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Called a “zealous pastor” by Pope Benedict XVI, Giovanni Cardinal Cheli swapped the temporal for the eternal last night, after 94 years of life spent for the most part in service to “the Gospel and to the Church”. The College of Cardinals, of which Cardinal Cheli was a non-voting member, now number 209, with 118 of them electors.
Giovanni Cheli was born in Turin and was ordained for the Diocese of Asti in 1942, after obtaining a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University. In Asti, he worked as chaplain to the youth section of Catholic Action, and also taught at the diocesan seminary. In 1952, after a time working in Rome and earning a licentiate in theology, Fr. Cheli entered the diplomatic service of the Holy See in 1952.
His first posting was in Guatemala, followed by Spain and Italy. In Madrid, he performed pastoral work in addition to his duties in the nunciature. In 1967, Fr. Cheli was assigned to the Council for Public Affairs of the Church. In 1973, he became permanent observer to the United Nations, an assignment which was confirmed again in 1976. In 1978, he was once of the few bishops consecrated by Pope John Paul I. Archbishop was renowned as an expert on the Church’s issues in relations with the Communist nations.
Archbishop Cheli was appointed as Pro-President of the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, which would became a pontifical council in 1988, still under the leadership of Archbishop Cheli.
Shortly before his retirement in 1998, Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal, with the deaconry of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Ten years later, Cardinal Cheli became a cardinal priest with the same title church.
Outspokenly critical on many issues, Cardinal Cheli protested the US invasion of Iraq in 2001, the age limits for cardinals and some of the curial appointments of Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Cheli was among the five oldest cardinals of the Church.
Twice today did unexpected statements from Church leaders make headlines, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Cologne’s Cardinal Meisner was deceived into stating that the morning after pill would be allowable in some cases, or so a leading physician claimed. And the Pontifical Council for the Family’s Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia (pictured) spoke against discrimination of homosexuals and the rights of those who live together in other ways that marriage, which was picked up by some as if it was some major change in Church teaching. Archbishop Paglia also stated that his words were manipulated.
While many media undoubtedly have an agenda in reporting on the Church and what she teaches, I think this also points towards a problem that still exists in Church communication, both on the global and the local levels: We simply are not clear enough.
Archbishop Paglia’s situation certainly points in that direction, while Cardinal Meisner’s is more a case of acting on incorrect information. In both cases, however, we may speak of communication gone wrong. Whether the miscommunication is based on misinformation or a lack of clarity is secondary.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the cardinal and the archbishop for their efforts to clarify Catholic teaching. I simply that more care is in order when such efforts are undertaken. Ours is a message that is quite specific and not always easily grasped in a headline or quote. If we want to share the Good News, we must not only take it into account, but also our audience, and that audience is one used to short sound bytes and catchy headlines. Careful academic expositions about some sensitive subject (such as contraception, sexuality or marriage) have their place and audience, but do not always, or rather rarely, translate well into the media
Instead of limiting ourselves to lamenting the state of modern media, we must make use of it. It is a tool that we too can, and should, use. And that use includes guarding ourselves against possible misinterpretation, having ways to efficiently correct media and audience if necessary, and having the knowledge available to communicate what is true.