USCC Watch: Failures of Communication

The appearance of Veritatis splendor, the long-awaited encyclical on Christian morality was, predictably, greeted by negative comments in the secular press and faint praise in most Catholic papers. It was not surprising that major secular media and dissenting theologians had access to the encyclical before its official release date and so had their weapons honed to knife it in the cradle. It was also not surprising that orthodox experts did not have the historic encyclical in advance, in order to prepare to defend it. Although this might surprise those who think the “patriarchal hierarchy” has all its pins in place and “dissidents” are a beleaguered, powerless minority, it has become the rule thus to inhibit defenders of the Catholic faith—scholars, theologians, clergy, journalists—while giving Advance Preparedness Warnings to attackers. No one seems to be able to explain this failure of communication.

Photocopies from secular news sources were hastily smuggled among the “Catholic underground.” While the encyclical was printed promptly in Origins (official publication of the National Council of Catholic Bishops [NCCB]), it is not yet generally available to the masses. The entire 179-page encyclical, elegantly reasoned and eloquently written, was available within days “on-line” from the brand new Catholic Resource Network (CRN).

More communication snags: CRN had launched its operation in September on the CompuServe computer network, but problems developed with CompuServe, which disregarded its contract with CRN and insisted on censoring CRN’S operations. CRN’S directors are dedicated to providing a reliably Catholic telecommunications system for research, discussions, and exchange of information on all aspects of Catholic life and faith. An independent network seems to be the solution, and organizers hope to re-launch by December.

We can’t help recalling Rosemary Ruether’s quip several years ago in response to a query about why she didn’t leave the Church if she was so convinced it was an “evil structure”: “You can’t make a revolution without Xerox machines, and the Church has got all the Xerox machines.” That made perfect sense when she said it. The U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) occupies state-of-the-art offices with matching office hardware and a 1993 budget of $41,000,000. The technological revolution in communications in the past two or three years may modify the unbalance somewhat. In this country, at any rate, very modest offices now have copiers, faxes and computers.

Not so at the Vatican, however. Most Vatican offices are not only severely understaffed, but astonishingly under-funded and under-equipped. One dicastry we visited not long ago resembled a rather shabby small-town insurance office—a bank of ancient filing cabinets, old metal desks with wooden in-baskets, half-a-dozen or so very elderly Olivettis. One fax machine. One word processor donated by a sympathetic visiting layman. Small wonder the wheels of Rome grind slowly; the wonder is that they grind at all. Remember, these offices belong to the “wealthy, oppressive patriarchy” responsible for running the Catholic Church throughout the entire world. Meanwhile, Frances Kissling of “Catholic for a Free Choice,” who regards herself as an oppressed minority, runs her one-man show (generically speaking, of course) with an annual budget of half-a-million dollars. Another “communications disorder”?

The USCC Communications Department spends over $10 million for its operations, or about 26 percent of the annual NCCS/USCC budget. The Catholic News Service (CNS) accounts for over $4 million of this, while Publishing and Promotion Services consume closer to $5 million The Media Relations/Film 8c Broadcast section spends nearly another million.

Partial revenue for these operations comes from the annual Catholic Communication Campaign, which grosses about $3.5 million, and nets, after pro-motion and administration expenses, approximately $2.5 million for grants to fund projects it chooses.

This budget would seem ample to produce quite a few good video presentations and study guides to increase people’s understanding of Church teachings, especially as contained in the works of John Paul II. A search through the Priorities and Plans section of the November 1992, NCCB Agenda Report reveals only these: 1. Video materials to mark the tenth anniversary of the Peace Pastoral (Social Justice and World Peace Committee, $15,000); 2. Video on Violence Against Women (Committee on Family, Laity, Women and Youth, $24,000); 3. Video series on family and parenting (Committee on Family, no budget or further description noted), to be produced by CTNA, the NCSS’S official television network.

The CTNA, for somewhat mysterious reasons, has failed to thrive. Although it is subsidized by the Catholic Communications Campaign, its effect has been minimal. It doesn’t even telecast the bishops’ own meetings. (This has been done by Mother Angelica’s EWTN).

CTNA’s chief achievement as reported by its Chairman, Bishop John McGann in last November’s Agenda, seems to have been the weekly production of a cable show called “Catholic Viewpoint,” distributed to CTNA’S 108 diocesan affiliates and aired on the militantly “progressive” Protestant VISN/ACTS cable network. (A recent VISN show featured, with breathless enthusiasm, two lesbian mothers.)

A four-part series on Sacraments, “Committed in Body and Spirit” by Sister Mary Aquin O’Neill, ‘Ism, director of Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women in Baltimore and “community theologian” for the Baltimore Sisters of Mercy, will air in November and December. Also this year, in collaboration with the USCC Department of Education, CTNA produced a series of telecourses called “Dimensions: Conversations on Catechesis.” Other telecourses include one on the history of black Catholics, another on family life, a six-part series on growing to spiritual maturity, and eight pro-grams on bereavement ministry. CTNA also produces a monthly “healthcare issues” program called, “Washington Perspective,” in collaboration with the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA). This program is offered free to 7,000 medical facilities in the U.S.

Despite CTNA’S collaboration with the left-leaning VISN network and with the CHA and AHA, the bishops’ network continues to languish. It has suffered from “budgetary constraints at the diocesan level nationwide,” the report says, and many of their diocesan affiliates have decreased or entirely dropped their participation in the network. Bishop McGann noted that the time for a “discussion” on the future operations of the CTNA was approaching.

During the recent controversy lover ideologically influenced events at World Youth Day, including the female “Jesus-impersonation” by a mime troupe, some EWTN viewers were concerned that Mother Angelica would suffer a crippling financial setback if the bishops were to stop her from telecasting their events. But in its entire 12 years of telecasting, her thriving cable network has not received even one center of funding from any NCCB/USCC source.

Some bishops did reprimand her for criticizing the mime performance on the air. Writing in his diocesan paper, Archbishop Weakland called her “un¬Christian.” CNS distributed his sharp words to all their wire-service affiliates. Our Sunday Visitor pulled all its EWTN ads and editorialized (October 10) that those who criticize dissent in the Church were like “squabbling little heresy hunters who first sailed over on the Mayflower . . . more and more American and less and less Catholic.” (Nothing was said about Polish critics of dissent.)

Much in communications evidently depends on what is being communicated and to whom, and whether or not the recipient likes the message. There is considerable risk in communicating unwelcome messages. Not everyone sees the splendor in truth.


  • Helen Hull Hitchcock

    Helen Hull Hitchcock is founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She is also editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, a monthly publication of Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, of which she is a co-founder. She is married to James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University. The Hitchcocks have four daughters and six grandchildren, and live in St. Louis.

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