As you know from reading this column both Saturday and Sunday, it was a big weekend here! The synod did not make headlines but two Vatican communiqués did: Saturday’s Holy See Press Office statement on ex-cardinal McCarrick and Sunday’s Open letter by Cardinal. Marc Ouellet on recent accusations against the Holy See. They are still – and will be for a while – the focus of news stories around the world.
A big news story today is about the news – read on…
THE SYNOD: GETTING THE NEWS OUT – OR KEEPING IT IN?
The Vatican Information Service (VIS) was instituted because of a desire of Pope John Paul to be closer in touch with the Church’s bishops and nuncios who had been telling him for years that communications with the Vatican, the Holy See were sporadic at best.
We are talking decades before the advent of today’s communications media – Internet, email, cell phones, social media, Facebook live, etc. Even the fax machine was relatively new in the 1980s, and certainly was uncommon in most homes.
When, sometime in the late 1980s, John Paul asked Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who headed the Holy See Press Office from 1984 to 2006, how the Vatican could better communicate with the bishops and nuncios around the world, Navarro-Valls said that, although telegrams and faxes were the best options at the time, technology was always developing and he wanted the Vatican to be on the cutting edge of whatever was new. The Vatican’s first webpage appeared in 1996 so the Church did get in on the ground floor of cutting edge technology.
Holy See diplomats had the distinct advantage for years – and still do – of receiving news from Rome in a very timely fashion in diplomatic pouches – and getting back to Rome in the same manner.
When the 1990 synod on “The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day” took place, VIS was opening its offices, hiring staff, etc., and therefore did not cover it. I had begun to work at VIS in August 1990 and was greatly honored in the new year with an invitation to help translate into English parts of Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Exhortation on that synod, “Pastores dabo vobis.”
The years I was at VIS we covered the following nine synods, several of which were continental and had been called by Pope John Paul as a lead up to the Jubilee Year 2000: 1991 Europe, 1994 The Consecrated Life and its Role in the Church and the World, 1994 Africa, 1995 Lebanon, 1997 America, 1998 Asia, 1999 Oceania, 1999 Europe II, 2001 The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.
Whenever we heard an announcement that a synod was being planned for such-and-such a year, we groaned. It was an enormous amount of work, though we fully realized that the staff of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops probably worked double the hours we did, preparing the synod and then being present in the synod hall almost around the clock while it was underway.
The press center was set up temporarily in the Synod Hall in a spot known as the “fungo”, the mushroom.
All participants in a synod who were to give a talk, were asked to hand that talk – preferably a summary of the short intervention – over to synod officials who then turned those summaries over to translators and to all of us at VIS as VIS transmitted its daily new service in four languages: English, Spanish, French and Italian.
For example, a bishop from France would give his French-language summary to synod officials, that summary was translated into other languages and then the original and the translations were placed in color-coded (for language) synod daily bulletins and made available to every member of the press corps, permanent or temporary, who was accredited by the Holy See Press Office to the synod.
Thus, French-speaking journalists would pick up the blue-color French synod bulletin to know what their prelates and those from other parts of the world were saying on the synod floor. The Spanish bulletins might be yellow, English green and so on for other languages.
The media was usually only allowed in the synod hall at the start of morning and afternoon sessions when the synod participants opened with a prayer. Media did not remain during the work session, although Vatican staff from VIS, the press office, and Vatican radio were usually present.
This system meant that all members of the media, in addition to any private interviews they had done or meetings they held with synod participants, had a very good overview of what was happening and what was being said in the synod hall. They knew what was being said and debated on certain topics relevant to the synod theme
In addition to the synod’s language bulletins, journalists keep abreast of news via press office conferences and, almost on a daily basis, briefings in different languages for smaller groups, ie, an English-speaking prelate for English media, etc.
That useful and worthwhile system, however onerous it was for all of us involved – nonstop work, skipped meals, late hours, etc – has been relegated to the past, given what I’m hearing and reading about the current synod.
You may have seen Ed Pentin’s tweet: Information Sec Fr. Spadaro justified not giving interventions in detail by saying #synod2018 is a “place of discernment” so delegates “must know what they say will remain in the hall.” If everything “were repeated externally, it would limit freedom, as it’s a spiritual context”
Hello! Several hundred people in the same room at once and not a single word will get out! We won’t find out what’s happening unless you want us to know?!
Delegates who want their message to get out will post on Facebook or a blog, tweet it and/or give a radio or print or TV interview.
If delegates want the world to know what is really happening in the synod hall and during coffee breaks, they will tell us.
If their want their intervention not to be published or publicized, that too will probably happen.
There cannot be a repeat of the 2014-2015 synods where enough people inside and outside the synod hall knew what was happening, knew and reported what people were saying so that when a draft of the final message came out and it did not reflect what the majority of synod fathers had said, all you-know-what broke loose!
I suggested a few sites the other day to follow for synod news. I included vaticannewsa.va and http://www.synod2018.va but now realize they in no way reflect what is happening in the hall where prelates and experts and auditors from around the world gather twice daily and scores of speeches are given.
Vaticannews, at least so far, has given only a handful of highlights – the Holy Father, the head of the Synod of Bishops and a few prelates. Iit does offer the possibility each day of clicking onto the link to the daily press conference so that viewers can listen in to the reports of Synod Fathers – all very helpful if you know several languages.
http://www.synod2018.va is basically a fact sheet on the synod. The section called “Press Review” highlights articles from vaticannews.va in different languages as well as articles from a few independent media organizations. It does not feature the speeches of Synod Fathers.
I recommend now, more than ever, following synod participants on their blogs or their Twitter accounts.
It will be interesting in coming days and weeks (the synod ends October 28) to see the news as it comes from official Vatican sites and what we hear from those participating. Will they be telling the same story?
CARDINAL DINARDO WELCOMES VATICAN INQUIRY INTO MCCARRICK FILES
Vatican City, Oct 8, 2018 / 03:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The president of the U.S. bishops conference said Sunday he welcomes the Vatican’s announcement of a further investigation into files on Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, praising the pope’s steps to end sexual assault.
“On behalf of my brother bishops in the United States, I welcome the statement of October 6 from the Holy See which outlines additional steps Pope Francis is taking to ensure the faithful are protected from the evil of sexual assault,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said.
DiNardo’s Oct. 7 statement was a response to the Vatican’s announcement that it would review its files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick, who has been accused in recent months of serially sexually abusing two teenage boys, and of sexually coercing and assaulting priests and seminarians during decades of ministry as a bishop.
The Archdiocese of New York has already conducted a formal investigation into one allegation that McCarrick serially sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s, and announced in June that the allegation had been found credible.
The Vatican said that Pope Francis has decided to combine the information from that investigation “with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick.”
“The Holy Father’s ‘pressing invitation to unite forces to fight the grave scourge of abuse within the Church and beyond’ has been and will continue to be diligently accepted by the bishops of the United States,” DiNardo said.
He stated that the truth is what will ensure the “terrible sins of the past are not repeated” and said the courage of abuse survivors in bringing sexual abuse to light must be matched by the courage of pastors “to respond in justice.”
“Pope Francis echoes the call of Christ to be with survivors in their time of need. Let us respond simply. ‘Yes, Lord!’” he continued.
The statement also said the bishops offer their prayers and solidarity for the pope at this time and urged everyone in the Church, “particularly the bishops,” to reaffirm communion with Pope Francis, “who is the visible guarantor of the communion of the Catholic Church.”
“We unite in prayer and service with His Holiness as he leads the Church to meet our brothers and sisters in their suffering. With a pastor’s heart, the Holy Father calls us to a path of healing,” the statement concluded.
DiNardo, who is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, also met with Pope Francis and other Vatican offices Oct. 8, ahead of the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly next month.
USCCB Vice-President Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Msgr. Brian Bransfield, USCCB general secretary, were also present at that meeting. They were joined by the conference’s associate general secretary Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill.
The meeting took place just one month after Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop Gomez, Msgr. Bransfield, and Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston, met with Pope Francis to discuss the ongoing sexual abuse scandals in the Church in the U.S.