“Er macht, was er sagt” – Wie Papst Franziskus die Kirche verändert

 

Am 1. Juni begeht heuer die Katholische Kirche den Welttag der sozialen Kommunikationsmittel. Zwischen Katholikentag und anderen Themen fällt dieser Tag in der deutschsprachigen Öffentlichkeit zwischen einige Ritzen. Nicht so in der Schweiz, wo der “Mediensonntag” zumindest wahrgenommen wird. Zurecht, denn selbst die Päpste und die ganze Kirche werden mittlerweile primär durch die Medien wahrgenommen. Das zeichnet auch das Pontifikat von Franziskus aus. Oder? Kollege Bernhard Stadelmann vom Schweizer Medienportal kath.ch hat dazu kurz nach der Heiligsprechung der Päpste Johannes XXIII und Johannes Paul II dieses Interview mit mir in Rom aufgezeichnet.

Was meinen Sie? Habe ich recht mit diesen Behauptungen? Wie wird Papst Franziskus wahrgenommen und warum?

Fritz Gerlich – hero, journalist, martyr

Fritz Gerlich
Shot in Dachau on 30 June 1934: Fritz Gerlich (Image SMB/Archive)

He bravely and publicly stood up  against the Nazis in 1930s Munich. Till they finally arrested him, beat him, and at long last shot him in Dachau concentration camp: The journalist and historian Fritz Gerlich. Now, sources inside the Munich ordinariate have confirmed to me that his beatification is likely under way.

A proud nationalist and conservative for much of his public life, he opposed Communism, National Socialism and Antisemitism. His newspaper “Der Gerade Weg” (the straight path) ran stories that satirised the barmy theories of “racial superiority” by lampooning Hitler’s “Mongolian looks”, amongst other things. And his conversion story to the Catholic faith, which is omitted from many of his public records – including the English Wikipedia entry at the time of writing this post – is worth involved praying in secret for the light of truth every night on the way home before finally becoming a Catholic, is a moving testament to the Faith in a time of particular trouble: 1930s Germany.

Late recognition thanks to Georg Walser

So why is this man not known to every German Catholic journalist? Why is his life and work not studied properly? Why is the Church and the wider public been slow to recognise, study, let alone celebrate his heritage? To be sure, several plaques and a rather controversial film prize commemorate him. But his life and work deserves more attention and requires more study and recognition – like the lives of several others, including  my own predecessor as editor-in-chief of the Münchner Kirchenzeitung, Prelate Michael Höck, who was also thrown into Dachau concentration camp but survived the Nazi tyranny. Others, like the Blessed Rupert Mayer SJ, the “Apostle of Munich”, are widely known and accorded much well-deserved attention.

These are sensitive and complex questions, but there are some pretty interesting answers, also. Fact of the matter is, it has taken more than sixty years and – over the last few years – the dogged work of supporters like Georg Walser, a colleague of mine, to get some recognition going. His own relationship with Gerlich is the subject of a forthcoming TV production of the Bavarian public broadcaster, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR).  

Georg Walser (right) in the footsteps of Gerlich –  being filmed by the Bayerische Rundfunk. (Image: Sankt Michaelsbund)
Georg Walser (right) in the footsteps of Gerlich –  being filmed by the Bayerische Rundfunk. (Image: Sankt Michaelsbund)

Mostly thanks to Georg, I have been following Gerlich’s story now for a few months, but what I know so far is already the stuff of legends. And gritty crime thrillers. And complex character studies of a flawed man in absolutely incredible times. And now the story of a possible canonisation to sainthood. If you ever visit Munich, be sure to go on a guided Gerlich tour with Georg.

Conversion and encounter with the stigmatic Therese Neumann

One fascinating aspect is the relationship Gerlich had with the Bavarian mystic and stigmatic, Therese Neumann aka “Resl of Konnersreuth”. He originally visited her in 1927 as a staunch sceptic and wanted to expose her as a fraud. Instead, the encounter became an important part of his own faith journey. Four years later, in 1931, he converted to the Catholicism. He remained a strong supporter of the woman that to this day is the cause of much admiration but also controversy. The question of her own cause for canonisation is a subject of frequent discussion in Catholic Bavarian circles even now. “Resl” wrote him a special note on the occasion of his conversion, which was recently re-discovered in an archive. On the snapshots Georg Walser provided to me, you can see that it is dated 29 September 1931.

The front of the picture Therese Neumann gave to Fritz Gerlich. (Image courtesy of Georg Walser)
The front of the picture Therese Neumann gave to Fritz Gerlich. (Image courtesy of Georg Walser)
The back of the picture with a handwritten note by Therese Neumann ("Resl of Konnersreuth") to Fritz Gerlich.
The back of the picture with a handwritten note by Therese Neumann (“Resl of Konnersreuth”) to Fritz Gerlich, dated September 1931.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wahlkampf, Kulturkampf, oder einfach Krampf?

Er will Kreuze und andere religiöse Symbole aus dem öffentlichen Raum verbannen: SPD-Spitzenkandidat und EU-Parlamentspräsident Martin Schulz. Seine Begründung? „Das Risiko einer sehr konservativen Bewegung“; diese müsse im Sinne der Anti-Diskriminierung „bekämpft“ werden, so Schulz vor laufenden Kameras. Will Martin Schulz bewußt provozieren? Atheistische Wählerstimmen sammeln? Oder will er wirklich unsere Gipfelkreuze verbieten? Kruzifixe, Mariensäulen, Marterl und Prozessionen verbannen?

Continue reading “Wahlkampf, Kulturkampf, oder einfach Krampf?”

Deutliche Worte des Klartext-Kardinals (nicht nur) an Medienschaffende

Nicht umsonst nennen sie ihn den Klartext-Kardinal: Timothy Dolan, Erzbischof von New York, hat den Teilnehmern der Konferenz “kreative Strategien für kulturellen Wandel” der Päpstlichen Universität vom Heiligen Kreuz mächtig den Marsch geblasen. Über hundert Teilnehmer aus aller Welt waren für drei Tage in Rom zusammen gekommen, um über die Schlüssel-Herausforderungen und Chancen für katholische Medien und Kommunikationarbeit zu diskutieren. Neben Kardinal Dolan waren der Erzbischof von Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, die Organisatoren von Catholic Voices, Pressesprecher der britischen und anderer Bischofskonferenzen, sowie Journalisten und Medienschaffende eingeladen – darunter auch meine Person.

Cardinal Dolan practicing what he preached. (C) 2014 Papal University of the Holy Cross
Cardinal Dolan practicing what he preached. (C) 2014 Papal University of the Holy Cross

Mit seiner deutlichen Ansprache legte Timothy Dolan die Latte hoch; sehr hoch sogar: Das fleischgewordene Wort werde durch uns kommuniziert – da seien hohe Erwartungen vorausgesetzt. Dolan wie die anderen Teilnehmer beleuchteten sehr unterschiedliche Aspekte, aber insgesamt machte die Konferenz mir zumindest klar: In der katholischen Kirche des Jahres 2014 werden altes Lagerdenken, klassische Klischees, falscher Stolz und bequeme Feigheiten, wie sie auch Franziskus in “Evangelii Gaudium” klar und scharf anprangert, abgelöst. Sie werden abgelöst durch klare Ansprüche, sich wieder aufs Wesentliche zu konzentrieren: “Freude, Selbstvertrauen und Mission!”, wie der großgewachsene Amerikaner zusammenfasste.

Ok. Was bedeutet das für katholische Journalisten, Pressesprecher und ähnliche Berufe? Timothy Dolan hat sieben konkrete Forderungen an uns aufgestellt. Ich gebe hier wieder – übersetzt und leicht verkürzt, aber wo möglich verbatim, was der Kardinal sagte.

  1. Wir müssen echten Professionalismus pflegen: Was wir sagen ist genauso wichtig, wie wie wir es sagen. Andere sind viel professioneller, überzeugender und effizienter als wir.
  2. Keine Angst davor, die Wahrheit zu sagen. Auch wenn wir es mit schlechten Nachrichten zu tun haben: die Öffentlichkeit will das von uns erfahren, nicht von den Medien. Ehrlichkeit und Tansparenz wird von uns zurecht erwartet. Das gilt natürlich auch für die guten Nachrichten. Viele weltliche Medien fragen mich nach dem Überholten, nicht dem Neuesten.
  3. Jeder Nachrichtensender, jedes Medium hat seine eigenen Agenda, seine eigene Grundhaltung. Wir, die katholischen Medien, müssen unsere eigene Grundhaltung haben: eine katholische. Wir stehen für die Kirche ein. Das heisst nicht, dass wir klerikalistisch sein müssen! Auch die Bischöfe brauchen faire und anständige Kritik, aber keine hetzerischen Reaktionen.Es geht vor allem darum, zu teilen, dass die Freude und Schönheit, katholisch zu sein. Woher bekommen die meisten Katholiken denn mittlerweile ihr Wissen über die katholische Kirche? Aus den Medien. Dabei brauchen wir Medien, die nicht nur informieren, sondern auch formen, bilden.
  4. Wir dürfen die Medien nicht alle über einen Kamm scheren. Nur eine Minderheit der weltlichen Medien ist darauf aus, der Kirche zu schaden. Die meisten wollen Zugang und Information. Wenn wir uns verstecken, dann wenden sich diese Medien an die Kritiker und Gegner. Die haben was zu sagen und werden dies auch tun. Neulich habe ich ein schönes Wort aus dem Hebräischen gelernt: “Anivut”. Der Begriff beschreibt die Demut, den Langmut, auf Unhöflichkeiten und Aggressin mit Ruhe und ohne Aufregung zu reagieren. Unser Vorbild, Jesus, hatte dies. Papst Franziskus ist ein Beispiel dafür. Lasst uns dementspechend handeln.
  5. Wir müssen immer katechetisch sein. Dogma ist wichtig! Das dürfen wir nicht vergessen. Wir dürfen nicht unterschätzen, wie wenig die Menschen wirklich über unseren Glauben wissen. Sogar die einfachsten und elementarsten Glaubensinhalte werden sogar von Durchschnittskatholiken nicht verstanden. Wir müssen klar, selbstbewußt, fröhlich, deutlich und einfach unseren Glauben erklären. Katechese findet heutzutage in den Medien statt. Wir müssen die Gelegenheiten zur Bildung nutzen: Aschermittwoch, Ostersonntag, Weihnachten; Heiligsprechungen und Konklaven. Das sind alles Chancen, unsere Lehre zu erklären. Die Zeit, in der nur dicke, glatzköpfige Bischöfe wie ich das leisten mussten, sind lange vorbei! Schauen wir uns Helen Alvaré an, zum Beispiel, oder die Profis von “Catholic Voices”. Wenn wir mit Menschen über umstrittene Themen sprechen, müssen wir sie vorher auch einladen, ihre Sicht der Dinge zu schildern. Und immer müssen wir auch wirklich zuhören!
  6. Wir müssen Jesus immer an erster Stelle setzen. Die Menschen hungern nach einem sinnvollen Leben. Die Wahrheit hat einen Namen: Jesus Christus. Ich habe mir geschworen, kein Interview zu geben, ohne irgendwie den heiligen Namen von Jesus zu nenenn. Wir sollten keine einzige Chance verpassen, zu evangelisieren oder zu katechetisieren.
  7. Kenne Dein Publikum. Wir müssen die Macht und Möglichkeiten der Medien verstehen und nutzen, die der neuen (sozialen) Medien inbegriffen.

Mit diesen Punkten spricht der Kardinal nicht nur uns Journalisten an, sondern auch alle Bischöfe, Priester und Laien – besonders die, welche Angst vor einer offenen Kommunikation haben; die meinen, die Medien seien alle “hinter uns her”. Vor allem aber muss ich mir selber an die eigene Nase fassen: Ist die Kirchenzeitung, wie ich sie nun seit einem Jahr verantworte, auch das journalistische Produkt, das wir brauchen? Jede Woche ist eine neue Herausforderung, und ein Kompromiss zwischen dem, was möglich ist und dem, was das Ziel ist. Das Produkt ist dabei jede Woche ein anderes – aber immer bin ich dankbar, daran mitarbeiten zu können und es hoffentlich in die richtige Richtung zu entwickeln.

(Dieser Eintrag erschien ursprünglich in meiner Kolumne “Wimmers Woche” auf den Münchner Kirchennachrichten).

How I failed to expose the false idol of journalistic objectivity

So we were sitting up on the panel in the auditorium of the Pontifical University of Santa Croce. It had already been a long day, though it was only 3.30 in the afternoon. I had a few more minutes to gather my thoughts before our presentation and discussion. Dozens of people were filling up the seats, firing up laptops and tablets, checking their earpieces that provided simultaneous translations into one of four languages. I saw a bishop speaking to a small group of young, well-dressed women and men, presumably students of the university. Next to me, Matthew Bunson was going through his presentation paper.

20140506-041830-pm.jpg
Professor Daniel Arasa and Federico Lombardi

That morning, we had been at Saint Peter’s square by 6.30, hoping to catch an early mass with a priest and two other German pilgrims we had met. However, people had already begun queueing up for the weekly General Audience. We could not get inside the basilica. Of the more than one million people who had travelled to Rome for the canonisation of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II, many had stayed for a few more days. So we had stopped for breakfast – the priest knew just where to go – and then walked over to the Salle Stampa to take part in the first point in the conference programme that day: an opportunity to talk to Federico Lombardi SJ, the spokesperson and head of the Vatican press offices. Father Lombardi was very candid about the relief the “new” pope’s public persona has provided to his own role: no longer does he feel entrenched and stuck in a more defensive position, since the secular media has greeted Francis with enthusiasm and an open, welcoming stance. At the same time, the affable Jesuit also described some of the challenges the spontaneous nature of the Holy Father posed – before taking questions from the fully filled press room.

Digital challenge to print media

Afterwards, we had walked back to the university and taken lunch there, before finally gathering again in the plenary auditorium for the two final sessions: The presentations of Matthew Bunson and myself, as well as – saving the best for last – an encounter with Joaquin Navarro-Walls, the director of communications for Saint Pope John Paul II.

Over the last two days, dozens of speakers had given talks – the program offered several simultaneous sessions – and included speeches by Cardinals Dolan and Barbarin, the Archbishops of New York and Lyon, respectively, as well as Austen Ivereigh, who heads Catholic Voices, the well-known Washington law professor and activist Helen Alvaré, and many others. I had written copious amounts of notes, met many interesting new colleagues and already filed reports for radio and my own paper of the canonisation – since the day before the conference even started, we had experienced the historic event right in the middle of Rome.

So, here we were. The auditorium was full, and the Dean of Communications, Prof. José Maria LaPorte, greeted the attendants, introduced the panel and asked Fr. Christian Mendoza to give an introductory speech that outlined the topic: the challenge of the digital revolution to Catholic communications – in particular print journalism. This topic was right up my alley. Having started my journalism career in print back in the 1990s, I had learnt the craft in the typical and traditional setting of a broadsheet daily newspaper before moving on to work in TV and broadcast journalism in general both in Germany and Australia for well over a decade. I had experienced journalism at every level and across all media, in commercial and public, as well as recently in religious institutions, from the line to senior executive levels. What is more, my (still not completed) PhD thesis struggles with a very abstract but (in my view) crucial aspect of journalism: its epistemology, the question of how journalism knows what it knows and then shares with the world, in the process producing a public sphere (or contributing to it), hopefully providing some checks and balances for society.

Exposing the false idol

For my presentation, I had decided to focus on two aspects the digital communications revolution has brought about –– points that affect communications in general and journalism in particular: firstly, the de-professionalisation of the craft at a time when we need quality journalism more than ever; and secondly, the opportunities this provides for communication, especially for Church communication – after all, a field on the defensive in an often hostile secular setting, but paradoxicaly blessed with arguably the best “product” anyone could ever hope for: the literally good news of the Gospel.

Now, apart from a bunch of great practical possibilities the ongoing revolution provides, I was going to argue that an important but also risky opportunity had arisen: to expose the false idol of primitive objectivity with which – since early modernity – the press had obfuscated and at the same time reified its social legitimacy.

Exposing this false idol was risky in the sense that if we (Catholic communicators) were not going to do so – and use this window of opportunity to professionalise and legitimise a “Catholic” (in inverted commas!) journalism and communication – then it would be closed on us. This would have dire consequences, given that we live in a time where even the basic Catechesis in the Faith is happening in the media, as Cardinal Dolan had pointed out in his opening address at the conference.

Three concrete suggestions

After an excellent presentation by the author and journalist Matthew Bunson (more on this in a separate post), I launched into my own talk. And everyting progressed really well – till about half way through the presentation, I realised that the somewhat abstract problem of this false idol really was far too complex and abstract for the setting of this seminar. I soldiered on, simply stating the conclusions of my research and finishing with three concrete suggestions:

Firstly, I believe we should specialise and re-professionalise. In secular culture, knowledge of the truths, beauty and simple facts of our Faith are less and less part of common knowledge. Expertly and professionally sharing the splendours – and also the less dazzling  aspects – of how our faith is expressed in prayers, liturgy, but also acts of charity (and what it provides to those that believe!), is not just imbued with the joy of the gospel, but powerful storytelling and potentially fantastic journalism: credible, authentic – and real, not just objective.

Secondly, let us engage and educate. Being knowledgeable and communicate well about our Faith and its expression in the works of the Church, the works of charity, and so on, is one part; the other is to engage audiences wherever they are. Who is helping cradle Catholics by informing them about the Church and what we believe – rather than letting them get that information from secular media, as – I would guess – more than 90% do? Which Catholic media outlet today is talking to the many millions of Muslim migrants amongst us, for instance? I believe this is part of the Catholic journalist’s job description.

Thirdly and finally, I am convinced that none of these suggestions, or other attempts we might tackle, will bear fruit if they are not informed and imbued by our own connection to God through an active participation in the sacraments and a regular, active prayer life. Too many Catholic journalists, myself included, write more about the Church then they pray or participate in and with her. However, it is that objectivity that we need: of the interior life, our relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.

Christian Mendoza, Matthew Bunson, José Maria LaPorte and yours truly
Christian Mendoza, Matthew Bunson, José Maria LaPorte and yours truly

Images taken by students of the university, (C) 2014 Pontificia Università della Santa Croce. A full gallery of  can be found here.

Disclosure: I was one of the invited speakers at the conference. The university paid for my travel and accommodation.

“Clearly, confidently, joyfully”: 7 rules for journalists

Image
“Here is a man who pulls no punches”, the person next to me said. We sat in the auditorium of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, together with dozens of other participants. As we watched the big American walk up to the microphone flashing his trademark smile I must admit, I was sceptical: was Cardinal Timothy Dolan really going to call the proverbial spade a spade whilst wading into the complexities of Catholic journalism, whatever that is?
Three sentences into the Archbishop of New York’s presentation, however, I was impressed. This man is not just a straight shooter. He is highly intelligent and funny, passionate with the love of Jesus Christ. Over the next three days of the seminar  “Church Communications: Creative Strategies for Promoting Cultural Change“, speakers from around the world kept coming back to his points in their presentations – myself included (more on my own talk in a separate post this week).
So what did the Archbishop say? I jotted down the following observations the Cardinal offered – these are more or less verbatim what his Eminence had to say:
  1. We need a real sense of professionalism – how we say something is just as important as what we say. Communication continues the incarnation: The word made flesh. Others are more intentional and professional than we are.
  2. We are never afraid to tell the truth. Even if we are dealing with bad news. Utter honesty and transparency is expected. people want to hear it first from us. Not from the media. Be proactive in the truth.jpii always said  be not afraid . We should be neither. Church is never afraid of the truth. Also applies to good news…journos always ask me about the olds rather than the news – examples of interviews with TV journalists
  3. Every communication outlet has a bias, a slant. We should have our own bias. It must be pro Church. Pointlessly criticising the magisterium and the bishops has no place in Catholic media. This does not mean thinly veiled clericalism! Bishops need and deserve criticism, but it must be fair and civil, not knee-jerk reactions. Share the joy and beauty of being a Catholic. Most Catholics that get their news from the Catholic media look for both information and formation from it.
  4. We should not stereotype the media either. Always respond cleanly and in a civil manner. Those seeking to harm the church are a minority. Most are looking for access and information. If we hide they turn to others, often those that do want to criticse the church. I recently learned a Jewish concept which in Hewbrew is called “Anivut”. This is the term for a soft answer to a harsh challenge. It denotes humility, forbearance and quiet calm. Jesus our model sure did have it. Pope Francis is an example of it. Let us act accordingly.
  5. We must bear in mind the need to always be catechetical. Dogma matters! We can not underestimate peoples lack of knowledge of our faith.  Even the most simple and elemental points are misunderstood by average Catholics. We must clearly, confidently, joyfully, succinctly, simply, explain our faith. Catechesis nowadays happens in the media. We need to look for teachable moments: Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, Christmas. Canonisations or a conclave. These are opportunities to explain our teaching. The day for just having “bald fat old bishops” to communicate the message is long gone – take Helen Alvaré  on the pro life message for instance. Or “Catholic Voices” on pope Benedict’s visit to the UK. When speaking to people about contentious issues, invite people beforehand, ask them to make suggestions, and always make sure you really do listen!
  6. Always put Jesus first. People hunger for meaning in their lives. Truth has a name and it is Jesus. “I have vowed never to give an interview without at least trying to mention the holy name of Jesus”. Never can you pass up an opportunity to evangelise or catechise.
  7. Know your audience. Know the powerful effect of media, in particular the new (social) media.
Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with most of what Cardinal Dolan had to say, I found his third and sixth point to be the most contentious and valuable, in particular also for German speaking Catholic journalists and communicators. There is a tendency amongst many of my German speaking colleagues – in particular those in employ of the Church – to conflate unfair criticism with a kind of “healthy suspiciousness”. Some colleagues even think they need to emulate those dominant elements of the public sphere that critique the Church and her bishops unfairly, cast aspersions of doubt about central tenets of our Faith and suffer from a profound lack of knowledge thereof at the same time.
Anyway; this is a complex and multi-faceted problem that I can not fully explore here. Suffice it say that I think the Cardinal may be hitting even more nails on the head than he may be aware of!
Image
Images taken by students of the university, (C) 2014 Pontificia Università della Santa Croce. A full gallery of pictures – including several of yours truly – taken during the conference can be found here.
Disclosure: I was one of the invited speakers at the conference. The university paid for my travel and accommodation.