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)