By Dennis Sadowski
ATLANTA (CNS) — The new evangelization calls for using new forms of media to reach people in their everyday lives, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications.
From electronic books to social media to traditional forms of print and broadcast, the church is rethinking how to carry its teachings and its stances on public policy issues to broader audiences, including Catholics, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City told Catholic News Service.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to be where the people are getting their news,” Bishop Wester said. “The advantage is the instantaneousness of it. Others are getting the news out there, and so if the church doesn’t get her message out there, than other messages are going to be sitting there … and then it’s settled in people minds.”
In a 20-minute presentation June 14 at the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in Atlanta, Bishop Wester discussed a series of steps his committee is undertaking to build stronger relationships with millions of parishioners in American pews.
He said there are serious questions revolving around how to effectively communicate the church’s work while remaining true to authentic church teaching.
“We used to ask ourselves, ‘What do we need to tell the people?’ Now we have to ask ourselves, ‘What do people want to hear from us?’ he said.
The USCCB is developing a new business model that incorporates best practices for its communications work and takes into consideration the way people seek information today and how they might seek information in the future.
Communication has become a two-way street where people expect to interact with sources of information and the church must be able to offer people a chance to comment on the information they are receiving, he explained.
The USCCB will continue to depend on traditional print forms of communication such as diocesan newspapers, but also will utilize multimedia primarily through the Internet to reach new audiences and to draw non-practicing Catholics back to the church, he said.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, USCCB president, told the bishops that the effort will include the naming of a spokesperson for the conference who would be available around the clock to respond to media inquiries and to be pro-active in seeking to share church views and teaching.
That prospect drew broad support from the bishops.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston told the assembly that the church and the Vatican do a poor job of “communicating around controversial topics.” He said a spokesperson would be welcome and would help frame information in light of church teaching rather than having it distorted by voices in the media.
“More than a few of us have raised the possibility of having a spokesperson who could respond to situations that appear,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta. “I think that’s vital because we waste a second and a second could be vital.”
He also cautioned that the eventual spokesperson must have the full trust of the bishops so that he or she will have the confidence to know he or she “will not be shot down,” he said.
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami urged that more emphasis be made on developing messages for the growing segment of Spanish-speaking Catholics.
Bishops also raised questions about the cost of a stronger communications effort, saying that the commitment to keep the effort going must be continuous and have the understanding such outreach is “well worth it.”
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