Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

June 16, 2007

COMMUNICATE, how to; how not to

From the graffiti on the walls of the ancient catacombs in Rome to the Gutenberg printing press and the electronic transmission of texts and images via satellite, the means of communication have taken a thousand and one forms to transmit facts and the ideas, feelings, opinions, and judgments of one mind to the minds of others, individually, to selected groups, or to the public at large. Along the wide spectrum of communication activity, the delivery of the messages of the Christian gospel and of the role of the Church has a prominent place.

Effective communication involves appropriate relationships between the speaker and listener and an understanding by both of the context of events and ideas in which the message is delivered. A recent issue of US News and World Report described how several US presidents had effectively delivered important messages in times of crisis: Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg and Second Inaugural speeches; Franklin Delano Roosevelt declaring that the “only thing to fear is fear itself”; Ronald Reagan at the Berlin wall with the Soviet Prime Minister, “Mr. Gorbachev, take down this wall”; and John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. At a time of crisis, these presidents recognized and understood how the tides of events and public opinion were running and seized the moment to communicate effectively.

Protestant theologian Henry Nelson Wieman wrote that poor communication results from a failure of right relationships as occurs when communication is manipulative, deceptive, or repetitive. The presidential examples above show none of these faults. In our beloved Church, examples are manifold of effective communication of the Christian gospel truths going back to the Nicene Creed. But in more peripheral matters, while effective communication generally carries the day, examples occur frequently that show the qualities criticized by Wieman.

After the sex abuse crisis exploded in early 2002, the American cardinals were summoned to Rome to report on the scandal. On April 23, John Paul II addressed the cardinals and, among other matters, stated, “In addressing the problem of abuse…, the Church will help society to understand and deal with the crisis in its midst”! This at a time when it was society through the press, trial lawyers, and district attorneys that had uncovered the problem and had helped the Church to address it. John Paul II simply did not understand the problem nor its context. This was made abundantly clear when he subsequently appointed Cardinal Law to a prestigious church in Rome with a six figure salary after being driven from Boston by his priests and people as the poster boy of secretly reassigning miscreant priests. Although an excellent communicator otherwise, John Paul II did not communicate effectively in this instance.

Accounts of the sudden death of the first John Paul described an edifying death scene: a rosary in his hands a devotional book by his side. Subsequently, candid reports described a more normal death scene without the devotional accoutrements. The first communication was deceptive and manipulative.

Our Church must deliver the message that abortion is morally sinful. But there are preachers in our Church who bring the right to life issue into almost every Sunday sermon. Other church publications appear overly preoccupied with the issue. Effective communication does not take place because the message has become repetitious.

Wieman is on to something. Effective communication will not be effective if it is manipulative, deceptive, or repetitious.