SIR DAVID Calcutt's proposed statutory tribunal has fuelled an angry and predictable response from editors of quaiity and tabloid newspapers in the country. With the main protagonists of Camillagate foregoing their option for an investigation, however, the press will probably once again get a mere knucklerapping rather than the proper drubbing many of its readers would recommend. Lord Gilmour spoke for many when he intimated that we need freedom from the press as well as freedom of the press.
Lord Gilmour's words resound through the hallowed halls of ecclesiastical establishments, and nowhere do they find a more sympathetic echo than in the Catholic Church. How many priests and even diocesan officers are guilty of refusing a phone call from journalists be they representatives of the secular or religious press? How many, when confronted with a few questions from the media, have avoided the call or stonewalled the journalist? How many have hidden behind housekeepers or secretaries or behind the two words that for journalists are like a red rag to a bull: no comment.
This reticence, based on a plethora of prejudices (and aren't "prejudice" and "Catholic" an oxymoron?) build a thick wall of us-against-them attitudes. Where the clergy could view the press especially the religious press, familiar as it is with the basic tenets of the Catholic faith — as an ally, or indeed a humble tool in their mission of evangelisation. it chooses to take up a position of distant hostility.
This chasm between the men of the cloth and the Fourth Estate affects, of course, the faithful everywhere. The message of their Church, which the religious press could bolster. is left instead to be diluted by often conflicting reports between what the man at the altar says and what the man at the terminal writes. Where they could find elucidation of sometimes abstruse pronouncements in the religious media, the faithful often find only an echo to their own queries. Where they could be led by someone who has had the information and the time to assimilate the message of the latest conference, council or consultation, the faithful often find themselves blindly led by the blind.
But no one suffers more from this gap than the Church itself. Mystery may be part of the beauty of our Catholic faith. but mystery does not belong in the dialogue between laity and clergy. As soon as a cleric opts for silence or evasion, his move and his motive are interpreted by the press as a "sweeping under the carpet-. Out of this. a molehill becomes a mountain, a misdemeanor a rollicking great scandal.
In Communio et Progressio, the 1971 Vatican II document that spelled out the role of the Catholic press said that "the Catholic press.... can be marvellously effective in bringing a knowledge of the Church to the world and a knowledge of the world to the Church".
This is especially true in the case of a minority Church, such as the Catholic Church is in England. There are a great many men and women living, from Berwick to Brighton, who know very little about our Church, and whose vision of what we are about is gleaned from nuggets of tabloid mongering. They know James Gilbey is a Catholic but don't know who Mgr Gilbey is. They know Diana talks with Mother Teresa, but don't know what Mother Teresa does to live her faith.
Enter the religious press. Who better than the religious press to straighten out misconceptions, oiercome prejudice, dispel myths? Clerics everywhere share a mission: to spread the Good News. By keeping the religious press informed of this mission, priests and bishops could reach more souls more thoroughly than by remaining entrenched in their Garboesque isolation. Parish appeals, volunteers, those members of the religious community who set up a shelter for the homeless and ladle out soup and hope: these are examples of the Good News that the religious press could proudly proclaim to the world. And, too, the religious press could assist the endeavour by helping fundraise, or consciousness-raise, among more people than a priest or bishop alone could ever reach.