“The result is both a latent suspicion of Church authorities and a lack of a felt need to know what the Church is saying about social or spiritual matters, two primary reasons to read the Catholic press,” he commented.
The decline of Catholic identity is shown in the greater likelihood of Catholics moving to Protestant or non-denominational churches. “They view all churches as more or less the same,” he said. The lack of knowledge of the faith has led in turn to an inability to distinguish what is truly unique about the faith. This also means that there is less of an impulse to seek out Catholic-identified books and publications.”
Turning to positive developments, Erlandson noted that the internet allows the Catholic press to reach a diverse audience in a cost-effective way. There is “significant and growing” Catholic use of the internet, with many websites and blogs.
“While usage of digital means of communications is constantly changing, more and more Catholics are accessible, at least in theory, through these means,” he said.
While it is “critically important” that Catholics receive sound information, the oversight of the Church does not work well for new media. Without accountability, Erlandson noted, there is a risk of “a Babel of voices claiming to be Catholic.”
Another positive aspect was Church leaders’ increasing awareness that most Catholics get their news about the Church from the secular media, an often unreliable source.
“My hope is that Church leaders are seeing that if they value their own media, and if they allow them to be transparent and honest, they will gain in credibility over the long haul. To do this well, however, will mean changing the media expectations of an institution that often sees its first responsibility to protect itself from bad news.”
Erlandson also saw the arrival of a new generation of Catholic editors, writers and publishers who understand their role in bolstering Catholic identity.
“This does not mean becoming mere propagandists, but it does mean becoming collaborators with the Church, recognizing that professional news coverage and solid features and special reports can genuinely help the adult faith formation of our Catholic audience,” he explained.
Cardinal Newman desired a laity who know their religion so well they can give an account of it, Erlandson said. So too must Catholic publishers need to shape an informed Catholic laity willing to engage the world and to value the Catholic press as a means of deepening their own understanding.
Hundreds of representatives from at least 85 countries are attending the four-day Catholic Press Conference, which is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCCS).
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