Catholic Media Watch
Media missing from evangelisation vision
by Michael Mullins
One after another, Australia's dioceses are nominating evangelisation as their foremost pastoral priority. In the years after Vatican II, new ideas were going to secure the future of the Church. Now, to put it glibly, it's new recruits, though the Church aims to reach out to society at many levels through its efforts at evangelisation.
Australia's bishops are clearly following the directives and lead of Pope John Paul II, who manages to weave a call to evangelise into almost every speech and document. The Pope also favours the new religious movements over the traditional religious orders. The movements - such as the Neocatechumenate - are young, energetic and characterised by an evangelical fervour. The orders on the other hand are more sage-like, tending to put recruitment in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
There is no doubt that the bishops are very serious about evangelisation. Not only do they need to arrest the decline in Mass attendance and adherence to Church teaching, but there's a positive opportunity to get a slice of the action in the decidedly more religious post-September 11 new world order. The unexpected revival of the abortion debate is just one sign of a new climate that is open to religious discourse.
Melbourne, Australia's largest archdiocese, is attempting to reinvent itself through a new push to evangelise. Earlier this year, Archbishop Denis Hart removed Fr Maurie Cooney, the longstanding director of his Research Office for Pastoral Planning, allegedly because Cooney had failed to turn around the decline in mass attendance. It was out with the old, as the new broom swept through the Albert Street Curia. Fr Greg Bennett became director of the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation when it opened on 1st September. At the same time, Archbishop Hart issued We Are Sent, the major pastoral letter in which he announced the evangelisation initiative.
What is astonishing about the 2000-word text of We Are Sentis that Archbishop Hart makes not a single mention of communications media as a means of evangelisation. It is very revealing that the only acknowledgement of the media as an influence shaping society is a negative one. He cites the "huge amounts of information" made available by the Internet, in the context of the threats of terrorism, genetic research, and globalisation.
His message is that the Internet and, by implication, other forms of mass communication, are to be resisted and feared. There is no sense that they are an important and necessary tool that every evangelist must enthusiastically embrace. There could have been a passing mention of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and how to capitalise on it. Gibson's film was undoubtedly the evangelism event of the year, if not the decade.
It's possible to argue that the pastoral letter is just a general statement of principles. But it's more than that. Section D is titled 'Practical Implementation'. As the sub-heading suggests, it deals with how the Archdiocese should go about evangelising.
The section mentions the Office for Evangelisation, and specifies that its primary role is to support parishes. It says the office will also offer guidance to Catholic Adult Education Melbourne and the Office for Worship. No mention of Catholic Communications. Archbishop Hart is not thinking about facilitating any reaching out to those who don't come to Church, though the many forms of media, not even in the relatively unsophisticated but effective 1950s style of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. The focus is decidedly inward, as if evangelisation is about reaching only the diminishing few who already participate in parish life.
Perhaps the problem is that members of the Church hierarchy do not consume enough media themselves, and cannot identify with those who spend many hours each day connected to the Internet or watching TV, and not participating in the parish activities that could enrich their lives if the Good News was able to reach them.