They are out of control of their message ... that is. And they are so out of control of their message precisely because they think they can control it.
In ancient times—like before there were iPhones—there were relatively few gatekeepers of mass media. And if the Church (whether the Vatican, a diocese or a parish) could control and manage what was said (or—more importantly—what wasn’t said) to those few gatekeepers, then the message could be fairly “controlled.” Those days are gone.
Yet, we still have a lot of leadership who think that PR stands for Press Release and that “opting out” of the social web is the “safe thing to do.” It’s not safe at all. It’s perilous.
They worry that if they open up comments on their website or start a Facebook page or open up online communities where people can express themselves within a church forum, that somebody might say something mean. Or theologically incorrect. Or hateful. Or *gasp* something about how there are sinners in the Church.
Guess what? They are already saying those things. Every day. Every where. The problem right now is that the Church is largely not a part of the conversation—because it chooses not to be. So whatever control it could have, it foregoes.
Those challenging conversations are going to happen, just as they always have. The question for the Church is do we want to be a part of the conversation? And the answer is that we have a moral obligation to be.
Is it harder to be a part of the conversation? And face the criticism? And answer to it? And apologize for it? And admit our imperfection? And to go against our legal counsel? And to take some risks?
Yep. Because it means war. It means going to battle instead of hiding behind a kind of allowed-martyrdom where the world beats up on the Catholic Church and we silently absorb it. And usually not the kind of martyrdom that springs from a virtuous humility and acceptance of a cross, but one that comes from a paralyzing fear. Closing our eyes and hoping it all goes away.
Well it’s not going away. People overall, including Catholics, are ignorant of Catholic teaching and beliefs. They are ignorant of the treasures and wisdom the Church has preserved. They are ignorant of the real facts about the sexual abuse scandal. They are ignorant of what the Church has done in response to it. They are ignorant of the profound joy and peace offered in Her sacraments. They are ignorant that the Church holds the answers to so many of their most profound questions. The message has been lost. And it’s our fault. Mostly from our sin. But also from our fear of the unknown.
There is hope, though.
We can’t fully control the message. But we can influence it. And that’s a much better way to evangelize anyway. Inspirational leadership that motivates and influences has always proven more effective than control.
And we have more and more Catholics—both leadership and laity—coming forth to be a part of that influence. And each of us can play our own little role in influencing the message. If we all say “Yes” to that with authenticity and love, the message will not be lost. It will not go unheard. And it won’t need to be controlled.