The Church and the world have certainly been enduring terrible times in 2020.
The Church has continued in faith, hope and love, trusting in its Lord, while being aware of the suffering of many of its members and of many in society.
One of the bonds that hold Catholics together as a community, even in times such as these, is the Catholic press. As Fr John Cowburn, SJ, remarked to a Catholic press convention in Sydney in 1968 that, for a community to exist, there must be communication.
“I will repeat that in other words: communication is not just a good thing to have in a community, but something without which there cannot be a community,” Fr Cowburn said.
His words ring true 52 years later. Much has been made of people tuning in to watch online or broadcast Masses – and it is good they have been made available. But the flow of sound and imagery is one way. The priest does not get to hear the responses of the people. That is not how the best liturgy is supposed to be. It is likely that people are starting to sense this, as the numbers viewing have started to drop away following a surge over Easter.
Good communication is also needed so that the Church can read the signs of the times and respond in the light of the Gospel. As the pastoral instruction Communio et Progressio, on the means of social communication, written by order of the Second Vatican Council, and published in 1971, stated: “Since the Church is a living body, she needs public opinion in order to sustain a giving and taking between her members. Without this, she cannot advance in thought and action . . . .”
“Since the development of public opinion within the Church is essential, individual Catholics have the right to all the information they need to play their active role in the life of the Church. In practice, this means that communications media must be available for the task. These should not only exist in sufficient number, but also reach all the People of God . . . .”
The Church in many places has rightfully taken up the many opportunities offered by the proliferation of digital communications opportunities available. But, as the Catholic News Service director and editor-in-chief Greg Erlandson stated in an article in 2016 in America Magazine, “there is no single silver bullet for reaching Catholics”.
He acknowledged the many possibilities presented by digital media, including social media. But he cautioned that Church “investment is often justified in the digital arena as a way to reach a broader audience, but the metrics of success rarely get beyond boasts about numbers of pageviews or numbers of unique visitors”.
“Who is looking, what they are looking at and how long they are looking at it or, indeed, what impact any of these pageviews are having, is left to a large extent unexplored.”
Mr Erlandson argued for a sound strategy of Church investment in different modes of Catholic communications, both digital and print and, in particular, for the importance of retaining vehicles for Catholic journalism.
While sound and video bites and press releases are necessary parts of the picture, they cannot be the entire landscape if the People of God are to advance in thought and action. While the Church is of divine origin, its members are very much human. As with all things human, there will be elements of good and bad. If the People of God are to advance as Vatican II envisaged, they cannot hear only about the good. Otherwise, from whence will the impetus for reform spring?
As Greg Erlandson wrote in another article in 2018, Catholic journalists serve the Church by not ducking the bad news and by not forgetting the good news. There must be a balance. Erlandson also noted in his 2018 article that having a balanced, fair and accurate Catholic press “is a way of demonstrating, not just talking about, transparency”.
“It is a way of demonstrating, and not just talking about, accountability.”
We ask for your prayers and support as NZ Catholic plays its part in continuing the mission of the Catholic press in this country.