A generation ago Ronald Reagan got kudos for being a Great Communicator. Pope Benedict will not be mistaken for him, to be sure. John Allen reviews a new book on the pope, Attacco a Ratzinger: Accuse e scandali, profezie e complotti (“Attack on Ratzinger: Accusations and Scandals, Prophecies and Plots”). Journalists and bloggers Andrea Tornielli and Paolo Rodaris take a look at many communications gaffes from the pope, his advisors, and his bishops.
Mark Shea expresses a “*like*” that Rome doesn’t think in PR terms. But I think this stuff goes deeper than just public relations and being the “victim” of meanies who are out to get the pope. I could go all proof-texting on this and mention serpents and doves. But the real skilled examples are the early evangelists. The gospel of Luke is a great example of great communication, and in an artful way.
My sense is that the Vatican sees itself above PR. Unfortunately, they also express that bugaboo that has damaged Catholic evangelization for the past half-century: a sense of entitlement. “We have the right message,” so the meme goes, “so poo on you for not listening to the truth.” The Message can be couched in whatever juvenile, arrogant, and mindless way (see the confluence of women priests and sex abusers). If indeed the message of the Gospel is a beautiful one–and I certainly believe it is–why do these guys persist in hiding it in sheep manure?
Part of the same attitude is seen in the decline of some parishes. “We deserve members like we had in our golden age.” And so there’s no effort to reach out to the neighborhood’s unchurched. Even if it means the bishop will close the parish. Some religious orders and bishops, too. They feel postulants and seminarians are their due. Like it’s still 1947.
I have a hard time seeing how these days and years can be perceived as good for the Church. We seem to soldier on pretty well in spite of our leadership. But I’d say few people feel invigorated by the current leadership. They cheer sometimes, of course. But I think that’s more a sense of triumph over ideological adversaries that anything else.
I think Rome could make a stronger effort to craft an attractive message. Not for the sake of ameliorating critics–on that point I agree with his conservative defenders. But for art’s sake, if nothing else.