Christians, have courage to fight against lies (2)
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Archbishop Angelo Amato about the Magisterium of the Church and social communications.
WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - One can have the impression that media are not interested in proclaiming the truth and showing reality in an objective way. On the contrary, they show a distorted picture of reality in accordance with the ideological and political demands of their owners. In fact, media become centres of disinformation, means to manipulate masses, which has been clearly seen in Poland recently. What do you think about this important problem?
ARCHBISHOP ANGELO AMATO: - One should admit that we very often have the impression that we are living in some artificial virtual reality that is created by media workers and various opinion-forming people. Thus a picture (hologram) is created and it does not exist in reality since it is a fruit of manipulation of people as well as of events and history. But the Gospel is not a creation of human mind but God's message concerning the reality of man and the universe. Therefore, it is clear that the Magisterium, which proposes the evangelic truth, the truth revealed by the Son of God, meets obstacles not in transmitting but rather in accepting the teaching of the Church as the expression of God's truth about our existence, ethical principles, desires of freedom and joy.
( Could you give some concrete examples of the difficulty in accepting the teaching office of the Church by media?
( A good example of this problem is the case of the declaration Dominus Iesus issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. From the very moment of its publication, which was on 5 September 2000, the declaration caused chaotic, mostly polemical, reactions. Dealing with a theological document, a brief but rich and complex one, media did not focus on its main theme, i.e. the salvific universality of Christ and the Church, but they stressed the ecumenical statements and arguments in order to polemicize against it. Instead of presenting the whole document the headlines and first articles in international press showed it in alarming tones, stressing that it meant the end of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue and using the stereotyped statements 'closing up', 'return of pre-conciliar theology' or 'anti-ecumenism'.
Geoffrey Wainright, chairman of standing Ecumenics and Dialogue Committee of the World Methodist Council said that as soon as he heard about the publication of the Vatican document he read the web page of the Holy See and understood that the press had introduced the document in a wrong way.
We can make a conclusion that on the one hand contemporary media are characterised by certain superficiality and on the other hand they can exert powerful influence. And it is true that the more superficial the media are the more powerful their influence is.
The example of the document Dominus Iesus is not an isolated case. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was also treated in an instrumental way, its content being reduced to the discussion about the issues of death sentence and 'just war'. In both cases the fundamental themes of the documents: religious arguments, mystery of God and our salvation as well as evangelisation activities of the Church were not discussed.
- Let me make a short digression. I know the environment of the Vaticanists quite well, i.e. the journalists who have dealt professionally with the activities of the Apostolic See, and consequently, they are responsible for showing the teaching office of the Church to people and commenting on its documents. One of the most famous Vaticanists told me before his death that he had been employed in a big newspaper after he had left his order and got married. The director of the secular and openly anti-church newspaper wanted to have a competent man in his editorial board, someone who knew the ecclesiastical environment well and at the same time someone who came into conflict with the Church and had a critical attitude towards its teaching. This is one example that I know pretty well. Many Vaticanists resemble the Soviet specialists in religious studies who were educated in Moscow academies so that they could fight against the Church and other religions. How should we present the documents of the Magisterium in the situation where most media are bias, reluctant or hostile towards the Church?
- The media do not publish the whole texts of the Magisterium. The problem is that as a rule they choose these points, often secondary, that can cause polemics or scandals (this is a refined method to falsify or impoverish a given text although the text itself is quoted). Therefore, one should think whether the texts of the Magisterium can be freely accessible to media before they are sent to bishops, priests and believers of the whole Church, i.e. to all those the texts are mainly addressed.
An example can be the presentation of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Compendium was not presented to journalists at a press conference in the Vatican Press Office but during a liturgical celebration (the afternoon prayer - ora sesta), which was held in the Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace in the presence of cardinals, bishops as well as the faithful and catechists from all over the world. It was a conscious decision because the presentation of the Compendium was a church event and not a main media event.
As a church event the publication of the Compendium was not to be news of the day since as a rule these are journalists' news, but it was to be the Good News that enlightens and leads shepherds and believers in the whole world. Prayer was chosen to show that at the beginning of his Peter's mission the Vicar of Christ celebrated an event of great spiritual and pastoral importance. In a word, the presentation of the church document should not be treated as a media event accompanied by sensational and scandalous elements, but as an important event in the Church, an occasion to form, evangelise and catechise people.
- What should be done so that presentations of documents of the Magisterium become occasions to form believers, i.e. become pastoral occasions?
- Information about the Church should be reliable, immediate, correct, convincing and positive. Otherwise even the best-prepared documents can be distorted by aggressive press agencies. Therefore, I would like to share some comments concerning Catholic media: national, diocesan, parish and periodicals published by religious and lay organisations. First of all, Catholic press should not uncritically discuss the subjects of secular media, investigating artificially created 'religious events'. I mean the advertising campaign of 'The Da Vinci Code' or the apocryphal gospel of Judas...
- Unfortunately, some Catholic media have an inferiority complex towards other media and that's why they try to imitate them and do not have the courage to propose their own hierarchy of news. Sorry for interrupting you.
-...Secondly, Catholic journalists should not mutilate themselves and criticise the Magisterium of the Church from the inside. For instance, if within the framework of discussion opinions against celibacy in the Latin Church are published one should convincingly give reasons that motivate this tradition. If these difficult arguments are left unanswered there is an impression that the commands of the Magisterium are only opinions which one can agree with or not.
- What else should characterise Catholic media?
- Catholic media should focus on two fields: on the one hand, they should focus on current news items and on the other hand, they should stress constant formation of the faithful. But while reporting news Catholic media should be characterised by the attitude of seeking and transmitting the truth and thus being differentiated from secular media, which give news in a polemical way, often resorting to the form of dialogue, which actually serves to relativize news (media give diametrically different interpretations of facts).
- Let us take an example: How should Catholic media react to the news concerning the so-called gospel of Judas?
- In this case Catholic press cannot be limited to give the news as if the document in question was a text that allows for a radically new interpretation of Christianity. The press should rather explain readers, with the help of competent scientists, that we speak about a relatively late apocryphal gospel (the word apocrypha means hidden writing concerning biblical themes but which is of dubious origin and was not listed in the canon of the Bible), known to the Fathers of the Church but not accepted into the canonical writings by the early Church, like many other apocryphal writings, since it presented the figure of Judas in a falsified way. This could be an answer to readers' doubts and the questions they ask themselves, but at the same time we could demolish protesters' arguments.
- How can Catholic media contribute to continuous formation of the faithful, which is so needed today?
- In order to contribute to the formation of the faithful Catholic media must be creative, on a highly cultured level, and above all, sensitive to education in faith. The Christian tradition is two thousand years old, so we have at our disposal a large number of works (the Fathers of the Church, great theologians of each epoch, saints, works of various schools of spirituality and liturgical traditions, art), which should be proposed to readers. The Christian civilisation is not a museum to visit and admire but a continuous vivid reality, which inspires and supports and which has to be appreciated today.
Catholic media should also give arguments that will allow us to refute negative and groundless judgements about the Magisterium, and at the same time allow us to educate the faithful so that they could assimilate the teaching of the Church. Thus church documents can become a perfect way of formation of priests and believers in order to discover and accept the truth about the revelation of Jesus instead of being something unbearable and boring.