The Church and social media

By: Hno. Jesús Bayo M. FMS

Comunicación Iglesia

1. Evangelization and social media
The risen Jesus gave his apostles the following command: “Go all over the world and proclaim the gospel to all people.” Spreading the Good News is the end of Christian preaching, and the media are excellent resources for the Church to fulfill her mission. For this reason, in the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension, the Church celebrates the World Day of Social Communication every year.
The general purpose of the media is to seek, express and convey the truth. That is, form opinion and inform reality. Truth and justice strengthen each other; justice and peace kiss, according to the happy expression of the prophet Isaiah. Truth, justice and peace are an expression of true human development and the common good. Social media has a serious responsibility to promote justice and truth, peace and the common good.
The end of the media is perverted when they spread lies rather than truths, when they use bribery and manipulation, when they emphasize evil in search of profit, fame, and power. The media does not fulfill its mission when it only gives bad news, hides good news and misrepresents the good, truth and beauty of the world and creation. Communicators, journalists and citizens generally have the right to exercise freedom of expression to generate public opinion, free from slander and premeditated lies that attack the dignity of the human person and against the common good.
The Church welcomes and encourages computer media and techniques that help communicate news, ideas, and doctrines. This is recognized by the Inter-Mirifica decree: “Among such inventions stand out those means that by their nature can reach and move each of the men, but the multitudes and the whole of human society, such as the press, film, radio, television and others like them, which can therefore rightly be called social media” (IM , n. 1)

2. Suspicions of the Pontifical Magisterium
in front of social media
The Ecclesial Magisterium has expressed varying degrees of support and recognition to the media, according to the different periods of history and changes in human society. During the Middle Ages the news and messages were transmitted through nuncios, messengers, troubadours and minstrel. Official versions of laws, customs and truths about dogmas and morality were not discussed. In Christianity society, the possibilities of social communication were very rare and social and religious identity was taken care of through censorship. It must be considered that freedom of expression was not thought of in this society as a universal right, nor was there a diversity of public opinions accepted in today’s society.
From the Renaissance, with the beginning of printing and the dissemination of writings that in the Middle Ages had been inaccessible to readers, the hierarchical Church showed certain fears and misgivings, therefore ecclesiastical censorship in the dissemination of religious and profane writings was increased.
With the Protestant Reformation, criticism of official versions increased, the Bible was translated into vernacular languages, and sacred texts were interpreted. In addition, the publication of critical works against princes and popes appeared. During the Enlightenment, anti-clerical writings and acervas criticisms were disseminated to the kings who generated public opinion. The Church’s Magisterium showed misgivings and suspicions about freedom of expression, increased control, censorship, and condemnation. A risk and danger to the Christian faith were seen in the press and in the written media, sometimes confirmed by the attack and harassment of liberal and modernist currents on Catholic dogma and morality. The Popes also saw the danger that the press would use lying, manipulation, and defamation to denigrate truth and justice, which could take advantage of the enemies of the Church. This includes the position of the Popes during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Clement XIII (1758–1769) in the encyclical Christianae reipublicae salus (25 November 1766), criticizes freedom of expression, alluding that, under this principle, the foundations of the Christian religion are attacked.
Pius VII (1800–1823) also expresses his suspicion at freedom of expression and the translation of the Bible into vulgar languages. In the Apostolic Letter Posttam dicitum (May 18, 1814) he expressed his fears about press freedom and the free interpretation of the Bible.
Gregory XVI (1831–1846) pointed out in the encyclical Mirari vos arbitramur (August 15, 1832) the danger of press freedom because it allowed the spread of errors, indifference and attacks on the Christian faith and good customs.
Pio IX (1846–1878) in the encyclical Nostris et nobiscum (December 8, 1849) denounced press freedom, denounced the translation and dissemination of the Bible and its free interpretation without ecclesial approval. In Quanta cura and silabo (1864) he spoke out against modernism, liberalism and freedom of expression, worship and public opinion because of the risk of spreading doctrinal and moral errors.

3. Acceptance and valuation
social media
At the end of the nineteenth century, lay laws were implemented in the new states and a new style of civil society was formed. The Church appreciated the concern of modern States in fostering the common good from lay freedom and autonomy. The Popes also recognized freedom of expression, free association, worship, teaching and public opinion. Concern about social problems was incorporated into the ecclesial magisterium in a positive without reactive way.
Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Et si Nos (December 15, 1882) wisely indicated that the press in the hands of irresponsible people can do harm, but when used with responsibility, it does well. It suggests the creation of the Catholic press and advises Christians to cultivate freedom of expression wisely. In 1888, the encyclical Libertas praestansimus recognized freedom of worship, conscience, teaching and the press. All freedom has its limits, but there are questionable issues in which each can express his own opinion to generate social agreements, based on diversity, in solving complex problems. This pope himself will address the many social problems of his time in the emblematic encyclical Rerum novarum (1891).
After Leo XIII, all the Popes have valued the media and used them prudently, depending on the time they lived.
Pius X (1903-1914) valued the press, radio and film as means of training and information.
Benedict XV (1914-1922) gave a remarkable impetus to the press. After World War I, he welcomed the media and tried to take advantage of them for the restoration of peace and the dissemination of truth.

Pius XI (1922-1939) valued the Catholic press; invited to use it in a responsible and organized manner. Pius XII (1939-1958) frequently employed radio message, and was the first Pope to use television. He conceived the idea of creating an ecclesial social media commission to analyze the problems of the press, film, radio and television. In addition to the Vatican station, several dioceses created a radio station to disseminate their messages and information.
John XXIII (1958-1963), in the encyclicals Mater et magistra (196l) and Pacem in terris (1963), noted the importance of social media to the Church and society.
The Second Vatican Council adopted the Inter-Mirifica decree on social media on 4 December 1963, together with the sacrosanctum concilium constitution, on liturgy. They were the first two council documents to be approved, which denoted their importance and urgency. The Council addressed all social problems in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes (cf. GS, 63-72).
Paul VI (1963-1978) empowered and facilitated the action of journalists in the Church, and used radio and television to convey their messages. He created the Pontifical Commission for Social Media and established the World Day of Social Communications which is celebrated in the Solemnity of Ascension. He published the pastoral instruction Communio et progressio (1971), an ecclesial magna letter of communication, which follows the guidelines of the Inter-Mirific decree of Vatican II. This mandatory reference document was drafted with input from experts worldwide.
John Paul II (1978-2005) promoted social media during his pontificate, including the Code of Canon Law promulgated by him in 1983 and reflects its importance. On 22 February 1992, he created the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, an extension of the commission already in place since Paul VI. He published the Pastoral Letter Aetatis novae (1991) on these media on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Communio et progressio instruction.
Benedict XVI (2005-2012) addressed the importance of social media in the Apostolic Exhortation Caritas in veritate (2009), where he acknowledges that the world today cannot be imagined without its presence (cf. CV, 73). It indicates that these means should be focused on promoting the dignity of the person and the common good, oriented to the service of truth, good and fraternity. Pope Francis (2012) in Evangelii Gaudium (2013) points out the importance of dialogue and communication for evangelization.
The Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, at all CELAM general conferences have considered the importance of the media, as we can see in the documents of Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979), Santo Domingo (1992), Aparecida (2007). All the Bishops of America value the means of communication at the service of truth and ecclesial mission. To the extent possible, each diocese seeks to use these means and technologies for communication within and outside the Church, at the service of communion and evangelization.

4. Some ecclesial challenges
new information technologies
Today we are witnessing a fluid, complex and polyedric communication system. Blogs and social networks are very important meeting and dissemination spaces with a powerful capacity for information, but also of misinformation and confusion. More and more users-producers of information, which has increased popular participation in communicative dynamics. The mass media also receives the echo in personal media, so it urges the inclusion of all in this social dialogue, so that they can express themselves accountably and freely.
Today’s information world is cross-cutting, multi-mediated, computerized, immediate, virtually uncontrollable, ephemeral and fast. This mode of communication creates a new culture that influences the contemporary mentality. The new media is being assumed in the contexts of communication for development: strategic and organizational communication is a contributing factor to the progress of communities, protagonists of their own transformation.
We are called to be salt and light, to promote a culture “of respect, of dialogue, of friendship”, capable of generating greater justice, peace and solidarity through digital communication. We are in the so-called “network-society”. This has more strongly launched the concept of “social networks” and the consideration of human groups as networks of interconnected nodes that communicate with each other.
To Christians this image of the network evokes another much deeper and more vital one: the Church as a body, the mystical Body of Christ (cf. 2Cor 12.4-21). Communication is for the promotion of communion in the living organism of the Church. We must express and promote it from within communities. The internal communication of our communities is an aspect that we must take care of. We are called to be effective communicators and bearers of Christ in digital culture. It is therefore a priority task to ensure that the body is well connected and to reduce the digital divide in the Church.
CELAM and the Pontifical Council for Communications have, for years, promoted the Church’s Computer Network in Latin America (RIIAL) and its institutions of continental services. RIIAL has as its priority “to reach the last”, even the most isolated communities. It’s not just about having technology, it’s about generating an authentic, communion-oriented digital culture.
Another project created by the Pontifical Council together with CELAM, SIGNIS, CAMECO and other institutions is the www.intermirifica.net portal, aimed at fostering the bonds of mutual knowledge between Catholic communication initiatives. It is the first global online ecclesial directory of Catholic radio, television and audiovisual production initiatives. For example, according to illustrative data emerging from the Intermirifica.net directory, we know that in Brazil there are more than 180 Catholic radios, there are about 200, in Cuba there are none.

5. The deacon of communication
and culture in the “court of the Gentiles”
To be today “church on the way out” and “missionaries inter-people” we must be disciples. It is a paradox that, in the culture of communication, our first task is to shut up and listen. We must contemplate in depth the divine mystery and devote time and space to be with the Lord who is the Word of life. Alone with him and in an ecclesial community we can fill ourselves with his love and mercy.
The early Christians did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda that should serve to increase the group itself, but as an intrinsic necessity that derived from the nature of their faith and testimony. The God they believed in was the one true God who had shown himself in the history of Israel and finally in his Son, thus giving the answer he considered to all and which, in his intimacy, all men expected.
We must also listen to our contemporaries. Most people seek support points in the midst of the fleeting, yearn for perennial truths, not infre sfreezingly applying only the forces of their reason. This path is not wrong, if it is traveled with sincerity and humility, for it leads to the frontier of the Mystery. Finding God, and letting yourself be found for Him, is the vocation of every person; the Church exists to facilitate this encounter. The Church must assume digital pastoral care to show people of our time that God is close, that through Christ we all belong to each other and are networked. Digital pastoral care is a form of service to culture in this unique, multipolar digital continent that is the globalized world.
Our mission as communicators should make it easier for everyone to recognize their dignity. Ecclesial media must promote social justice and solidarity, but this is not enough. They must also explicitly proclaim the gospel and create spaces for encounter and dialogue in the areopago of the web. In Wifi spaces, “meeting tents” and “open temples or shrines” should be opened for crowds to enter and find a place of peace. They can be new courtyards of the Gentiles and sacred thresholds where everyone has access, even those who seek the unknown God.
Ecclesial communication should be a welcoming place to be able to listen and express itself freely. Communication is first and foremos s. an act of love and service. Our listening must lead to service to people according to their own culture. As disciples and missionaries we must perform this service of communicators in the field of culture and faith out of love for our contemporaries.
Communication in the Church must have its own style, expression of respect for people, openness to dialogue and social friendship. Our message is Good News for the poor and the weak, it crosses the ideological barriers and prejudices of any sign. We serve not a particular ideology but concrete people. We follow not a doctrine but a Person. We are the voice of who the Word is, and we reflect the light and colors of who is the Image of the invisible God. We are spokesmen for Christ.
Our evangelizing service from communications recognizes the action of the Holy Spirit who touches hearts, comes to the aid of our weakness and cures our diseases. The Spirit produces fruits of peace, joy and love. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall attain mercy” (Mt 5:6-7). Ω

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