The extraordinary Synod of Bishops is over; it’s now something for the Catholic history books. But far too many faithful Catholics — quite a few of whom continue to email me — are asking the same questions: Namely, what the heck happened, and why did that now infamous relatio document have to be released in the first place if it was nonbinding and meant nothing in the long run? Either it was another major public relations faux pas on the part of the Vatican, or the release of the skewed document — as more than one synod father described it — was purposely put out there to allow for exactly what happened: mass confusion over core Church teaching.
With the ordinary synod and the World Meeting of Families less than a year away, I want to give our Church leaders the benefit of the doubt and hope they realize their obvious information blunders and take a really close look at protocol and media relations in hopes of preventing another similar disaster.
If I were Vatican press queen for even a day, I would sit down with the synod organizers and question whether the release of a nonbinding report is necessary or helpful. After all, anyone who knows anything about Church history knows that these types of gatherings can be pretty messy.
Just think about the Council of Nicaea for example, when St. Nicholas slapped a fellow bishop in his defense of the divinity of Christ. And while core Church teachings can’t be changed, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are — and have been — factions at work trying to get the Church to conform in many ways to the world.
Now these discussions, some of them obviously pretty heated, are spread across the world in a split second thanks to our media-saturated culture. I am not suggesting cancelling news briefings, but given the lack of catechesis throughout the past 40-plus years, combined with a mass media that is generally ignorant of Church operations and bias against our core beliefs, is it really necessary to air all the dirty laundry? Shouldn’t we have tried to protect the faithful rather than confuse them even further?
How many of us have had to defend and explain Church teaching since the barrage of headlines during and after the recent synod?
Recently, right after the conclusion of the synod, a very astute mom provided a great analogy. She explained that while she is very close to her children, she and her husband don’t find it necessary to include them in on every single conversation concerning the family. They don’t have to know everything all the time. Amen to that.
With my tiara still intact, I would also review the overall process when it comes to releasing information. Who is driving this bus anyway? Despite the number of experts I have interviewed over the past few weeks, I still haven’t received a clear answer to questions regarding procedure, and I find that utterly shocking.
Despite the fact that the release of the midterm summaries is apparently standard operating procedure during synods, some of the participants were surprised — yes, surprised! — by its release.
Even more importantly, as Cardinal Wilfrid Napier explained, the media saw the relatio before the bishops had a chance to review it.
Not that Pope Francis or anyone else in Rome is asking for my opinion, but as someone who has spent her life steeped in the news media and media relations, my suggestion would be that when it comes to releasing information at the next synod, as they say in the fashion world, less is definitely more.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.