Two languages – Msgr. Tighe on the communication challenges of the Church

An interesting talk by Msgr. Paul Tighe (my translation), on the challenges of the Church in regards to the new media. The monsignor, who is the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, makes the point that new technologies not only change the means by which we communicate, but also the way we communicate. He calls it a “change of paradigm in the very culture of communication”. There are various other interesting topics and points in the text, among them the distinction between inward and outward languages, so do read it all, but I want to highlight a paragraph which is topical for us Catholic bloggers:

“Given the doubtful, and often anonymous, provenance of much of what appears in cyberspace, it becomes very easy for those who wish to deceive and manipulate to disseminate their views. The British philosopher Onora O’Neill has observed the serious social risks that result:

“If the media mislead, or if readers cannot assess their reporting, the wells of public discourse and public life are poisoned. The new information technologies may be anti-authoritarian, but curiously they are often used in ways that are also anti-democratic. They undermine our capacities to judge others’ claims and to place our trust.”

One common response to this phenomenon is that people turn only to sources of information and opinion that they judge to be trustworthy. This is a natural and understandable approach but it is not without risk. Often the judgement as to what sources are trustworthy is rooted in the person’s pre-established world view and serves only to confirm people in their opinions rather than leading to a real search for truth and understanding.

In the political arena, there is the risk that people will only engage with media that they know to support their particular views and they will not be exposed to alternative positions or to reasoned debate or discussion. This is turn will create increasingly polarized and confrontational forms of politics where there is little room for the voices of moderation or consensus.

A similar phenomenon is emerging in the world of Catholic media, especially in the blogosphere, where often it seems not enough for protagonists to propose their own views and beliefs but where they tend also to attack the arguments, and even the person, of those who disagree with them.

It is natural that debates about faith and morals should be full of conviction and passion, but there is a growing risk that some forms of expression are damaging the unity of the Church and, moreover, are unlikely to draw the curious and the seekers to a desire to learn about the Church and its message.”

Msgr. Paul Tighe has the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications since 2007. He was formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland.