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.