HUNTINGTON — Msgr. Owen Campion, associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor and papal- appointed member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, was in Rome on March 2 to present a report on Church communications in the United States.
Msgr. Campion is one of 53 members appointed to serve on the council for a five year term. He was appointed in 2006.
The early March meeting was opened by Pope Benedict XVI. In the days that followed speakers, including Msgr. Campion, were assigned to provide continental reports and suggestions for action.
Msgr. Campion said, “Regarding social communications, the United States, the coming of the digital media in all its forms has profoundly changed the habits of people as they seek information and engage in dialogue. It especially is true of youth.”
“Within this picture,” Msgr. Campion said, “American Catholics, and actually all Americans, now form their opinions of the Catholic Church through the social media or from reports and commentaries in the secular media and from popular entertainment.”
He spoke of the print media with its declining circulation and its uncertain future, “The system of Catholic print media, once so strong and so preferred among Catholic Americans, is under siege. It is not dead, but no one in this medium looks ahead with utter confidence.”
He said, “Frankly also, Catholic broadcast media and Catholic media relying on cable or satellite transmission have small, but admittedly very loyal, audiences.”
Msgr. Campion added, “In place of the traditional media, the social media has seized a paramount place in communications, particularly among the young. Highly individualistic and undisciplined, it lifts uninformed or untested singular opinion to the level of the most carefully produced and unbiased news reporting.
“Catholic presence in the booming social media in some cases is good, but in other aspects it is not so good,” he said. “It is not effectively coordinated. Even if acknowledged, it is not utilized or encouraged enough as an option for the Church.”
Msgr. Campion said, “In the United States, the time is ripe for the new evangelization foreseen by the Holy Father, precisely with its component of total personal conversion to Jesus.”
He said that the American Catholic communicators and Church leaders “do not need funding from the outside or extended advice in the strictly technical details of communications,” but advised on several issues the Pontifical Council may address.
The first, he said, is “the Church in the United States needs more strongly to embrace evangelization by realizing fully that more and more Americans consider institutional religion as irrelevant at best, and a parasite at worst. The Church in general must confront religious individualism and indifferentism with the Catholic sense of ecclesiology, that the Church is a community, branches of the one vine that is Christ, Mystici Corporis. Church leadership must look beyond the near and the familiar, beyond practicing Catholics, to inactive Catholics and indeed to the society.”
Second, he said, “Catholic leaders need more directly to hear about, and enter, the digital revolution, and they must consider what may come, even if no one wisely can predict every aspect of the future in this regard.”
The third, he said, is “communications efforts in the United States must engage, compensate, and respect competent and well-formed personnel, recognizing social communications is a quite competitive industry in so many aspects.”
And fourth, while the future is unknown, “the Church in America needs careful planning in preparing a comprehensive strategy in communications, to which local dioceses and religious voices may look for guidance, and in which they may be involved.”
Fifth, Msgr. Campion said, “since so many Catholics learn about the Church from commercial news providers, local Church leaders should summon secular journalists to the historic high ideals of American journalism, obviously understanding and acknowledging these ideals themselves. Absolutely, the Church must be forthright and timely in facing its own problems in the public discussion.
“Lastly, and critically,” Msgr. Campion advised, “so many Americans search for meaning and peace in their lives, a quest that we Catholics believe is satisfied in the personal discovery of God. Nothing so intrigues human beings as other humans. We have our wonderful stories of faith and witness to tell. As to Catholic communicators themselves, the Church must reinforce them in their own discipleship, a discipleship that must be evangelistic and also genuinely ecclesial.”
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