blog. I’m finding the “politics” up here very interesting!

  6. Res Miranda said,

    June 27, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    The Jack ‘n’ Austen Show:

  7. ejh said,

    June 27, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended.

    Of course if it’s presented in its entirety, it’s not going to be possible to convincingly defend it, is it?

    • June 27, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      Please elaborate? Why not?

      • magistra said,

        June 28, 2010 at 7:37 am

        You can convincingly defend Catholic teaching relatively easily to those who believe both that the Bible is an authoritative source for human conduct and that the Catholic church’s interpretation of the Bible is correct. The vast majority of the British public do not, however, accept these two propositions. In that case, you either have to defend the Church’s teaching by non-religious arguments, or you have to convert people to Catholicism first.

        The non-religious arguments for many of the Catholic church’s positions on sexual behaviour are now looking threadbare in the extreme, especially since gay marriage has not led to the collapse of British society. In contrast, Catholic teachings about social justice, just war etc still have an intellectual coherence that does not rely on purely religious assumptions.

        So you can convince people that the Catholic church is right about abortion, contraception, etc, only if you first convince them that the Catholic church is right about Christianity as a whole. But I suspect people are going to be reluctant to convert to Catholicism precisely because it first means regarding the nice gay couple down the road as ‘morally disordered’.

        What I think Splinty and some other people on this site want is that Catholic teaching should be taught more fully to those who are already nominally Catholics. That might well ensure a more consistent view within congregations: I suspect it would also mean more people choosing to reject Catholicism entirely. And it will do absolutely nothing to convince non-Catholics that the Catholic church has anything of interest to say to them.

      • ejh said,

        June 28, 2010 at 9:46 am

        Because, for instance, its conception of sexual ethics is likely to be found not only ludicrous but monstrous?

      • June 29, 2010 at 12:56 am

        I don’t subscribe to Catholic teaching on sexuality, but “monstrous” is a bit Titus Oates. I’ve always wondered why both fundamentalists and liberal atheists think that the most important moral question of all is who gets to fuck who and how.

      • weserei said,

        June 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm

        I defy you to identify one liberal atheist (or, barring that, anybody at all on the pro-gay side of the argument), anywhere in public life, who has expressed the view that “that the most important moral question of all is who gets to fuck who and how,” or even anything that could reasonably be mistaken for the same.

      • ejh said,

        June 29, 2010 at 6:40 pm

        a bit Titus Oates

        Do me a favour.

      • June 30, 2010 at 2:59 am

        “I defy you to identify one liberal atheist (or, barring that, anybody at all on the pro-gay side of the argument), anywhere in public life, who has expressed the view that “that the most important moral question of all is who gets to fuck who and how,” or even anything that could reasonably be mistaken for the same”

        Er… virtually everyone who criticises the Catholic orthodoxy from a liberal or radical perspective starts with “OMG they’re so awful on gays and abortion”. ejh in precisely the same thread as this, for example. In fact, it’s very rare that anyone in the mass media who wants to have a go at the Papists goes any further, as if “women and gays” is enough. Funnily enough, that’s generally their level of analysis of orthodox Islam as well.

      • weserei said,

        June 30, 2010 at 4:57 am

        There’s a vast difference between raising an issue in the course of criticizing an institution and claiming–or even tending to imply–that that issue is “the most important moral question of all.”

        There’s also plenty in the Roman Catholic view of gender, sexuality, and family (and probably the “orthodox Muslim” view as well, depending on who is meant by that term) that one could object to, without even touching upon the issue of “who gets to fuck who and how.”

        But enough hairsplitting. Those whiny “gays,” huh? They want to be treated at the moral equals of normal people, just because all the evidence in the world indicates that they are. Like, get over it already, right?

    • jp said,

      June 29, 2010 at 3:35 pm

      i can’t disagree with ejh’s word ‘monstrous,’ although i usually reserve these words for things like obama’s torture chambers and slaughter of the least of our brothers and sisters us on the other side of the world.

  8. GOR said,

    June 27, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Well put, SS! Part of the problem is factionalism in the Church, which has been so evident these past 40 years or so. We’re not all on the same page – or even using the same book, it would appear at times. When even the hierarchy can’t seem to get it straight, what are the faithful to think? Some balance has been restored through blogging – both of the clerical and lay variety – and I believe more attention is being paid to this than to the endless streams of paper emanating from assorted episcopal bureaucracies.

    The phenomenon is not confined to your neck of the woods, of course. Here in the US we even have the ‘alternative magisterium’ of the pant-suited nuns openly challenging the bishops. But while we have many dissenting voices clouding the issues here, at least we have a few bishops who are outstanding at clearing the air – men like Chaput, Dolan, Finn, Morlino, to name a few. That seems to be lacking in the E&W bench. Other than POD, I don’t recall many recent instances of ‘Benedictine clarity’ originating from the E&W members.

    It would be nice if leaders were actually to lead… Unfortunately, many of the ‘leaders’ view the laity – blogging and otherwise – as a threat rather than an ally. Perhaps you need a British version of our ‘shouting’ Bill O’Donohue of the Catholic League, who never misses an opportunity to challenge, correct and castigate all and sundry when he sees the Catholic Church being maligned or misrepresented. A lower decibel version, of course, to assuage British sensibilities!

    • Bill said,

      June 28, 2010 at 3:02 am

      Speaking as an American, I would be perfectly happy for Donoghue to transfer his operation to Britain. Over here, he’s considered the Catholic Abe Foxman.

      • PamDirac said,

        June 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm

        Even Foxman manages to make a better impression on outsiders than Donohue, who might as well have “Raving Bigot” tattooed on his forehead. With friends like him, etc.

      • shane said,

        June 28, 2010 at 11:34 pm

        Completely agree with you PamDirac.

  9. June 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    What’s Latin for “blog”? Genuine question – one of the things that does impress me about the Holy See is their determination to keep using classical Latin in the 21st century.

  10. June 27, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    “Relatum retis”? Ok, it’s late here and alliteration took precedence over Latin literacy…

  11. Res Miranda said,

    June 27, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    The Vatican’s Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis doesn’t yet seem to have a definition, but suggestions might include “ephemeris” – Greek, not Latin – and “diurnus/diurnalis”. Perhaps better scholars than I have a view?

  12. shane said,

    June 28, 2010 at 2:05 am

    Good post. Much rings true for here too – though even without our imbecilic excuse-for-a-hierarchy, there’s only so much one can do when dealing with the likes of Patsy McGarry and John Cooney. Breda O’Brien had a good article a few years back in Studies on the relationship between the Irish media and religion:

    http://www.studiesirishreview.com/articles/2005/O%27Brien.htm

    It does make me laugh that these idiots blether interminably about how ‘insular’ the preconciliar Church was and how we need to move on from all that and dialogue with each other, while simultaneously maintaining a pre-Victorian communications strategy. John Charles Mc Quaid -not known for moving with the times- was able to spot this problem back in the 50s, and subsequently sent young priests to London and New York for training in television production. They established ‘Radharc’ films. You can see a rather unrepresentative sample here on the RTÉ website, from the 9th February 1962, about Glenties winning the tidiest town award (…exciting, eh?), reported by Fr Peter Lemass.

  13. neprimerimye said,

    June 28, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Ha ha the idea, expressed above by Magistra, that Splinty wishes for Catholic teachings to be more fully taught to nominal Catholics is very funny.

    Splinty is not Catholic for a start. But s/he is a Marxist atheist. LOL.

    • magistra said,

      June 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm

      An atheist might still want the traditional doctrine of a church taught for two reasons. One hostile reason would be that it makes religion easier to attack: some atheists are far happier dealing with fundamentalists or traditionalists than more liberal believers. Alternatively, an atheist raised in a particular tradition may sometimes feel even after rejecting it, that if you have to believe something, that’s how you should believe. It’s clear, for example, that someone like Richard Dawkins is a specifically Protestant kind of atheist, who thinks that religion revolves around the intellectual assent of adults to particular truth propositions. I think an atheist from a Catholic or Muslim background might have a very different idea of what religion means.

      • Zuzy Creamcheese said,

        June 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm

        Poor Dawkins is a 19th century atheist.

      • June 28, 2010 at 10:45 pm

        “some atheists are far happier dealing with fundamentalists or traditionalists than more liberal believers”

        Those atheists tend to define the problem out of existence, as Dawkins does: they pretty much say that liberal believers don’t really believe (and that therefore they’re liars). The binary dichotomy presented: either there is an actual personal invisible sky-dwelling friend with a bad temper, or there is absolutely nothing outside the laws of physics.

  14. Teresa Eagleton said,

    June 28, 2010 at 10:52 am

    @neprimerimye:

    Splinty is a Marxist ex Jesuit. He left the Society of Jesus about a decade ago following a major bust up with his provincial.

    Get your facts straight.

    Smart Jesuits become historical materialists.

    Average Jesuits become Adolfo Nicolas.

    Dumb Jesuits read Thinking Faith and go stark staring mad.

    • Res Miranda said,

      June 29, 2010 at 12:19 am

      And Austen Ivereigh writes cack like this.:

      http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/4260

    • Harry Monro said,

      June 29, 2010 at 11:34 am

      I didn’t think there was any such thing as an ex-Jesuit, is it that just a myth spread by the loyolaists?

    • NollaigO said,

      June 29, 2010 at 6:58 pm

      He left the Society of Jesus about a decade ago following a major bust up with his provincial.

      I’ve heard TC called many names but Father Provincial is certainly novel!
      I’m not sure that the Js will be flattered by the comparison – they take their ideology far more seriously.

  15. ejh said,

    June 28, 2010 at 11:21 am

    This whole transparency issue is possibly flagged up by events in Belgium. I’m no great fan of the Belgian police, given their inability to first catch and then hold onto Marc Dutroux. Nor am I sure what they think they’re going to discover by drilling into archbishops’ tombs and violating the dead. But I can’t help thinking that Cardinal Danneels and the Belgian Magic Circle have brought this on themselves.

    Can we assume that it’s nothing to do with the Holy Father?

  16. June 28, 2010 at 11:47 am

    It’s “Chatham House Rule”, please – singular, not plural!!

  17. Res Miranda said,

    June 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Catholic Voices appears to have some competition from an official Catholic Communications Network media project:

    http://www.lovingit.co.uk/2010/06/papal-visit-communication-officers-training.html

    Interesting that Jack Valero has a foot in both camps.

  18. Heavens to Betsy said,

    June 28, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Oh *isn’t* it?

    Mr Valero does seem to get around.

    I think it’s about time journalists and bloggers started asking some searching questions about the mysterious Señor Valero.

    • Res Miranda said,

      June 29, 2010 at 12:31 am

      Agreed, though Jack Valero is at least the official spokesman for the Newman cause. What I would like to know is how that £37,500 raised for Catholic Voices is being spent.

  19. birkenstock said,

    June 29, 2010 at 8:10 am

    The Stepford Wives- inspired Catholic Voices isn’t working, hence this new initiative which has the full backing of the bishops. Res Miranda, I rather think the money has ‘been’ spent and to nil effect.

  20. neprimerimye said,

    June 29, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    What is Valeros agenda other than personal aggrandisement?

    It is clear that Opus Dei is not the fascist grouping so often portrayed by the dimmer leftists. Indeed its members in Spain were of considerable influence in returning that country to its present democratic form of governance whilst members of the Franco regime. What they wanted, of course, was not a democratic regime but a government that would be better able to integrate Spainish capitalism with Europe.

    Opus Dei then is a reactionary movement, but not fascist, that aims to reinforce the position of its members and itself as itself as an institution within society.

    What then is Jack Valero doing to further these aims then through Catholic Voices and his many other enterprises?

    • ejh said,

      June 29, 2010 at 6:05 pm

      Indeed its members in Spain were of considerable influence in returning that country to its present democratic form of governance whilst members of the Franco regime

      Without disagreeing with your general point, the phrase “saw which way the wind was blowing” does come to mind here.

  21. neprimerimye said,

    June 30, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Aye these people are about as democratic as the Ayatollahs in Iran. A Catholic theocracy would suit them down to the ground.

    Valero and Ivereigh would love it! LOL!


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