The news cycle is like a popularity contest — and Pope Francis is winning.

Published in Canada

MANILA, Philippines - Long before Pope Francis left the Vatican for his January trip to Asia, Jesuit Father Emmanuel "Nono" Alfonso and his colleagues were already working on the "what's next" part of hosting a papal trip.

Published in International

TORONTO - Over the years, the strongest of Pauline Sisters could manage the huge printing presses and handle the massive rolls of paper — work that men usually did. But these women religious were determined to share the Gospel the way their founder thought best a century ago: The Daughters of St. Paul were made for media.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Church teaching is not in for a radical overhaul, despite what made the headlines from the recent Synod on the family at the Vatican, say Ottawa’s bishops. 

Published in Canada

TORONTO - Which is the fast God prefers for a 21st-century Lent? In a media-saturated age, it makes sense to desaturate our souls with a media fast, suggests Salt+Light Radio media correspondent Mark Matthews.

Published in Vatican

This is a column about what happens (or doesn’t happen) when Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster mocks Jesus Christ on prime time TV and a no-name amateur filmmaker mocks Mohammad on the Internet.

Throughout September, deadly violence erupted in many parts of the world as groups of Muslims attacked American embassies and other installations after a low-budget video, called The Innocence of Muslims and posted on YouTube, depicted the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and a sexual deviant. In Pakistan, at least two six-figure bounties have been offered, one by a current government official and the other by a former one, to be paid upon the death of the filmmaker. The filmmaker himself is currently being held in a Los Angeles detention centre, reportedly for parole violations.

In Pakistan, at least 23 protesters have been killed. There were also deaths in several other Muslim countries. The violence coincided with an attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four people, including the U.S. ambassador.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 28 the CBC program This Hour has 22 Minutes broadcast a skit based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper. It used the tableau as a backdrop to satirize recent news reports of writings on a papyrus fragment that allude to a wife of Jesus. (The fragment is of disputed origin and there is certainly no agreement among scholars that it refers to Jesus Christ.) In the skit, a woman identified as Jesus’ wife is shown continually disrupting the Last Supper, complaining that Jesus is constantly carousing with the boys and drinking too much wine. In a particularly offensive segment, the familiar words of the consecration (“This is my blood…”) are interrupted when the Jesus figure complains: “Ellen, do you mind, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

Although both are offensive, the two videos are different in many respects. But perhaps the most striking difference was not the video content itself but in the respective response from Muslims and Christians. In the first case, we saw violence that we would normally expect only in conditions of war or civil uprising; in the second, there were probably a few hundred groans as many people reached for the remote and perhaps a few dozen angry e-mails and phone calls to the CBC.

The Catholic Civil Rights League has tried over the years to lead the way in protesting serious anti-Catholic media portrayals. I am often asked why the typical Catholic response is usually so tame, if one happens at all. Obviously, there is a cultural factor. North American and European Christians live in free-speech societies and in environments where religious differences tend to be accommodated and where religion is downplayed in a secular public atmosphere. This doesn’t make it right to mock religious beliefs as though faith was just another form of entertainment, but it probably does mean that when it happens Christians regard it more as tasteless humour than a serious attack.

More than likely, the people who send e-mails or make phone calls to complain know that change is unlikely. These complaints won’t reverse the ingrained biases of society and the media.

The CBC’s lampoon of  the Last Supper was far from its most serious example of anti-faith bias. No one would take the skit seriously. Some of the false impressions created by the CBC and other networks over the years by their slanted coverage of the sex-abuse scandals, or in police dramas where violence at abortion clinics always seems to have a Catholic angle, probably do more to perpetuate anti-Catholic bias.

Perhaps Catholics, and many other Christians, have stopped paying much attention to the media because the bias is rampant or because they believe any harm done falls short of egregious. While some of the worst South Park episodes, such as those involving a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary or a depiction of Jesus Christ who could not perform miracles, drew sharp responses, including boycotts, most people responded by simply watching something else.

This may well be part of the reason that the media continues to take liberties with Christianity that they wouldn’t dare take with Islam. Christians seem resigned to the insults.

No one wants a world in which violent responses are the norm, but a short e-mail or phone call in protest of anti-religious bias can let producers and advertisers know they’ve lost some audience. As media executives and politicians both attest, it’s an issue if they hear about it, and if they don’t, it isn’t.

(McGarry is executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League.)

Published in Joanne McGarry

VATICAN CITY - The Catholic Church needs to use its media and social networks to spread the faith because much of the news media cover the church in a way that "is full of lies," Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest told the Synod of Bishops.

Across Europe, there is "a spreading ignorance about the Christian faith," which is exacerbated by the media "misinforming the public as to the content of our faith," the cardinal told the synod Oct. 8.

Cardinal Erdo, president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, was one of five speakers summarizing the state of evangelization in different regions of the world. Each of the five mentioned the role of the media, and several insisted on the church's obligation to use social networks to reach new generations of Catholics.

The Hungarian cardinal told the synod that Europeans are losing an awareness of just how essential Christianity has been to the development of their cultures, democracy and the human rights they hold so dear. The loss, he said, is a "consequence of an audiovisual culture" in which clear concepts and logical reasoning are ignored.

Mexican Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, president of the Latin American bishops' council, told the synod that since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin American bishops have focused on building community, entering into dialogue with the world around them and educating the faithful about their role in transforming society.

Today, he said, the church must "employ new communications technologies to allow the life and mission of the church to be known and for dialogue with the world." In today's culture, he said, "the social communications media are most influential."

In addition, Archbishop Aguiar said, especially in trying to reach younger people, the church must "make use of social networks to spread Catholic thought and its current answers to cultural challenges."

Young people are searching for meaning in their lives, he said, and if the church is not present in their world with responses, they end up abandoning their search for God.

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, told the synod that Asia is experiencing a boom in communications technology. "This is not to be viewed as a threat, but a great gift from God to be used to spread the good news."

The cardinal said the church must help parents, pastors and teachers who can train young people to use the new media and to benefit from them.

Archbishop John A. Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania, told the synod that even the secular media have helped Catholic evangelization through the attention they have given the declaration of saints from the region.

The examples of local people formally recognized as saints by the universal church "will do more for the new evangelization that we can imagine as the media is interested and captures peoples' imagination," the archbishop said.

If the church wants to find young people, he said, it must use the new media and new gadgets they use. "In these young people we see a sincere and sometimes painful search for meaning and spirituality as they bridge traditional cultural values and the excitement of the technological age with the swipe of an iPad or smartphone."

In addition to looking at the media, the regional reports to the synod touched on almost every area of church life from the importance of the liturgy to the positive impact of immigration, and from the role of new lay movements to the need to support traditional families.

Tanzanian Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, said the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Africa is a challenge to the work of the church on the continent. Catholics must "face the difficulty of dialoguing with the vast majority of good Muslims who, however, are mute, and the small groups of fundamentalists," who are not open to dialogue.

Dialogue also was a key topic in the other regional reports.

Cardinal Gracias said that with Christians making up only 3 percent of the population in Asia and with persecution of Christians not being completely uncommon, "for us in Asia, dialogue is a necessity, not a luxury."

At the same time, he said, many Asian cultures have a deep respect for life -- including for the life of animals and plants -- and it should not be difficult, through dialogue, to help people see that respect for life must include the life of the unborn and the life of their neighbors who belong to a different faith.

Cardinal Erdo said that while "some new (Christian) communities are strongly anti-Catholic," dialogue and cooperation with the Orthodox and Protestant communities is growing. Particularly with the Orthodox, he said, there are joint efforts to address moral and social questions, to protect the traditional family and to defend human life.

Archbishop Aguiar said that dialogue is increasingly important in Latin America as its cultures become more pluralistic. The church's dialogue efforts, he said, must reach out to all sectors of society to share the church's position on issues such as human dignity, and to find ways to build a consensus on how to tackle problems related to education, the economy, migration, justice and peace and the need to protect the environment.

The archbishop agreed with other speakers that Catholics must learn the content of their faith from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but he insisted they also must know Catholic social teaching because they have an obligation to transform society in line with Gospel values.

Published in International

INDIANAPOLIS - Blogging offers the Catholic Church one more way to evangelize for the faith while reaching new audiences, especially young people, a panel of Catholic bloggers told a packed room during the Catholic Media Conference in Indianapolis.

The panelists, which included Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a frequent user of Twitter, agreed that while not all bloggers are official church representatives, the relatively new but quickly growing form of communication has influenced how the church spreads its message.

Published in Features

VATICAN CITY - The establishment of a new post of senior communications adviser is a step in the right direction to help the Vatican deal with the challenges of a sound-bite culture, said the American journalist appointed to the job.

Greg Burke, 52, was named to the newly created position in the Vatican's Secretariat of State and will start in July. The announcement was made on Vatican Radio June 24.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - Vatican Radio will end its short- and medium-wave broadcasts to Europe and North and South America July 1, and a month later the Vatican press office will close the Vatican Information Service, a multilingual daily summary of papal speeches and appointments.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office and of Vatican Radio, announced the changes June 12, saying they were responses to developments in technology and would save the Vatican money.

Published in International

The long-running controversy concerning Ontario’s anti-bullying legislation has been covered by the media from the beginning with varying degrees of accuracy. But for inciting a string of negative coverage about Catholic schools and the Church in general, few events match coverage of the Ontario government’s May 25 announcement that all schools must provide gay-straight alliances if requested by students, followed by media reaction to statements from Cardinal Thomas Collins and other Catholic educators.

“Toronto’s Catholic Cardinal has a mistaken view of religious freedom,” thundered The Globe, editorializing that the cardinal’s viewpoint — that Catholic schools should be free to combat bullying in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching — is out of keeping with modern constitutional rights, and “public money should not be put toward discriminatory uses.”

Published in Joanne McGarry

THORNWOOD, N.Y. - A popular, telegenic Legionaries of Christ priest who has appeared over the years as a Church analyst for CNN, CBS, ABC and Fox News has been removed from public ministry after admitting he had a relationship with a woman "a number of years ago" and fathered her child.

In a May 15 statement, Fr. Luis Garza, director of the order's North American territory, announced that Fr. Thomas D. Williams, "after consultation with his superiors, will undergo a period of reflection, prayer and atonement without public ministry."

Published in International

STUDIO CITY, Calif. - The feature films "Hugo" and "The Way," the documentary "I Am" and the television sitcom "Modern Family" have been named winners of this year's Catholics in Media Awards.

The Martin Scorsese film "Hugo," the filmmaker's first feature given the 3-D treatment, is getting the Film Award from Catholics in Media Associates, sponsors of the prizes for the 19th year. "Hugo" won five Academy Awards in February.

"The Way," starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez, won the group's Board of Directors Award. Both films were made available on DVD in February.

Published in Movie News
March 14, 2012

Texting through Lent

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” reads the Gospel of John. While this opening verse will always be true, I wonder what John would have to say about taking the Word and, well, texting it.

That was the challenge I embarked on this Lenten season with the “Texting through Lent” calendar. Designed as a daily devotional calendar for teens and young adults, it attempts to incorporate various multimedia devices, especially cellphones, into Lenten reflections. When I saw this calendar hanging in the walls of my former high school, I knew it was a challenge I had to accept.

Published in YSN: Speaking Out

OTTAWA - Colin Kerr used to believe Catholic bloggers in Canada were “a bunch of cranks.” But then he looked more closely and had to think again.

Kerr, an assistant professor of theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ont., found more than 100 English- language blogs in his investigation of the Canadian Catholic blogosphere. They included blogs by bishops (Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast and Montreal Bishop Thomas Dowd), blogs by priests and religious, blogs by organizations such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Catholic Register and Salt + Light TV, blogs by homeschooling moms, blogs by pro-lifers, blogs on liturgy, theological reflections, parenthood and religious life inside a monastery.

Published in Features