Twenty years ago, Pope John Paul II said this in his World Communication’s Day message:
“In the new ‘computer culture’ the Church can more readily inform the world of her beliefs and explain the reasons for her stance on any given issue or event. She can hear more clearly the voice of public opinion, and enter into a continuous discussion with the world around her, thus involving herself more immediately in the common search for solutions to humanity’s many pressing problems.” - John Paul II, The Christian Message in a Computer Culture
That was in 1990. Even then Church leadership recognized the importance of being a part of the “computer culture” to more readily explain ourselves, listen to public opinion and enter into dialogue. But given the PR crisis that has ensued as a result of the sex abuse scandal, I’m not sure we’ve heeded that wisdom as wisely as we should have.
There is no question that the Church, in general, doesn’t seem to fully appreciate the power wielded by the modern day communications media. Whether that’s because they really don’t understand it or because they understand it all too well - I’m not sure. I suspect it’s a little bit of both.
On the one hand, the Pope and other leadership know that the number of times lies are repeated or how loudly they are shouted will never make them true. It also has the experiential wisdom that today’s headline is (usually) tomorrow’s litter. And far too many of us are far too concerned with what “pop culture” collectively thinks right at this pressing moment. We thoughtlessly become slaves to pop paradigms which, in reality, only have as much power over us as we give them. And we give them too much.
On the other hand, the Church was made to be “in continuous discussion with the world around her.” This means that how others perceive us - whether fairly or not - matters. And in a culture that hangs on every media sound bite, if the Church wants to be a part of the discussion, we’ve gotta play ball. And softball won’t cut it.
The world wasn’t fair to Jesus and it’s not going to be fair to His Church. That just means we have to be bolder and thicker-skinned. We must persevere with that much more determination in our efforts with the media. And instead of making excuses (even if they are fair ones), we must make our case that much more strongly.
And this is not just at an international level, but at a diocesan, parish and personal level, too. We can’t become timid. We must be honest, humble and fearless. If the world doesn’t understand the Church, maybe it’s because we haven’t explained ourselves well enough yet.