Bishops on social media – still an uphill battle

Among the German-language bishops, the highest social media presence belongs to Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who reaches some 110,000 followers via his various social media accounts, as reported by the Archdiocese of Vienna. Obviously, the cardinal promptly went on Twitter to thank his followers for their “valuable and critical reactions” to what he shares.

Other active social media bishops are Stefan Oster of Passau (16,594 followers), Wilhelm Krautwaschl of Graz-Seckau (6,882 followers) and Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen (4,479 followers).

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.This made me wonder: how do the bishops of the Dutch language area compare? Not that favourably, actually. Of the 18 bishops in the Netherlands and Flanders (I haven’t counted the emeriti), only five have any social media presence. Those five all use Facebook, one also uses Twitter and a third one adds Instagram. Their reach is also much smaller than that of their German speaking brethren, but that is easily explained by the size of the Dutch language area.

IMG-p06Mgr.DeJong-2402_cropped-60-281-231-3-0Topping the list is Bishop Everard de Jong (pictured), the auxiliary bishop of Roermond. He has 5,000 friends on his personal Facebook page, and a further 782 followers on his Instagram account.

Number 2 is the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. Cardinal Jozef De Kesel is followed by 2059 on Facebook. Including him among the Dutch-speaking bishops is a bit of a cheat, as he posts in both Dutch and French.

Bishop Jan Hendriks, the coadjutor bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, who is also the single Dutch bishop with a blog, has a combined 1,726 followers on Twitter and his two Facebook accounts.

Bruges’ Bishop Lode Aerts boasts 1,636 followers on Facebook.

Number five, then, is Bishop Luc Van Looy of Ghent, who has 1,607 people on his Facebook page. He also has a personal account there, which does not reveal the number of friends he has there.

Despite the efforts of the five prelates above, the bishops in the Netherlands remain very hesitating in their use of social media. Traditional media is used, especially in writing, and a number of bishops actively contribute to the websites of their respective dioceses. But like visual media, social media is generally seen is something “not for them”. This may be a generational thing, of course, but dioceses also have communication teams who can post on their behalf. This is fairly common in other parts of the world. And at least one bishop seems open to it, despite his personal trepidation. Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden said in a 2017 interview:

“The diocese certainly participates in social media, but it’s not for me.” He takes an old Nokia from his pocket. “As long as the battery still works, this is fine for me. The next model will probably be an iPhone so that I can also use WhatsApp. I lag a bit behind. We are looking for a new communications advisor. If he or she thinks it a good idea for me to start tweeting, I will seriously consider it.”

Well, let’s hope that the communications advisors of the various dioceses have an eye for social media trends abroad. Using modern forms of media makes one more visible, certainly among younger generations (and not even the youngest anymore), who are increasingly leaving the traditional media behind. Increased visibility in a time where the role of the Church, faith and religion is diminishing will help in making the Good News known.

Photo credit: [2] Nederlands Dagblad

Advertisements

The challenge of dialogue – Pope Francis’ first Communications Day Message

Pope Francis released his first Message for World Communications Day today, and while the day itself won’t dawn until 1 June, tomorrow’s feast day of St. Francis de Sales is the traditional date for the release of the Message. Well, we’re only one day early…

world communications day

The Message is quite Franciscan in its content, repeating some of the things he has stated before and containing a clearly-worded challenge for all involved in the media in general, but specifically in Catholic media.

“We have to be able to dialogue  with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and  hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who  died and rose to free us from sin and death.  We are challenged to be people of  depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.  To  dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and  to entertain his or her point of view and perspective.  Engaging in dialogue  does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they  alone are valid or absolute.”

The dialogue needs to be the next step to take as Catholic communicators. Of course, there will be some who will take Pope Francis’ words in exactly the way he tells us not to: as if we should not hold on to the truths of the faith in our relations and communication with others. But this truth does not always necessarily coincide with our own ideas and desires. It is good to try and make that distinction.

Read the full Message via the link above or in my Dutch translation.

The communications issue

In his recent comments on Pope Benedict’s announced abdication, Bishop Gerard de Korte also reacted to the media reporting on this subject. He wrote:

dekorte2“These days it is once again striking how carelessly and  without knowledge of facts the various commentators speak about Benedict. In my opinion the fact that most newspapers and broadcasters no longer employ journalists that specifically follow Church life becomes clear here. Sometimes provocative oneliners are connected to each other and an unbalanced judgement is made.”

I think this is a correct assessment of the facts, but it points to a deeper reality: apparently most media no longer consider it worthwhile to have professional employees with in-depth knowledge about matters of religion contribute to their publications. Religion is not considered important or relevant enough to have staff writers for. And the result is something we saw virtually every day of the past week. Generally, the commentary and reports are left to people who are experts in other fields or, more frequently, to people who have an opinion they want to share.

roderick vonhögenEvery now and again, someone who does know the details about such matters is a guest in a  tv show or contributes a guest writer to a magazine or newspaper. But are these taken seriously? There were two incidents, both involving priests, that illustrate the gap between mainstream media and the reality of Church life. Father Roderick Vonhögen (pictured) was confronted with a barrage of verbal abuse and mockery in a very popular daily talk show, and Father Antoine Bodar expressed his anger at a very biased report on the Pope in a generally respected news show.

The fact that many media outlets will write about the Church and faith, but without employing staff who know their stuff, almost inevitably results in such confrontations. For most people, the media, especially those concerning itself with the news and honest interpretation of facts, is something that is almost automatically trusted as honest, objective and factual. For many, the idea that these media could be subjective, incorrect and biased simply does not occur.

And why should it? There is virtually no criticism, at least none that reaches more thana  few people. In my social media activities, I encounter enough of it, but that is because I follow many Catholic people and organisations. But how many people do likewise? On the whole not many, I would wager.

And that is the problem we need to confronting as Catholics, both as faithful and as Church. Our voices, our Catholic Voices, deserve to be heard, and they can. But we must work for it. It requires effort, input, time and, indeed, money. But most of all we need the willingness to contribute, the ability to take the time, to learn and to be factual, positive and honest about what we can bring: nothing less than the Good News of God. And that news, despite what others make of it, and what media choose to focus on, is positive. It represent, in fact, the best news, the best attitude and contribution to life and society, and it is so desperately needed in today’s world.