Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring?

A short while ago I wrote about my concerns about the Catholic voice in the media in the Netherlands. I especially focussed on the lack of unity and the tendency towards infighting which characterises the Catholic presence on  especially social media.

On Sunday, I was at the annual Catholic Youth Day in Den Bosch, where my concerns found some resonance and also an indication of the road towards a resolution. First there was  short conversation with Mr. Jeroen Goosen, director of Katholiek Nieuwsblad. Of course we briefly spoke about the tv appearance of that weekly’s editor Mariska Orbán de Haas, which sparked my initial blog post. And while I think that media training is a great asset for Catholics in the media, I also think that Mr. Goosen was right when he said that some media outlets are out to place the Church in a bad light, regardless of the intentions of what the person being interviewed brings to the debate.

Father Roderick Vonhögen later reminded me that it’s not merely about what we do, but that God works with us, literally. We are the tools He uses. And if He can work with me, who can’t He work with?

Lastly, there was the workshop I attended, organised by Amsterdam-based Leidenhoven College, about Catholic Voices. This initiative in the UK has managed to train Catholics for thoughtful, intelligent and positive media interventions and involvement on behalf and for the Church. This example is already being followed in several countries, and the Netherlands may soon be one of them. I think that Catholic Voices is just what we need. As I mentioned earlier, we have the talent and enthusiasm among Catholics in regular and social media. Over the course of Sunday and yesterday I have become increasingly enthusiastic about this, and I intend to try and do my part to contribute to what Catholic Voices aims to do.

Catholic Voices operates according to ten principles, organised in three sets, which are equally applicable in media settings as in social and family circumstances:

Set 1: core argument

1: Look for positive intention behind the criticism (reframing).

– Understand the case against the Church.
– Find the positive intention in the case (the concern that a person has in making the case).
– Agree with this positive intention.
– Start your response from here.

Set 2: Further content

2: Show, don’t tell. Use examples, not platitudes or slogans.
3: Think in triangles. Decide on three core points you wish to bring across in a conversation.

Set 3: Form

4: Shed light, not heat. Keep your calm, do not allow the conversation to turn angry.
5: People won’t remember what you said as much as how you made them feel. Making good points in an arrogant way won’t win people towards your side.
6: Be positive.
7: Be compassionate.
8: Check your facts, but avoid robotics. Don’t just list facts like an automaton.
9: It’s not about you. It’s not personal, and it’s about God and His Church.
10: Witnessing, not winning. Making your points should be your focus, not winning the debate.

Beyond the initial goal of providing a positive and well-rounded Catholic contribution to media debates, Catholic Voices in the UK soon became more. From their website:

CATHOLIC VOICES began with a single aim: to ensure that Catholics and the Church were well represented in the media when Pope Benedict came to the UK in September 2010. Inspired by that visit, it has become much more: a school of a new Christian humanism; and the laboratory of a new kind of apologetics.

Photo credit: Eric Masseus

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The Catholic voice

Yesterday I was thinking about how our Catholic voices appear in the media, and I can’t help but conclude that they don’t very well. After a television debate in which Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán de Haas (pictured) tried to defend the father-mother family construction, my Twitter page (and that of many others judging by her name being a trending topic for well into the net day) was inundated by, at best, critical comments about her performance and, at worst, serious personal attacks against her. And these did not only come from non-Catholic quarters. Most seriously, in my opinion, is the attack of self-styled Catholic media specialist Eric van den Berg, who was seemingly unable to present his possibly legitimate criticism without relishing in calling Mariska Orbán a “pearl-necklaced bitch” – a moniker admittedly coined by herself, but the use of which did set a certain tone.

I’m not writing this post to defend anyone. Criticism, after all, is not always bad, and can often be a helpful tool in bettering our conduct and performance. And when it comes to presenting our Catholic faith and the values we hold and consider important, we must learn from what critics level against us.

I am using “us” for a reason, because when it comes to situations like the one I outlined above, there is no visible sense of “us” among Catholics active in the media, in whatever form. Rather, we too often relish in the attack, personal or otherwise.

As Catholics we have something to say. But do we succeed in doing so? The Catholic voice in the media, social or otherwise, should be more unified and willing to offer constructive criticism. If someone fails in making the case that should be made, for whatever reason, there should be an effort in charitably correcting the mistakes, coupled with an openness in the other party to accept criticism.

When I consider the Catholics who are active in the media, on television, in newspaper, but also on the Internet, I see much potential in creativity, knowledge, bravery (which is sometimes indeed needed) and enthusiasm. But all that doesn’t always translate very well into the wider world of our secular society. Platforms like a television program which is a daily staple of many viewers, a major newspaper, but also new media that we ourselves can build, manage and develop, deserve a charitable and intelligent Catholic presence – charitable among ourselves and to others.

“No need for discussion”

Impression of the March for Life in Washington DC

In the week that Catholics in the United States march for life, a minor pro-life/abortion discussion erupts among Dutch Catholics and others on Twitter. Several political parties have made proposals about lowering the maximum age of unborn children being killed through abortion. Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán-de Haas – who has made quite a splash in the (social) media since her appointment – makes no secret of her pro-life attitude, going so far as to personally address politicians about their opinions and actions against life. Bishop de Jong’s letter to all members of parliament was the first major trigger of that.

Today, she addressed former GreenLeft head Femke Halsema on the topic. The political left prides itself on tolerance and openness, but today, in the voice of Halsema, shows its other side.

Femke Halsema

Mrs. Orbán-de Haas was joined by others in addressing Ms. Halsema about her anti-life attitude, and while I can understand that that may come across as some sort of attack (although a politician should be used to that), the response was firmly unsatisfactory: “No need for discussion”.

In a nation where abortion is increasingly considered as a right and a normal part of health care, there is most certainly a need for discussion, especially when that country and its leaders pride themselves on their tolerance.

Pope’s life vigil homily online and translated

The pope’s homily at the vigil for all nascent human life, held last Saturday, is now available online. NCR has the Engish translation, and I have a Dutch one. Particularly timely in the light of a small resurgence in pro-life debate in the Netherlands (in the wake of Bishop de Jong’s letter to all Dutch MPs, the initiative was then enthusiastically taken up by Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán), the homily is workmanlike, as Father Z put it; the pope makes his points clearly and unashamedly.

Again paraphrasing Msgr. Chaput, the good Archbishop of Denver: Forget the media headlines, just read the pope.

Sadly I was unable to attend the vigil offered in the cathedral of my diocese. Instead I was two dioceses over, in Oldenburg in the diocese of Münster. The local church, St. Peter’s in the city centre, sadly offered nothing in the way of prayer or celebration, at least not when I was there. I’d be interested to find how well (or poorly) attended the vigils across the Netherlands were. All cathedrals held them, and a number of parishes, seminaries and rectorates did the same.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Something rotten

There is plenty going on among Catholics in the Netherlands, but I wonder if I have much to contribute to it via this blog.

First there are the developments that followed Bishop de Jong anti-abortion letter (which I discussed here earlier), which now mainly revolves around liberal politician Jeanine Hennis and Katholiek Nieuwsblad editor Mariska Orbán. Mrs. Hennis was among the more vocal politicians to negatively respond to the bishop’s letter, and yesterday Mrs. Orbán sent a public letter to Mrs. Hennis trying to explain her anti-abortion position. More things happened, but that’s the long and short of it. The essence of the issue, the practice of abortion, is now completely swamped with emotional responses and thoughtless behaviour from letter-writers and online Catholics alike. It’s once more what the Catholic blogosphere does best: arguing and infighting.

I think I can be excused for not wanting to be associated with that too much.

The other big issue, that of the infighting in the Dutch Latin Liturgy Society, seems to be more a case of egos than of anything substantial. There are vague accusations being thrown about of mismanagement, and threats of sharing the whole internal communication of the past year with the wide world. Also not something to be applauded for its ethical merits.

Apparently everything needs to be as public as possible. Maybe there’s a misguided sense of ‘the public have a right to know’. Well, as far as internal processes, be they positive or negative, go, I do not need to know it all. Instead, I trust that those responsible do their work, and do not need me, as Joe Public, to hold their hand and give them my blessing every step of the way.

Public sharing of things, of important issues, is a good thing. But not everything is important enough to be shared. There is such a thing as private communication.