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Prioritization, not polarization, is Catholic media’s role, bishop says

The Church’s role is to bring light to the people, said Bishop Barron at virtual Catholic Media Conference

WASHINGTON — The top priority of the Church is to “proclaim the word of God,” said Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles in a June 10 keynote address during the Catholic Media Conference.

“This prioritization is important today,” Bishop Barron said, over some “false dichotomy, pitting one against the other.”

He spoke on the last day of the Catholic Media Association’s annual conference. Held June 8-10, it took place virtually for the second year in a row due to concerns about COVID-19.

“What are our parishes? Ought they to become, perhaps, centers of evangelization?” he asked. “Are they being shaped to evangelize the culture? I wonder what a reprioritization would look like.”

The Church’s role is to bring light to the people, he added. “What does that have to do with Catholic media?” Bishop Barron queried. “Pretty much everything. … Our primary purpose is to declare the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”

He added, “We who are involved in Catholic media do a lot of things, say a lot of things, but are we about the ‘primum officium’?” — the Church’s primary responsibility. “What do we cover? What do we pay attention to? … We look at those areas of the world where Jesus’ lordship of the world is being maintained. Where do we see the lordship of Jesus on display so that we might see it in the wider world?”

Evangelization was just one theme Bishop Barron touched on during his remarks. Two others were social media and synodality.

Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1986, Bishop Barron said he had a sense in the 1990s that “we’re not doing enough with the tools that we have,” well before the explosion of social media. Complaining about this to an older priest, he said the senior cleric retorted, “Well, what are YOU doing about it?”

“From that came Word on Fire Ministries,” which Bishop Barron founded. “And from that came the ‘Catholicism’ series.”

In his youth, finding a Catholic bookstore — even in a big city like Chicago — was a tough chore, he recalled. And, if someone read something they didn’t like in a periodical, they had to find a piece of paper, a typewriter, an envelope, a stamp and the publication’s mailing address to write a letter to the editor — which might not ever see print.

That was then. “Now, someone — everyone in his mom’s basement — can fire off the most vituperative, obscene, irreverent thing, and there’s no filter,” Bishop Barron said. “There’s nothing to stop you. … It’s there 24/7 all over the world.” As a result, there is a “fetid quality” to the online discourse, including what he called a “fake-backbone phenomenon: ‘No, I got backbone because I told that guy off.’

“We all get drawn into this” and other social media ills, he said, and did not exclude himself.

He suggested coming off with less certitude in one’s postings, taking on an air of “Is it true what I’m saying? I know it sounds simplistic.”

Another avenue would be to avoid the “straw man” argument and “try instead the “steel man” approach. “(St. Thomas) Aquinas often put up his opponents’ positions even stronger than they did.”

Bishop Barron also said would-be posters should ask themselves before they hit “send”: “Is it loving? … I’m not saying we have to write nothing but Hallmark cards,” but “is it loving? Is it willing the good of the other?”

Anchored in hope

Seeing the signs of the times through the lens of wisdom and hope is not only a professional requirement for Catholic journalists, but also a deeply personal matter, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore told Catholic Media Conference attendees watching a livestreamed Mass from Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

In his homily for CMC’s annual memorial Mass June 9, the archbishop reflected on the theme for the conference, “Anchored in Hope.” He selected a reading for the Mass from the Letter to the Hebrews in which St. Paul referred to Jesus’ intercession for us: “This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior, behind the veil” (Hebrews 6:19). The archbishop said, “In other words, even as we encounter, describe and seek to address life’s problems, already we are anchored firmly in heaven where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.”

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