According to a panel of experts, the Catholic Church has to be more proactive in the sphere of communication and assist in the promotion of a culture of transparency, openness, and co-responsibility.
All people want for truth and justice, and the church can help by committing to a more Gospel-centered approach to communication, which includes listening, discussion, compassion, sensitivity, and accompaniment, according to the speakers.
Father Jordi Pujol Soler, a moral theologian and associate professor of media ethics and media law at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome on May 26, was joined by Father Rolando Montes de Oca, a communications expert in Cuba, and Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, adjunct secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The conversation took place as part of the launch of a new Italian book, “Transparency and Secrecy in the Catholic Church,” by Pujol and Montes, with an afterword by Scicluna. The book is to be published in English later in the year.
According to the writers, both information and secrecy are sources of power that may be misused. They noted that there is a rising demand for increased openness that eliminates “absurd and superfluous secrets” while safeguarding required privacy, secrecy, and the hallowed sacrament of confession.
They said that the book does not exclusively address the issue of sexual abuse of kids and vulnerable persons, but rather emphasises how current safeguarding measures, regulations, and processes are part of a greater call for conversion for the entire church.
In reality, they argued, Pope Francis’ most recent reforms involving safeguarding and increased accountability of church officials demonstrate the critical link between canon law as rights and duties and the realm of communication.
The book is part of “a movement that has at its centre justice for all people, as well as factual truth and the development of a sort of communication that is increasingly more in keeping with the identity of the church that walks with those who suffer,” they wrote.
Pujol said during the presentation that there are two types of tribunals in the world that must be understood and handled properly: courts of justice, which demand facts and evidence in order to promote justice; and courts of public opinion, which is based on facts but also coloured and driven by emotions and immediate perceptions.
He acknowledged that seeing facts neglected or misrepresented in the court of public opinion may be difficult, but said that “you need to watch people’s opinions” and confront them in a proactive, constructive manner.
Montes explained that while the media moves and reacts swiftly to events, those in charge of church communications must ensure that the desire for timeliness is led by “respect for human dignity, the common good, and prudence,” which aims to say the right thing at the appropriate time.
The appearance of any form of accusation does not mean that the matter is closed; rather, it marks the start of a process that must follow correct protocols and respect the assumption of innocence until one is proven guilty, he added. He noted that Catholic communicators may assist other journalists in the secular media realise this, as well as the need of using accurate and true vocabulary.
According to Pujol, Catholic communications is not about causing divides or creating a media circus. He said that church doctrine has a long history of guiding communications, which is an important aspect of the church’s character as an organisation devoted to the truth and being trustworthy.
“We all agree on the principles: we want a church that is open, listens, doesn’t perceive victims as a threat or a problem, supports the laity and women,” and develops co-responsibility, according to Pujol.
Fear of change or improvement might arise when individuals feel they are “perfect” as they are, he added. “To be credible and relevant today, (the church) must be itself,” he added. “It must continue to evoke in people the wonder and awe of God and humankind.”
The command Jesus gave Peter is the same for church leaders, according to Scicluna: “Feed my sheep,” which implies a good shepherd must offer his or her life to protect, serve, and love his or her flock.
According to him, one component of pastoral love for one’s people is assisting them in their desire for justice.
In order to understand what actually happened, the panel concluded that reports investigating past abuse claims should be written by top specialists in a professional, honest, modest, and objective way.
The conclusions of these investigations, according to Scicluna, might be “unpleasant.” The goal of these reports is not to “inflict self-harm,” but to learn from the past and improve.
The archbishop praised the writers’ “courage and ‘parresia’ (boldness)” in publishing the book, and urged greater “proactive” dialogue in the joint search of truth, justice, and responsibility.
“This challenging area loaded with mines” cannot be successfully crossed without everyone’s cooperation, according to Scicluna. And anyone who wants to be a “prima donna, diva, attention-seeker, or self-centered narcissist” won’t fit in.
Only by travelling together in a true synodal way, in a process of gathering knowledge, listening, and discourse in the “Gospel-way” with compassion, empathy, and intimacy, can the truth be maintained and justice promoted, according to Scicluna.