Media: Well Worth the
Address by Archbishop John Foley to New Bishops
ROME, NOV. 4, 2006 (Zenit.org).- 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.
* * *
"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
First, I think it is essential that every diocese have a communications
officer -- one whose principal task is what might be called today
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 will be
open to suggestions from such a public relations officer on worthwhile
stories to cover -- stories about what we can call the hidden saints
who do heroic work with the sick, with the troubled, with the
handicapped, with the young and with the old. There are literally
thousands of "good news" stories waiting to be told -- and which can
and will be told if the media come to trust the integrity and the
judgment of the communications officer who offers the story ideas.
As far as I am concerned, a good public relations office in every
diocese is the least expensive and most effective communications effort
in which the Church can be involved, because -- when properly
administered -- a good public relations office helps the Church to tell
its story in the mainstream media to which the people have daily
By the way, even local parishes can engage in effective public
relations. For example, when there is a first Communion or a
confirmation or a graduation, the local parish can send a press release
to the local or community newspaper indicating the five "w's" -- the
who, what, when, where and why of the event, including the names of all
those involved in the event, because very local newspapers love to
print names, because those whose names are mentioned or their families
will buy and keep that issue of the paper.
Also, at the end of the five "w's" there can be an explanation of what
first Communion or confirmation is -- in that way, providing a type of
evangelization or religious instruction regarding the sacraments. The
newspaper will not always publish the explanation, but they will
sometimes -- and that means we have obtained free access to a means of
religious instruction and evangelization.
Basically, the attitude in public relations on the diocesan or even the
parish level should be: Never overlook an opportunity to proclaim
Christ's message through activities in which the general public may be
What about Catholic media: Should we have them and, if so, what kind?
I should warn you that for about 25 years, before coming to Rome, I was
associated with a diocesan newspaper in Philadelphia, my home diocese.
… Thus, I am frankly prejudiced in favor of diocesan newspapers --
which, I am convinced, should be sources of information, formation,
inspiration, continued Catholic education and reinforced Catholic
There has been an accusation leveled against the Church that we tend to
forget to continue to form people after they have graduated from
Catholic schools or from religious education programs. The Catholic
press in general and the diocesan newspaper in particular provide a
means of continuing formation and education that cannot be matched by
any other method -- not even adult education programs, which, in fact,
the Catholic press cannot only publicize but also reinforce.
I am a firm believer in the axiom, "Scripta manent" -- "The written
words remain" -- and Catholic newspapers provide authentic information
and formation to which Catholics can make continuing reference.
By the way, many diocesan newspapers feature a weekly or at least
periodic column by the bishop -- and, where that is a feature of the
newspaper, it is often the most popular feature in the newspaper.
People are really interested in what you have to say -- and, of course,
it helps if you write well and briefly.
What about radio and television?
First, in many countries with a majority of Catholics, it is relatively
easy for the bishop and for the Church in general to have access to the
It is possible in those countries to have liturgies broadcast or
telecast and even to have programs of religious information, including
a weekly or even daily message from the bishop in smaller cities.
Thus, it is important to use the opportunities offered as well as
possible, with programming of professional quality. The Gospel of Jesus
Christ is the most precious message the world can receive -- and we
have an obligation to present it well.
In general, therefore, I am in favor of using opportunities in the
secular media as well as possible. In some places, tragically, these
opportunities are not used.
In some countries, such as my own nation of origin, the United States,
it is difficult for religion to have access to the media unless the
religious organization buys the broadcast time. In the United States,
about 10% of the radio stations, 1,200 out of 12,000, broadcast nothing
but religious programming, and they sell half-hour or 15-minute time
periods to electronic evangelists who then appeal for money to carry on
their electronic preaching of the Gospel -- which often reflects
Only recently have some Catholic dioceses or private Catholic groups
sought to purchase local radio stations to present Catholic
programming. There are, I believe, now about 100 Catholic radio
stations in the USA.
In Portugal, however, the largest radio network, Radio Renscenca, is
Catholic in its inspiration and organization; in Spain, the second
largest network, Radio COPE, is Catholic in its organization; in
France, there are two Catholic radio networks; in many nations,
beginning with Italy, there is Radio Maria, a network whose Polish
branch recently ran into difficulties with the hierarchy, specifically
with the primate.
In the Philippines, there is a network of almost 50 Catholic radio
stations. In Latin America, many nations have Catholic or community
radio stations. Naturally, we do not want to forget Vatican Radio,
which was set up 70 years ago by Guglielmo Marconi himself, the
inventor of radio, at the request of Pope Pius XI. Vatican Radio now
has an international audience not only through shortwave, but also
through satellite and Internet delivery systems.
Thus, regarding radio, the norm would seem to be -- use existing radio
stations if you have access to them; start a Catholic radio station if
it is possible; buy time on local stations, at least to announce
Catholic evangelization efforts, if nothing else works.
Your decision must be based on your assessment of the local or even
national situation -- but, whatever you do, present quality Catholic
programming, and do not have people think less of the Church because
what they hear is lacking in quality production techniques.
Regarding television, the cost factor here is enormous. Here, it is
particularly important to cooperate with the news directors of
television stations, so that accurate stories of Catholic interest
might be carried. For direct evangelization, however, in many
societies, specifically Catholic media must be used.
As many of you know, in the United States and in Latin America and
indeed in Europe, there is the Eternal Word Television Network -- a
24-hour religious programming service which had its origins in a
cloistered convent in Alabama in the southern United States. The famous
Mother Angelica also started an international radio station.
There also exist Catholic television networks in Brazil and the
Dominican Republic, from which Cardinal López Rodríguez
is attempting to launch a continentwide Spanish-language network.
There are also Catholic satellite channels in Italy and in France.
A new form of communication which offers tremendous possibilities, but
also some difficulties, is the Internet.
Many dioceses and even parishes have their own web sites. As you may
know, the Vatican Web site is www.vatican.va. I am happy to report that
it was I who got the .va domain for the Vatican to let people be
assured that whatever messages came from that .va address were
authentic. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people who get
seemingly Catholic Internet addresses and provide either misinformation
or even pornography on those sites. You can be sure of whatever has a
.va domain -- and, of course, you can have confidence in many other
Catholic Web sites -- but the danger of usurpers and hackers can exist
on some sites which wish to appear Catholic but are not. …
I should say a word about interviews. Sometimes, the media will
"ambush" you, and it is important always to reflect in your manner and
in your responses the example of Christ -- kind, clear and complete.
Never say anything you do not wish to see in print or hear on the air;
if you do not know something or are not at liberty to say anything
about the subject, say that; also try to become adept at using their
question to give your answer. That is, you will have a point you wish
to make which is related to the question they have asked; use their
question to give your answer, because you may never have another
opportunity to make the point you wish to make.
It is perhaps obvious to say that your responses should always be
truthful in content and gracious in delivery. God is truth and God is
love -- and we should reflect both in our witness to him both in
prepared remarks and in our occasional responses to inquiries from the