Saturday, November 25, 2006

Saturday at the Vatican: Press Savvy... or Lack Thereof

Recent rumors of the impending demise of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications are greatly exaggerated.


If they weren't, then the Pope wouldn't have named three new members and 19 new consultors this morning to the service of the dicastery. Among the new prelates on-board are Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, the incoming chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Communication. Niederauer joins his classmate, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, and Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden on the US delegation to the council, which is headed by Archbishop John P. Foley, a native of Philadelphia.

Further along, the consultors' list features notable names such as Fr Federico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Holy See Press Office; Msgr Owen Campion, a priest of Nashville and editor of Our Sunday Visitor; Carl Anderson, supremo of the Knights of Columbus; Anthony Spence, editor of Catholic News Service and, in tribute to the Pauline institutes' continued apostolate in the field of media, Fr Silvio Sassi, superior-general of the Society of St Paul and Sr Maria Antonietta Bruscato, the superior-general of the Daughters of St Paul.

Despite the new infusion, PCCS still awaits the appointment of a new secretary after a vacancy of almost two years since the transfer of the post's last holder. Following Bishop Renato Boccardo's departure for the administrative offices of the Vatican City-State in February 2005, Foley's acting #2 has been the council's undersecretary, Dr Angelo Scelzo, the highest-ranking layman in recent Vatican history.

Notably, today's list appears to be a re-do of one that was released some weeks back, with most of the same persons on that slate reappearing. One name conspicuously absent, however, is that of Russell Shaw, the eminent commentator on church affairs, who served for as head of communications for the US bishops from 1967-89 and had previously been tapped for two five-year terms on the council. While Shaw was on the first list of consultors published earlier in the month, it seems his name has disappeared from today's announcement -- and the prior release has been wiped from the archives of the Holy See Press Office.


Shaw wrote a widely-noted piece earlier this month in Crisis magazine, offering a firm critique of the nation's hierarchy and its recent move toward restructuring in advance of the Baltimore meeting. Expressing his finding that the American bishops suffer a collective "lack of vision," Shaw said that while episcopal conferences were a mandatory part of ecclesial life, "no law says they have to get as bloated and self-important as the American conference became over the years, when it sometimes seemed to consider itself a kind of super-diocese giving orders to dioceses and acting as a counterweight to the Vatican."

And today, so it appears, he's off the list.

Everyone together: Hmm.

(SVILUPPO: Clarification/correction here.)

Coincidentally, elsewhere on the Vatican's communications beat, the Pope received the editors of Italy's diocesan papers, telling them that while "the rapid evolution of means of social communication and the advent of numerous and advanced technologies in the field of the media" can often leave small niche outlets behind, the diocesan paper remains "a precious vehicle of information and a means of evangelical penetration."

"Your weeklies are justly called 'newspapers of the people,'" the Pope said, "because they remain geared toward the doings and the life of the people of the area and as they hand down the popular traditions and rich cultural and religious patrimony of your towns and cities." Benedict XVI exhorted local Catholic papers to "Continue to be 'journals of the people and among the people,' arenas of exchange and loyal battle among diverse opinions, so to advance and authentic dialogue, indispensable for the growth of the civil and ecclesial communities."

Speaking to the topic of the journalists' gathering -- the church in political life -- the Pope said that while "the legitimate pluralism of political choices has nothing to do with a cultural diaspora of Catholics," he hoped that the diocesan weeklies may "represent significant 'places' of encounter and attentive discernment for the lay faithful engaged in the social and political fields, to the end of dialogue and finding convergences and objectives of shared action to the service of the Gospel and the common good."

This morning, the Holy See also announced an extensive reorganization of the church in Mexico with the creation of four new provinces, their metropolitan sees in Tijuana, León, Tulancingo and Tuxtla Gutierrez. The new configuration has slimmed down the groupings of ten of the country's 14 existing provinces.

In a related reminder: the Guadalupe Novena begins but nine days from today.