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Pope Benedict will be wading into some choppy waters next month when he visits the UK. And The Guardian — printing an excerpt from The British Journalism Review — wonders if the pontiff’s media team is up to the challenge:
The attitude of the British government may be one of welcome, but hostility does not lie far below the surface in Whitehall, as shown by the infamous “blue-sky thinking” Foreign Office memo in April that suggested a brand of condoms be named after the pope and that he should visit an abortion clinic as part of the visit. The handling of the facetious memo was one of the more astute pieces of public relations from the church, which in effect turned the other cheek in public while in private obtaining more concessions regarding the costs of the papal visit from a government keen to make amends.
The consistent strand that runs through 10 years of changes in official Catholic communications is a lack of people involved who have worked as journalists. The approach of the Catholic Communications Network (CCN) has been, on the whole, professional but reactive. It never seeks to set the agenda. This allows some of the more mischievous in the media to portray the church as “sex-crazed”, interested only in issues such as abortion, birth control and civil partnerships. There has, however, been some improvement since Vincent Nichols took over from Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as the archbishop of Westminster last year. More comfortable with the media than his predecessor, Nichols has spoken out on issues as varied as the economic crisis and youth violence.
One commentator on all things Catholic is Cristina Odone, the former editor of the Catholic Herald, who is a regular talking head, particularly on the BBC, despite having left the editor’s chair more than a decade ago. It has no doubt been in part to fill the vacuum that Odone and other chatterers have utilised that Austen Ivereigh, Murphy-O’Connor’s former press secretary, and Jack Valero, the director of Opus Dei in the UK, have combined with the Catholic Union to create Catholic Voices. Ivereigh says the model for Voices “is inspired by the experience of the Da Vinci Code Response Group in 2006, when the release of the Dan Brown film created a similar demand for Catholics to be ready to discuss its claims, however far-fetched”.
The fact that the media may not want to hear from these people seems to have escaped the organisers’ notice. It is good copy to get the most outrageous Catholic voices who can be found on issues such as abortion, civil partnerships and child abuse. Many in the media are not interested in a rational voice from the Catholic church – it’s not good box office. What is more, Catholic Voices has already hit choppy waters, being accused of ageism because of its upper age limit of 40, and a rival group called Catholic Voices for Reform has already been set up.
The question is: how will this all pan out?
It will be interesting to watch, that’s for sure. Read the rest for more background and context.