Canonical Considerations in Church Communications

International Seminar Concludes in Rome

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, APRIL 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Pontifical University of the Holy Cross' communications department today concluded its seminar, “Faces, People Stories,” with closing remarks delivered by Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

From April 16-18, the international seminar explored the importance of using modern means of communication to effectively transmit the humanity of the Catholic Church.

In his closing speech, Cardinal Burke explored Catholic Church communications according to the guidance of canon law. "It will be helpful," he asserted, "to review the general norms regarding the teaching office of the Church within which the Church makes use of the instruments of social communication, and the particular norms regarding the use of the instruments of social communication before entering into specific questions regarding the safeguarding of justice in the Church and the use of the instruments of social communications."

The Use of Instruments of Social Communication

Cardinal Burke explained that communicators ought to use the means of social communication effectively and responsibly, in a manner that is consistent with the mission of the Church. "The specific canons regarding the use of the instruments of social communications in the Church," he explained, "manifest the importance which the Church gives to such instruments for advancing her mission in the world and, at the same time, her caution, lest instruments, which have potential for so much good, actually do harm to the mission through their inappropriate or misguided use."

He continued: "The feet of all who through the instruments of social communications teach the truth participate in the beauty of the feet of those "who preach the good news." Recognizing the irreplaceable role of communication in the work of salvation, those who dedicate themselves to communications in the Church also recognize the seriousness and care with which their service is to be accomplished."

Observance of secrecy

The Cardinal also emphasized the sometimes complex dynamic which exists between communications and the need for secrecy in pastoral care. A key example of this is the secrecy of the confessional. "In the world of social communications," he explained, "secrecy is often characterized as a means of concealing evil situations or protecting wrongdoers. In fact, the obligation of secrecy respects the nature of certain communications which are understood to be communications between God and the person."

Within the current cultural and political climate in which the Church currently finds itself, it is imperative that canonical practices are maintained, with secrecy being respected in order to minister pastorally to members of the Church. "Given the loss of respect for the rule of law, in general, in civil society, and the ever greater tendency to violate all forms of respect for intimacy, including the intimacy of conscience, Church communicators must use their best skills in making the Church's processes for securing justice understandable to the public in general."

At the conclusion of his talk, Cardinal Burke called for Catholic communicators to have a full understanding and respect for the canons of the Church, and transmit the faith in a manner that is at once effective and genuinely representative of the faith.

"It is my hope that these reflections may be of some assistance," he said, "to you who carry out the most important work of using the instruments of social communication to present the Church to the world, in other words for the sake of the new evangelization. It is my hope that they will help you to understand that the Church's discipline, including her canonical processes, is not only not a hindrance to the effective communication of the Catholic faith but also an effective manifestation of the vitality of the faith."

"Presenting the Church as the mirror of justice, you as communicators will illustrate her obedience to the truth which is the condition of the relationship of each of her members with God and with each other."