Church Communicators have a Serious Duty to Obey Church Teaching

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke

ROME (CNS) — “Church communicators have an important and serious duty to obey Church teaching and defend the Church’s mission of saving souls and safeguarding truth,” said the head of the Vatican’s highest court.

Caution as well as control over content and where it’s distributed are needed because while the field of communications “has great potential for good,” it “also can be turned to the harm of the faithful,” said U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature.

Communicators should be guided and directed by pastors to make sure their content is free from doctrinal and theological error, and Catholics should avoid outlets that openly attack Christian morality, he added.

The Cardinal was one of dozens of speakers at a biennial seminar for people who work in the field of media and communications for dioceses, religious institutions and other Church organizations. Sponsored by Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the April 16-18 seminar focused on ways the Church could better portray the essence and vitality of the Christian faith.

Cardinal Burke, who is a canon lawyer, focused his talk April 18 on the importance of canon law in protecting the integrity of the Church’s mission and its members. The Church’s discipline and canonical processes are “not only not a hindrance to the effective communication of the Catholic faith, but also an effective manifestation of the vitality of the faith.”

In order to carry out its mission of clearly teaching moral principles and judging human affairs with the aim of saving human souls, the Church “has a solemn obligation to use whatever instruments of communication are most fitting and effective,” he said.

Church communicators, in fact, are taking part in the “priestly office of teaching” and, therefore, “it is key that they, like priests, ground themselves in an ever greater obedience to the truth of Christ” found in the Church’s official teaching, he said.

Canon 823 states pastors have the right and duty “to be watchful so that no harm is done to the faith or morals of the Christian faithful through writings or the use of instruments of social communication.”

Therefore, priests and bishops “should be close to those employing the instruments of social communication for the sake of evangelization,” not only encouraging them in their task, but “guiding and directing them, lest some form of communication actually lead the faithful into confusion and error regarding the truth,” the Cardinal said.

Cardinal Burke questioned whether some forms of digital media were appropriate for evangelization, saying some instruments may “actually do harm to the mission through their inappropriate or misguided use.”

While not specifying which kinds of media were inappropriate, he cautioned against those that “foster the fragmentation of thought and language,” permit anonymity, lack any ethical standards and lead to “highly inappropriate or even offensive language,” he said.

He said it would be difficult to effectively discipline such media to serve the Church in promoting its teaching.

According to Canon 831, Catholics should not be writing for newspapers, magazines or periodicals that openly attack Catholicism or good morals “except for a just and reasonable cause,” he said.

That same norm should be extended to include radio, television and digital forums or sites that regularly contain content that is offensive to the faith or morality, which makes such outlets “not fitting instruments for the Church’s essential and fundamental work of communication.”

The Cardinal also touched on the importance of the Catholic media in properly explaining the reason and nature of secrecy in the Church.

A case in point was the difficulty Catholic communicators had in explaining the Church’s process for dealing with accusations of clerical sex abuse, he said. “There is a great need for communication between true experts in Church law and Church communicators so that ecclesiastical processes are not depicted in the media as subterfuges to avoid the revelation of the truth but rather careful processes designed precisely to arrive at the truth, while respecting the rights and dignity of all, including the supposed perpetrator of the crime.”

Secrecy respects certain forms of communication like that between a person and God — as in the sacrament of confession — between a person and a spiritual director, and other instances that call for the free and full unveiling of one’s conscience, he said.

He said such situations, including Church trials, investigations and many Church administrative tasks are built on the need for absolute trust in guaranteeing confidentiality so as to fully arrive at the truth or relay honest assessments and advice.

A Catholic marriage annulment is also greatly misunderstood and Catholic communicators need to explain it properly and how it differs substantially from civil divorce, he said.

— By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature at the Vatican, give the homily during the Jan. 12 Red Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix. The annual Red Mass marks the opening the Arizona Legislature. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)


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11 comments to Church Communicators have a Serious Duty to Obey Church Teaching

  • Isabelle DE Mers

    When these bishops give direction, they do it, because they are in the business of saving souls, Thanks be to those bishops who stand on Catholic faith and defend it. Their soul also is in jeopardy. To whom much is given much is expected.!!!
    Daily prayers for all priest and bishops…

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  • @Bill: if we only follow leaders we agree with, we each become the leader. Case in point: The Anglican Communion is falling apart. I knew that 8 years ago when I returned to the Catholic Church. There are two specific reasons it’s disintegrating right now: despair & lack of authority. The second is a greater problem than the first.

    About 10 years ago, I asked my New Testament professor, who is one of the top NT profs in the Episcopalian seminary system, whether they believed that Jesus ought to have returned by now. In that prof’s class as well as in other classes, it seemed to me that there was deep despair but it wasn’t until we were discussing Christ’s return that all my thoughts & impressions came together & I knew what to ask to learn if there was, in fact, despair. He hesitated for a moment & then told me that they believed that if Christ was really returning, He would have done so before now. If Christ isn’t coming back, there’s no reason to hope. His answer (along w/ “Queer Theology”) led me to the decision not to pursue a masters degree in an Episcopal seminary but I continued as a parishioner because I loved the serious worship & was involved in some of the ministries in my parish. Then, at a parish meeting, in trying to reconcile those of us who supported Scripture along w/ the historic, traditional teaching of the church w/ those who supported the ordination of bishops Episcopalians would not have ordained 5 years earlier, the rector told us we must remember to whom we belonged, Jesus. I realized he hadn’t spoken the name of Jesus in 6 months & knew, right then, that I had to return to the Catholic Church. I was afraid to return because I was taught much that I knew to be untrue when I was prepared for Confirmation & I didn’t know at the time that there were growing pockets of orthodoxy – this was NYC but God provided the people & the parish & I left.

    Amongst Episcopalian priests, the concept of sin has utterly eroded. I went to a Catholic confessor (who nevertheless insisted there was no difference between Catholics & Anglo-Catholics). There is no authority & everyone does as they please & the despair increases because there is no one to follow. The Archbishop of Canterbury certainly provides no leadership. The leaders of ECUSA & probably the English (I’m not sure about Canada yet) churches of the Anglican Communion seek to be leaders with whom the followers agree. So everyone is in authority & there are no actual leaders just a variety of figureheads who cannot even agree that Jesus Christ is Lord.

    Since I left, I’ve come to realize that had I not been so stunned by his answer, I might have asked my prof whose time they were using to determine Christ’s failure to return. In human years, about 2000 have passed but less than 2 days in God’s eyes, according to Scripture. So why the conviction that Christ isn’t returning? What is interesting to me is that neither he nor any other prof I encountered (& my parish was the hideout for seminary profs who just wanted to worship so I asked many of them), had considered Psalm 90:4.

    We need leaders who will keep us on the path. We need leaders who will look at the modern world & see the narrow road in the midst of the clutter. We need leaders who believe what they teach. (I honestly believe that the sex abuse scandal as well as the rarely mentioned scandal of teaching catechumens personal opinion or what psychologists opine rather than the faith happen(ed) because priest do/did not have faith in Jesus Christ & do/did not believe it was necessary to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church: they do/did as they please(d).) Thank God for Cardinal Burke & priests like him. We can follow him because he is taking us somewhere, he’s not scurrying around w/ everyone else trying to distract themselves from despair. So if you can’t follow him, I’m sorry & I’ll pray for you. As far as I’m concerned, I’m grateful the Catholic Church is still doing the work Jesus gave Peter. @Mary has clearly defined what that work is.

  • Pray hard and do penance for all clergy and laity to receive the grace required to be the servants GOD desires regardless of public or popular opinion. May we all take the fine example of Cardinal Burke and others like him to stand STRONG IN THE FULLNESS OF FAITH without wavering! The INITIAL OBJECTIVE is the same today as it was when Jesus walked the earth and set up HIS CHURCH with PETER … “LEAD ALL SOULS TO HEAVEN”!!!!

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  • TG

    I agree with Cardinal Burke. For those (like Bill) that don’t want to follow the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, leave – you have free will.

  • Rita

    Jesus said I Am The Way The Truth and The Life. This is the path of a true disciple of Christ. Poverty, Chastity and Obedience are the vows taken, and followed by the true leaders. The way of the cross is not easy, not always popular, unfortunately there are a number of Judas’s who have betrayed Our Lord, and have given way to scandal within the church
    We need strong leaders like Cardinal Burke who are willing to speak the truth, as the storm clouds begin to gather, we all need to pray for peace…

  • Bill

    The reality is that people will not follow a leader, any kind of a leader, unless they agree with the path that he is leading them down. This applies in the secular world as well as the religious world. The truth is that many American Catholics do not respect their leaders and remember that respect is earned not deserved.

  • Jan England

    @ Bill – What I get from this article is that Cardinal Burke takes seriously the responsibility that has been entrusted to the leaders and teachers of the Church who are compelled to pass on the truths of the faith without error for the salvation of souls. It’s his job to guide and lead. 🙂

    Peace & Prayers,


  • Rita

    God gave us the ten commandments!!! These are not suggestion’s! We have a free will. God gave us His son Jesus…Jesus gave us Peter and his successor’s to guide His church. Those true to His word teach…I will listen!

  • Bill

    I swear these guys are control freaks.

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