Tale of Two Bishops - and Images of Church
Perhaps it is a matter of culture or church tradition or simply of personality. Whatever the reason, the Vatican's handling of the ongoing speculation about Pope John Paul's health has both tarnished the church's image and hurt its credibility.
For months, as the pope's health has visibly deteriorated, and as the tremors in his left hand increased, public interest and concern have grown.
Vatican officials responded by saying virtually nothing, or, when obliged to comment, obfuscating the reality, to the point at times of seemingly toying with the media. As a result, it is now not uncommon, during television and radio broadcasts on the pope, to hear the commentator trotting out phrases like "the shroud of Vatican secrecy prevails." In the print media, meanwhile, stories carry headlines such as "Doubts about the pope's health persist."
Such doubt and incredulity do not mix well with the message and mission the church ought to stand for.
This pope knows much about modern communications. He has used the media marvelously during numerous papal visits to spread his messages. He has published books, plays, poetry, and spoken about the need for the church to utilize all the new computer and other technologies on behalf of the church's mission. The Vatican certainly understands how modern communications can work effectively on behalf of the church. The church leaders know well that a media vacuum inevitably gets filled with speculation or misinformation. This speculation and guesswork upsets the Vatican, which is quick to point angry, accusing fingers at the press.
Contrast these antagonisms with the way the church and media have worked together in Chicago reporting Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's health.
In June 1995 before and after a cancer operation, a team of physicians met with the media, armed with diagrams and pointers. They spoke candidly of how they removed the cardinal's right kidney and 40 percent of his pancreas. They spoke of survival odds based on past experience. The openness was reassuring even when the news was not all that good.
A year later, Bernardin, within hours of learning his cancer had returned, called a news conference Aug. 30 to share the information with Chicago Catholics and beyond. Bernardin rightly recognized that his medical condition has bearing on the lives of millions of Catholics. …