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By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 13 October 2013

Dioceses have newspapers and parishes have bulletins. Some even have TV channels and almost everyone has a website and a twitter account. The one constant is the presence of journalists preparing content. There has been a vast change in the media they use, but they are still meant to be journalists.

Now, as with everything else, Catholicism has a substantial perspective on journalism. It has this perspective as the spouse of Christ, through whom all things came to be. Catholicism understands the rich field of journalism in terms of the proper handling of the truth. The risen glorified Word (the Truth) is the heart of Catholicism and members of this faith should be notable bearers of the truth and the completeness of truth for this reason. This is journalism in the Catholic manner, rather than something based on expediency or carrying water for the current regime.

The first thing that Pope John Paul II said to journalists during the 2000 Holy Year was: “Your passing through the Holy Door as pilgrims expresses a choice of life and says that you would like ‘to open doors to Christ’ in your profession as well. He is the ‘Gospel,’ the ‘Good News.’ He is the model for everyone who, like you, is striving to make the light of truth penetrate every area of human life.”  So journalists have an incomparable standard for measuring their own profession, the Church and the world. They should also be committed to following this model.

Furthermore, John Paul said that he had to acknowledge his “personal debt of gratitude to the countless professional journalists who have done all they can to make known the words and events of my ministry throughout the years of my Pontificate.” He saw the power of words in his own struggles in Poland and for Poland, and for the Church.

He went on: “Journalism, with its immense and direct influence on public opinion, cannot be guided by economic forces, profit and partisan interests alone.” This general moral principle applies in spades to journalists who work for the Church or handle Catholic issues. It is not a mere option because it is founded on the faith that the Church espouses. The Church does not exist for partisan interests. Journalists have to work at freeing themselves from many influences. In a strong sense, journalists are called to be pure communicators, reporting on what happens and what is said without too much spin or omission.

Now, journalists who work for the Church are in the strange situation of having to report on Catholic events because no one else does (unless they involve scandal. Doing a professional job does not stop there, however. If journalists are not going to merely copy the secular media, they should also report on the Church and its officials (what are they doing or not doing?) and not be silent if they have to say something critical.

Sinking to the secular standard would be more than strange given what Christ did for the world. It mars the Catholic presence in irretrievable ways. In such a dishonest secular environment, honesty and completeness of reporting have a redeeming presence and offer an example to other media. It fits the actual authenticity of the Church on which it is reporting.

There are certain professional requirements. In JPII’s perspective, journalism:

must be regarded in a certain sense as a “sacred” task, to be carried out with the awareness that the powerful means of communication are entrusted to you for the common good and, in particular, for the good of society's weakest groups: from children to the poor, from the sick to those who are marginalized or discriminated against.

The power that flows from access to media carries a massive responsibility. There is the common good to think of and in the Church this would be the common good of everyone, especially the laity. The more truth that is put out there, the better the situation of all of the members of the Church will ultimately be.

Lastly, in the Catholic Church, journalists have the unique and noble fortune to have readily available standards against which to measure what they see and hear. They have the actual understanding of what the Church is in the documents of Vatican II and the rich modern encyclical tradition.

By applying these standards, journalists would help more people to “see the truth which is the basis of all ethics and which you are called to observe in your profession.”  For example journalists could gather data on who is being served – or not – by particular parishes. They could interview people and see how functionally Catholic they really are – a crucial issue as American culture becomes more hostile. They might report of how much actual teaching of the faith bishop X is doing. “Seeing the truth,” as John Paul put it, is vital for the Catholic community as it seeks Christ the Truth.

In this constant task, which must be renewed day after day, journalists – if they live up to the fullness of their vocation – can really help.

Fr. Bevil Bramwell is retired, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Jack,CT, October 13, 2013
Thx father,
All valid points and i often think back
to Bishop Sheen and despite many credentials (Priest
and teacher in so many ways)
I just find so much more wisdom in the words of our
Spiritual Teachers such as yourself.
I have read some things from elites"
and I apreciate there point of view but i am afraid
that is all I coome away with ....
Thanks for an important piece Father.
written by Chris in Maryland, October 13, 2013
Bravo Father Bramwell.

We are contending with falsehood, as ever (but now accentuated by rapid communication). Falsehood both outside and, the worse part, inside the Church.

As in all things, is it "to make a living," or for life.
written by Adeodatus, October 13, 2013
Good article. Catholic journalism has the potential to become more relevant if it so chooses. I think mixing in apologetics, and thus covering up some unhappy news about the church, tends to muddle its reporting. Of course, it's far better than secular reporting, but it can still improve. I shouldn't have to learn from NPR that most Catholics support gay marriage or that so many Catholics have effectively left the church. Granted, an organization NPR may be twisting the facts, but Catholic news publications could respond to some of these reports.

Also, the picture chosen for this post was not flattering at all. Poor Blessed JPII, I know he'd seen better days, and had better photos.
written by Rolando Rodriguez, October 13, 2013
"Also, the picture chosen for this post was not flattering at all. Poor Blessed JPII, I know he'd seen better days, and had better photos."
Dear brother Adeodatus,
Blessed JPII does not need flattery. He has already been beatified and will soon be canonized. "He'd seen better days..." Really. He's in heaven now, glorified. What could be better than that? Remember Jesus on the Cross? He had seen better days, but not by much.
Your comment about organizations "twisting facts" leads me to ask, "Which 'Catholic news publications' have received your nihil obstat and imprimatur?" Paraphrasing Peter, "To whom shall we go?" (Jn. 6:68)
Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 14, 2013
Catholic journalism - like ALL Catholic entities - has but one mission i.e. to evangelize the culture. They do this by reporting the news and analyzing current events.

Once they see their role as no different from that of the secular press, they are no different from any other Catholic entity, whether it be educational, charitable or something else, which has strayed from the Church's mission.
written by Henry, October 14, 2013
Rolando--you and a couple other CT com-boxers should lighten up. Me too

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