I do not endorse the ideas presented in either piece, but it does remind me of a conversation I had with a priest yesterday about the way in which the media (and hence our society as a whole) sees the Catholic Church as beurocratic and authoritarian. I had just had reason to revisit the 1964 encyclical of Pope Paul VI Ecclesiam Suam in which he proposes a new way of communication with the world, namely dialogue.
In this encyclical, Pope Paul discusses the different modes of communication that are appropriate to different audiences. He writes:
But it seems to Us that the sort of relationship for the Church to establish with the world should be more in the nature of a dialogue, though theoretically other methods are not excluded. We do not mean unrealistic dialogue. It must be adapted to the intelligences of those to whom it is addressed, and it must take account of the circumstances. Dialogue with children is not the same as dialogue with adults, nor is dialogue with Christians the same as dialogue with non-believers. But this method of approach is demanded nowadays by the prevalent understanding of the relationship between the sacred and the profane. It is demanded by the dynamic course of action which is changing the face of modern society. It is demanded by the pluralism of society, and by the maturity man has reached in this day and age. Be he religious or not, his secular education has enabled him to think and speak, and conduct a dialogue with dignity.
Of course, today (as indeed the publication of Bishop Dowling’s “off the record” speech demonstrates) anything said to one audience is instantly made available to audiences everywhere and of every kind. So what is said in one context finds itself in many contexts.
The Church has many different ways of communicating. One long standing and indeed apostolic mode is that of “proclamation”: truth is proclaimed and taught AS truth, and the hearers are invited to accept and receive it. This happens in homilies (be they by parish priests or by popes), and it happens in circumstances where the audience is reasonably expected to hear and receive it as Truth – for eg. in the exercise of the formal teaching office of the Magisterium.
Dialogue, in which I am daily involved, involves a different approach, where we speak of our experience and our perceptions of truth, and invite a dialogue with those who have different experiences and perceptions, remaining open to hearing and understanding the dialogue partner as well.
The point is that anything said anywhere by anyone in the Church today will very probably be heard by many who cannot distinguish proclamation from dialogue, or the original context in which something is said. I for one speak differently when I am teaching from how I speak when I am in dialogue. I am thinking even of pastoral letters of bishops, which may be addressed to the faithful, but which are, by their public nature, going to be read and heard by many others with many different backgrounds.
So I am wondering: how do we make room for the Church to do that which she must do – ie. proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and at the same time make it clear to the world who is hearing us that we are not closed to dialogue, but rather invite it and welcome it?