The Catholic Church must be more proactive in the area of communication and help promote a culture of transparency, openness and co-responsibility, an expert panel has said.
All yearn for truth and justice, and the Church can help with a greater commitment to communication that follows the Gospel way, that is, communication marked by listening, dialogue, compassion , tenderness and accompaniment, said the speakers.
The panel discussion at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome on May 26 included: Fr. Jordi Pujol Soler, moral theologian and associate professor of media ethics and media law; Father Rolando Montes de Oca, communication expert in Cuba; and Bishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, Assistant Secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The discussion was part of the presentation of a new book in Italian, entitled “Transparency and Secrecy in the Catholic Church”, written by Fathers Pujol and Montes, and with an afterword by Bishop Scicluna. The book was to be published in English later in the year.
Information and secrecy are two forms of power that can be abused, the authors state in their book. There is a growing desire for greater transparency that puts an end to “absurd and unnecessary secrets”, while protecting privacy, confidentiality and the sacred sacrament of confession, they wrote.
The book does not focus solely on the problem of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people, but highlights how recent reforms, laws and safeguarding procedures are part of a wider call for conversion of the whole Church. , they wrote.
In fact, the most recent reforms enacted by Pope Francis regarding the safeguarding and greater accountability of church leaders show the important connection between canon law as rights and duties, and the realm of communication, have- they wrote.
The book, they write, is part “of a movement that has justice for all at its heart, as well as the truth of the facts and the promotion of a type of communication increasingly in keeping with the identity of the Church which walk with those who suffer.”
During the presentation, Father Pujol said that there are two types of courts in the world that must be understood and managed appropriately: courts of law, which require facts and evidence to promote justice; and the court of public opinion, which depends on facts, but is also colored and driven by immediate emotions and perceptions.
It can be frustrating to see facts ignored or distorted in the court of public opinion, he said, but “you have to monitor people’s perceptions” and address them proactively and constructively.
Father Montes said the world of media moves and reacts quickly to events, but those who work in communications for the church must also ensure that the need for speed is guided by “respect for human dignity, common good and prudence”, which seeks to say the right thing at the right time.
The emergence of a charge of any kind does not mean “the case is closed”, but it does indicate the beginning of a process which must follow the appropriate procedures and maintain the presumption of innocence until be found guilty, he said. Catholic communicators can help other journalists in secular media understand this and the need to use terminology correctly and honestly, he added.
Catholic communication is not about creating divisions or creating a media circus, Fr. Pujol said. There is a long history of church teaching to guide communications, which is integral to the church’s identity as a truth-dedicated and trustworthy institution, he added. .
“We all agree on the principles: we want a Church that is open, that listens, that does not see victims as a threat or a problem, that promotes lay people and women”, and promotes co-responsibility, said said Father Pujol.
Resistance to change or improvement can stem from fear or people thinking they are “perfect” as they are, he said. “To be credible and relevant today (the church) must be itself, to continue to inspire wonder in others, the amazement of God and humanity,” he said.
Archbishop Scicluna said the mandate Jesus gave Peter is the same for church leaders: “Feed my sheep,” which means a good shepherd must lay down his life to protect, serve, and love his herd.
One aspect of this pastoral love for his people is to help them in their quest for justice, he said.
The panel agreed that reports of historical abuse allegations should be written by top experts in a professional, honest, humble and unbiased manner in order to understand what really happened.
Bishop Scicluna said the conclusions of these reports can be very “unpleasant.” The reason for these reports is not to “injure oneself”, but to learn from the past and grow in the desire to do things better.
The Archbishop thanked the authors for their “courage and ‘parresia’ (boldness)” in writing their book and calling for more “proactive” communication in the common pursuit of truth, justice and accountability.
“This difficult land filled with mines” cannot be traversed well without everyone working together, Bishop Scicluna said. And there’s no place for anyone who wants to be “a prima donna, diva, attention seeker, or self-centered narcissist.”
It is only by journeying together in a truly synodal way that truth can be safeguarded and justice promoted, in a process of information, listening and dialogue in the “gospel way” with compassion, tenderness and proximity, Bishop Scicluna said.