POPE BENEDICT AND THE MEDIA
On October 23, Apcom had this item which, unfortunately, I have not seen reported elsewhere. Here is a translation:
ROME, Oct. 23 (APCOM) - The Aula Magna (main hall) of Rome's third state university (referred to as Roma-3) was crowded.
It isn't often that one sees at the same table the director of the Vatican Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, and some of the leading Vatican correspondents.
It was a roundtable discussion addressed to students - future journalists and communications workers - on how "difficult, often complicated, but also beautiful' it is to report the Pontificate of Benedict XVI on TV and radio, in the newspapers, magazines and the Internet, to the faithful around the world.
The audience applauds, listens intently, interacts. The debate takes off from a master's thesis in communications theory by Luca Gentili entitled "The figure of Benedict XVI in the daily Italian press".
It discusses the actual impact of Joseph Ratzinger in the mass media; the changes that have taken place since the immediate pre-Conclave period to the present; the communications strategies of the Vatican to translate and convey the figure of the Pope to the world [But there does not seem to be any strategy at all, and the basic communications system of the Vatican continues to be very deficient!]
Media reportage of the Pope was analyzed on the basis of recent events like his trips to Loreto, Austria and Naples.
Here is a summary of what the main speakers said:
First to speak was Ignacio Ingrao of Panorama magazine. He spoke of how Joseph Ratzinger was pictured in the media as a cardinal - 'labelled and pigeonholed' with terms such as 'Panzerkardinal', 'German shepherd (dog", or 'iron cardinal'.
The Pope, he said, was straitjacketed by such terms, and yet "he has continuously shown that he not what he was made out to be." Proof of this, he said are 'the crowds at St. Peter's, his historic gesture at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, his attention to China and Africa, his 360-degree view of inter5national affairs. Therefore, all these contradictory labels dissolve when one looks at the heart of this Pontificate."
[One must really commend Ingrao for all that, but how is it that his own recent articles reinforce the negative
connotations that he claims to disapprove of?]
Alberto Bobbio, editor-in-chief of FAMIGLIA CRISTIANA, Italy's most widely-circulated magazine, criticizes mainstream media for 'not understanding Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI'.
"Let us just look," he says, "at the way the Regensburg lecture was reported, or the Pope's speech in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where too much was made of the alleged fact that the word 'Shoah' was inserted at the last minute, as if that were the most noteworthy thing about a major speech that was otherwise highly significant in every respect."
Diego Contreras, a Spaniard and professor of communications analysis and practice at the Pontifical University Santa Croce, said: "It is true that the presence of the Pope in the international press is less compared to that of John Paul II, but we must also acknowledge the communicative gains that Benedict XVUI achieves every day in using language that is very clear even if he speaks about complex issues."
Fr. Dario Viganò, president of the Fondazione Ente dello Spettacolo, analyzing the image of Benedict XVI projected by TV in general, [points out that in TV, 'the images themselves are paramount', and that int his sense, "Benedict XVI is not a 'front man', in showbiz terms, but rather, someone behind the scenes."
Therefore, he concludes, "These are not easy times for TV crews because Ratzinger's strength is in words."
[What crap! If TV did its job properly, then Benedict's communicative force even in images would be unbeatable. The still photographs are eloquent evidence of that. The problem is that TV - and the Vatican's own CTV is the most guilty in this respect - has reduced media coverage of the pope to static images of him delivering an address, or unimaginative coverage of a Mass, while completely ignoring individual reactions by people in the crowd, the Pope's reactions to the faithful, the interaction between the Pope and whoever he is meeting one-on-one, because they always cut the coverage after the 'main event'.]
The editor of Tempo
, Giuseppe Sanzotta, recalled that "The most beautiful articles I ever wrote were about the assassination attempt on John Paul II and the first inter-religious meeting in Assisi. [What do this have to do with coverage of Benedict XVI
?] What I want is a newspaper that says NO to sensational, headline-screaming stories in favor of reporting in depth. But that is going against the current, because today, newspapers look for scandals and headline-making 'scoops' even if the subject matter is the Pope."
Fr. Lombardi closed the discussion by repeating the observation that Pope Benedict always speaks 'clearly even about complex issues' and that 'he always edits and refines his texts even up to the last minute."
He ends by saying "But I challenge anyone to check back and see how much (more) of a communicator John Paul II was in the first two years of his Pontificate." ('Ma sfido ciunque a vedere quanto 'comunicatore' fu Giovanni Paolo II nei primi due anni di Pontificato"].
Unfortunately, the APCOM story is sketchy and raises more questions than the information it provides.
An article in Il Foglio today responds at length to the comments quoted in the APCOM article. Here is a translation:
CATHOLICS AND THE MEDIA IN THE LIGHT
OF POPE BENEDICT'S CULTURAL BATTLES
By Maurizio Crippa
"It is true that the presence of the Pope in the international press is less compared to that of John Paul II, but we must also acknowledge the communicative gains that Benedict XVUI achieves every day in using language that is very clear even if he speaks about complex issues."
Those were words from Diego Contreras, professor of communications, at a roundtable discussion in Roma-3 University deidcated to Pope Benedict and themass media.
The issue of 'how (well or not) the Pope communicates' and in parallel, or at times subordinate, how and how much the Church communicates, is decidedly a polestar in the minds of the Catholic intelligentsia, and perhaps even more, of the hierarchy, to judge from the volumes that have been said about it in Italy and around the world, and the media dedicated to repoting Papal and church events.
In the press and on TV, from traditional news agencies to independent ones and new online services like ZENIT, from traditional media like radio to the new ones [the swekly diocesan newspaper of Taranto has just inaugurated the first experiemn of TV on demand by Internet yet attempted by any Catholic organization], there is a vitality in reporting that is not disputed.
But the question is: what are they reporting? What is the core of this religious reporting which should be addressed towards the lay world, ad extra, rather than to the Churchh itself, ad intra.
Indirectly, a decisive response came from Benedict XVI himself a few days ago, with the interview he gave in November 2006 which constitutes the preface to a book by the German theologian, the late Cardinal Leo Sheffzyck, which was previewed in Corriere della Sera
Recalling the years of agitation following Vatican-II, Benedict XVI says, "We became aware that we were together fighting for the vitality of the faith in our time, for its expression and comprehensibility by the men of our time, staying faithful to hte profound identity of that faith."
To make understandable the 'profound identity' of the faith - for Joseph Ratzinger, that is the cultural battle that must be waged. And the then 40-year-old Bavarian theologian understood that 40 years ago.
The problem today is the kind of 'reception' - to use a term dear to Vatican-II - by the Catholic information media of the reasons inherent in this cultural battle which the professor-Pope is leading against contemporary secular thinking.
Beyond the conclusions they may draw from it, many opinion makers see that this is the crucial point, one that is no longer understated but rather confronted with all its implications.
Alberto Melloni, church historian and editorialist for Corriere della Sera
, graspec it acutely in the commentary that he wrote on Ratzinger's interview.
As did Vincenzo Marras, editor of Jesus
, monthly theological journal published by Edizioni Sao Paolo, who cites it literally in an editorial in the current issue of the magazine.
Commenting on the recent congress of thje Italian theological association, Marras wrote: "Without hiding conflictual knots such as those posed by freedom and identity, nor the urgency of reviving the concept of natural law, around which many magisterial pronouncements have been made, Italian theologians - mostly priests, but also lay men and women - are trying to define a grammar and syntax which can offer to the Church and to various cultures a critical space for thought and words."
In this search for an adequate 'grammar and syntax', Jesus
published an interview last July with Cardinal Angelo Scola in which the Patriarch of Venice said a rapprochement was timely and appropriate between the teaching of theology and the state university system in Italy.
"One must acknowledge reality - that there is a massive comeback of the 'religious', no longer falsely and merely as a discipline discarded from so-called 'human sciences'," Scola said. "This cultural challenge must be accepted - and it could constitute the sense and even the fascination of a Christian presence in the universities."
Beyond theology, Marras notes that the question of relationship with lay culture is still marked by "an aphasia, that we have often lamented, on the part of Catholic intellectuals."
"But we understand that it depends on us, on our ability to listen or not to the prophetic voices in the Church itself."
Marras says that the cultural confrontation "should come within evangelical logic, about the Church as salt and yeast, which does not mean spreading salt all over the earth. Rather it means that Christians should be among other peoples in sympathy."
But on the part of believrers, this also means having a better knowledge of the Gospel, of scriptures, of the roots of the faith. "It requires full awareness of one's identity, but identity is by nature a dialog with others [affirming one's identity to others who do not have the same identity]."
Marras cites Mons. Gianfranco Ravasi, newly named president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and one of the closest collaborators of teh San Paolo publishing family, who has said "Dialog does not mean duelling."
Marras advocates the 'Ravasi model' of dialog for the Church - a capacity to disseminate information with rigorous adherence to the identity of the faith. At the same time, he says, secular laymen need to pay more attention and be serious, because "all the contemporary talk about religion and God means there is a strong spiritual demand."
This demand and the need for the Church to respond to it clearly has also been articulated by Roberto Righetto, edtior of Avvenire
's cultural sectionAgora, as well as coordinator of the Catholic Unicersity of Milan's journal Vita e Pensiero
, a major player in the culture wars.
"Today, Europe's clergy are exhausted, they tend to practice a widespread conformism, and are impoverished of projects, ideas and ideals. Consider the 'isolation' of Norberto Bobbio in the last years of his life. [Bobbio (born 1909, died 2004) was an Italian philosopher of law and political sciences and a historian of political thought. He also wrote regularly for La Stampa, as a liberal socialist.]
He spoke out loud and clear against religious fundamentalism of any kind, and also against nihilism, as well as expressing strong doubts about technoscience. Now, we have gone from Bobbio to Galimberti."
[Umberto Galimberti (born 1942), Italian philosopher, who says that mankind must adapt to the dominance of technology by maintaining the difference between science - the knowledge of what is possible - and technology - the application of such knowledge to do anything and everything that is shown to be possible. Science, he says, can serve as the ethics for technology, by setting limits to what can be done, so that it is at the service of humanity not at the service of technology. At the same time, he points out that many of today's problems caused by technology - pollution, terrorism and even new forms of poverty - can only be solved by technology itself. He advocates a philosophy of action whereby mankind will at least avoid being dominated by technology, if it cannot altogether dominate technology..]
"This overturns the secular stereotype," Righetto continues. " It is often the secular world that lacks the power of argument using daring thought, as though even secularists who do not fear to search for truth lack any points of reference."
So, what should be the role of an 'aggressive' CAtholic media?
"We should be able to emerge from an inferiority complex which for years Christians have suffered from, with the result that one hardly finds prominent Christian thinkers taking part in the main forum of cultural debate.
"In part, that is due to the arrogance of the dominant secularist culture, but on the part of the Catholics, it is also due to their inability to appreciate the power and the originality of Christian culture. Having a definite cultural identity is not a handicap, not something to be regarded as a condition of inferiority. It is something that should confer strength, given an ability to know how to communicate with others, even those most remote from our identity."
Perhaps, the paradigm of the relationship between Catholics and secularists is changing more profoundly in the world of information and publishing than in academe, in the sense proposed by Righetto.
Identity and a willingness to defend it, to cite Ratzinger, are the new key words in the cultural war.
A few weeks ago, a minor controversy which passed almoset unobserved offered a valuable intepretative key. The magazine Famiglia Cristiana
commissioned a study on the Catholic presence on the Internet from Francesco Diani, who has been tracking Catholic sites for the past decade.
Diani says that such presence is not only 'scarce' but also 'low-profile in terms of content and of isues confronted'. He described it as a presence that is little more than 'sentimental devotionalism', padded with 'intrercessory prayers that reek of magic and superstition" and by nagging concern about 'Fatholic fundamentalism'.
But Diani's claims were contradicted by Culturacattolica.it, one of the many independent and dynamic sites that have precisely made waging the cultural war without any sense of inferiority as their reason for being.
Gabriele Mangiarotti, the priest who has been behind Culturacattolica.it since 2001 is hardly a fundamentalist trouble-maker: "Our starting point was a statement by John Paul II: 'A faith that does not become culture will be a faith that is not fully listened to, not thoroughly thought out, not faithfully lived.'
On our site - and there are many like us, not to mention the bloggers - we discuss any issue that has to do with man and his truth. And certainly, not only from the confessional point of view, and not addressing Christians only."
These sites, Mangianotti claims, address all men, appealing to reason. On Culturacattolica.it, he says, a discussion on welfare has so far attracted 3000 responses, and in the battle on liberalizing Italian laws on assisted reproduction, discussions reached as many as 360 webpages.
"It's easy to see why," he adds. "Our site is open, ready to dialog with everyone, wthout ever losing sight of the essential - that our raison d'etre is itself a testimony to our faith. The problem is not getting on the Internet or in the traditional media, but to have something to say to contemporary man."
Sites like Don Mangiarotti's are just among the many information media that have accepted the challenge of a cultural paradigm that has profoundly changed in favor of assering the Christian identity.
One outlet that is characterized by a resolve on Christian 'apolegetics' is a small monthly magazine, Il Timone
, that has lately attracted much attention even in secular forums.
Editor Giampaolo Barra lucidly summarizes why: "Because we use rational arguments. What does reason tell us, for instance, about the existence of God? This is the challenge that we pose to secularist thought. Our intention - or our pretext, if you wish - is to show that human thought, contrary to any nihilist or weak thinking, is capable of grasping elements of truth about God and the nature of man. The problem is that today, secularist thought fears facing the issue. Howeever, this is a time that is extremely favorable to propose the rationality of faith and to open up a genuine dialog with secularists and non-believers."
Il Foglio, 25 ottobre 2007