Last week, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Press Association, representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic media professionals got together to talk about this and other important issues. The discussion took place at the Catholic Media Convention held in New Orleans. It was sponsored by the Catholic Press Association and the Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals.
The idea of Catholic bishops meeting with Catholic media professionals surfaced last January at a meeting of the U.S. bishops’ communications committee. Representing the bishops of North America were Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, and Bishops Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., and Ronald P. Herzog of Alexandria, La. Also in attendance was Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The theme of this discussion was “What does it mean to be a faithful Catholic media organization in the 21st century?” To prepare for the panel discussion, Catholic journalists took part in a preparatory session led by Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles. They focused their attention on four topics: the independence and autonomy of Catholic publications; the bishop as publisher; building trust between bishop and editor; and financial support of Catholic media.
The panel of bishops heard from editors about the challenges they face in seeking to maintain journalistic integrity. They were told that reporting negative news can help the church in the long run.
Archbishop Aymond agreed. He said that Catholic publications must explore both sides of an issue “without bias.” But rather than just report both sides, publications need to report why the church teaches what it does on issues.
Another example was the sexual abuse scandal. Had diocesan newspapers been able to break the stories, would the church’s credibility not have been so damaged, the bishops were asked.
Again, Archbishop Aymond agreed. He said the bishops have learned a lot since 2002, going from a defensive strategy to transparency. “We have hurt ourselves by the way we responded to this through the media,” he said.
All four bishops said the dialogue with editors was enlightening and that they would push for more discussions with Catholic media professionals. Archbishop Celli also offered his input. He said that respectful dialogue was one way to make people feel they are part of the church. He added that Catholic media is not only an instrument for teaching, it serves to promote dialogue. “This for me is very important,” he said.
It was welcome news to Catholic journalists, and should lead to better reporting and better relationships between bishops and the Catholic media.