Bishops consider revamping their communications model

Bishop John C Wester 2 CNA US Catholic News 6 14 12 Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City encouraged his fellow bishops to make use of new communications methods in proclaiming the unchanging truths of the Catholic faith.

"The challenges of this moment in communications technology are a boundless opportunity for evangelization," he said, if the bishops are willing to both "speak and listen."

Bishop Wester observed that in an age of significant, rapid and ongoing change, "the world of newspapers has been turned upside down" and new devices are transforming "how we communicate."

"The truth of our faith has not changed," the chairman of the communications committee for the U.S. bishops' conference said.  "But the people of our dioceses are living in a new world."

Bishop Wester delivered a report at the spring general assembly of the bishop's conference, which was held June 13-15 in Atlanta, Ga. He explained that the bishops' communications committee has been examining how the New Evangelization should look in the modern world.

This involves identifying the best overall communications practices, developing digital content to meet the needs of different audiences and striving to build a "culture of innovation," he said.

Resources aimed at "Catholics living their vocations in secular environments" must make use of everyday language, symbols and practical applications, Bishop Wester explained.

This means that the bishops need to adopt a "new business model" for their communications work, he said.

"We all acknowledge that communication in the digital world goes both ways," he said. In the "age of transparency," online news and resources are expected to allow for readers to reply digitally.

While the bishops' conference will continue to produce print products, it will also make increasing use of video, e-books and the Internet, he noted.

Among the conference's efforts in this area is the launch of an e-book version of the Catechism and the building of a TV studio with the ability to receive a satellite feed from the Vatican. In addition, a new social network has been created exclusively for the bishops to share information among themselves.

The vital importance of communicating with major media outlets was also discussed during the meeting.

Bishop Wester said that the conference is "sharpening" its media relations efforts. As a part of that plan, the bishops are considering the possibility of choosing a spokesperson for the conference who is available for immediate comment on important issues.

This could be an important communications development, they emphasized, because every second counts in responding to important national events, and the current process required to issue a statement – which sometimes takes a day or two – is often too long.

In a world where the "new platforms of communications are continually shifting," the bishops cannot meet present and future challenges "without embracing a culture of innovation and experimentation in communications," stressed Bishop Wester.

He explained that while the paradigm shift may initially be uncomfortable, the Church can adjust to the new tools of the day, just as it did when film was introduced as a tool for evangelization.

"We have to be in the digital conversations, and we have to listen as well," he said.

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