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Media: Well Worth the Church's Effort

Address by Archbishop John Foley to New Bishops

ROME, NOV. 6, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is an adapted excerpt from an address that Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, gave at a meeting of new bishops Sept. 23. The meeting was at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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"The Bishop and the Communications Media"

My brother bishops:

It is truly a joy to be with you as you gather here in Rome at the beginning of your episcopate for a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter, for an encounter with our Holy Father, the successor of Peter, and for reflection on various themes which can have great importance in your own ministry as bishops.

Naturally, as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, I am delighted that your relationship with and use of the communications media form part of the reflections.

Frankly, I am convinced that communication is THE essential work of a bishop. Jesus has told us to teach all nations and we have been advised to preach from the housetops (perhaps now TO the housetops, since that is where the television antennae are normally located). Certainly, nothing can help our task of teaching and preaching more than the communications media, and sometimes nothing can complicate our responsibility to teach and preach more than the communications media.

At the Second Vatican Council, one of the first two documents approved in 1963 by the Council Fathers and promulgated by the Holy Father, then Pope Paul VI, was the decree on social communications, "Inter Mirifica." That document, in addition to treating generally of the theme of communications, referred to in Italian as "social communications," because the single word "communications," I am told, could also refer to travel by airplane, train and bus -- that document made three concrete suggestions.

First, it asked for the establishment of a special Vatican department to treat of all the communications media, which then consisted of the press, radio, television and cinema. Now, it would have to include Internet and even portable telephones given their new capacities.

That department, first called the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications and later raised to the level of a Council, a full dicastery of the Roman Curia, was established early in 1964.

Second, "Inter Mirifica" called for the establishment of World Communications Day, a day which the bishops of the world later recommended should be celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost. By the way, no other celebration of a World Day was called for or approved by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, so I hope that you are all faithful promoters of World Communications Day in your dioceses and bishops' conferences.

Third, the Holy Father and the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in "Inter Mirifica" called for the preparation of a pastoral instruction on social communications for the use of the bishops of the world, and that was done in 1971 with the publication of the superb document, "Communio et Progressio."

Twenty years later, in response to technological advances, political changes, such as the collapse of communism, and the approach of the third millennium, our Council published a supplement to that pastoral instruction entitled "Aetatis Novae," "At the Dawn of a New Era."

According to "Aetatis Novae," it is essential for every diocese and bishops' conference to have a pastoral plan for social communications and to make a communications aspect part of every pastoral plan, whether it be a plan in education, in health care, in charity, or in the social doctrine and ministry of the Church.

Basing my remarks now fundamentally on "Aetatis Novae," let us examine what a bishop can and, I think, should do in the field of communications.

First, I think it is essential that every diocese have a communications officer -- one whose principal task is what might be called today public relations.

That communications officer, and -- in smaller diocese -- that well may be the bishop himself, should get to know the communicators in the diocese in local newspapers, in the news departments of the radio and television stations and even in the advertising agencies.

The communications officer should be always available to answer questions and he (or she) should have a reputation for truthfulness, accuracy and timeliness. The demands of the media may sometimes seem unreasonable, but the opportunities offered for the proclamation of the message of Christ and of his Church are irretrievable -- and so we should be ready to respond not at our convenience but when the media make their requests. We can appreciate from recent scandals how important that is.

If an atmosphere of trust has been established, then the media ...

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