It appears that those entrusted with damage control in the Roman Catholic Church do not recognize just how bad the damage is today. To make matters worse, they do not appreciate the power of modern Media, or its ability to manipulate the collective thoughts of a large number of people. It is bad enough that we have to deal with linguistic barriers in the Church, but to add insult to injury the representatives of the Church often do not have a unified message across the board, and thus allow the members of the media to shape the Church’s message. The result has been an ongoing stance of damage control, which is an understatement on many levels because the damage has become much greater than they realize. The damage that needs to be corrected flows from the catechetical illiteracy of at least three generations, which has left a large number of Catholics with a complete lack of understanding of what the Church actually Teaches. While the Church has masters of teaching, there is rarely a time when we see those same teachers demonstrating an appreciation of the sound bite world in which we live. At this point in history, these masters have to begin teaching from scratch, and stay away from attempting simplistic damage control by making public remarks.
If the Church is to make any corrections today, Her leaders must come to appreciate how those who control the media have contributed to the damage. Some years ago I did extensive research on the Social Learning Theory of Albert Bandura and the Cultivation Theory of George Gerbner. These two researchers examined the effects of media exposure, especially in large doses, and determined that media can and does influence a person’s worldview, and even their subsequent behaviors. While a greater development of these two brilliant theories is beyond the scope of this post, suffice to say that a steady stream of a consistent subliminal message does alter the way a person views a particular subject, and under the right conditions will change how that person acts in certain circumstances.
Their findings, in and of themselves, are a great contribution to the scientific community. But rather than using the findings to educate the public on the potential dangers of excessive media consumption, their followers have developed ways to use their discoveries to advance certain social agendas covertly. In this regard, there are many involved in the modern media production who understand how this process works, and have been using it for decades to manipulate the public perception on a variety of moral issues. For instance, in the 1990s and the early part of the new century, Dr. Jane Brown from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led a campaign to have social scientists advise Hollywood scriptwriters on the correct way of incorporating “safe sex” messages into their story lines. The goal was to expand the use of contraception by integrating vignettes of successful “safe sex” activities into television programs and other media, particularly those targeted at teens and young adults. There was also a parallel campaign aimed at the parents of these young men and women with the hopes of gaining parental support for their agenda. Without going into all of the data, suffice it to say that the campaign has been highly successful, and many people have come to believe that contraception and illicit sexual encounters are a good to be pursued.
With this in mind, it was clearly a mistake to release a poorly translated “working document” to the secular media because they will extract sound bites from it to support their agenda. Those in the media are not interested in reporting a whole story, only the part that suits their goals. For instance, in the weeks following 9/11, there were many reporters who were writing articles on the world left behind by those who died. At one point, a reporter from California, whose line of questions perplexed me and his frustrations at my answers became obvious, interviewed me at length about those who died. He did not ask me, a priest, anything about their faith lives or religious practices, only about certain lifestyle activities in the local community. Becoming impatient myself, I finally asked, “Exactly what quote do you need me to say? It appears you already have the article written and you just want me to fill in the blanks for you.” He was taken aback and said the article was still a work in progress. Yet it was clear to me it was not a work in progress, and he already knew what he wanted to say. At the point when he came to me, he just wanted to place his words on my lips, but needed to get me to say them. This is how the media works, whether we like it or not.
At any given time in history, there is an agenda that takes center stage, and there are forces that will work to advance that agenda. Clearly, the agenda of the day is to gain widespread acceptance of homosexuality, and to redefine marriage. Because as Catholics we are constantly engaged in a battle with the forces of Satan, we must be ever vigilant to the tactics being used, and not play into them. The tactic of the day is social engineering through a consistent media message. By a sheer repetition of certain phrases and images across the board, even lies can eventually be taken as true. One of the goals of social engineers, who always begin with verbal engineering, is to make sure their phrases end up on the lips of a variety of prominent individuals. The triumph for them comes when the phrases are on the lips of their opposition. The importance of understanding how this process works is essential for the Church today. There are too many too many leaders in the Church who think they can correct the damage by simply rolling back a mistaken comment or amending an errant statement. The damage done to Marriage and the Family has been at the level of Truth, and it is far worse than having made one simple erroneous statement.
As I noted in a pastor’s series in 2011, the attack on Marriage predates the current push for same sex marriage, acceptance of cohabitation, and serial polygamy via divorce. Nothing makes the devil happier than when his enemy is does his work for him and what he wants right now is complete confusion on these issues. The Church has become increasingly reactive in this battle, and lost the sense of being proactive when it comes to Marriage and the Family. Survey after survey demonstrates that the majority of Catholics do not know what the Church Teaches about almost every moral issue, particularly those that deal with human sexuality and Marriage. Yet given a chance, those same individuals can easily summarize the secular position on these issues, and often support moving in that direction. In this regard, it is bad enough that the faithful are misinformed, but it is very distressing when cardinals and bishops appear to be unclear or at odds in these areas.
In order to move forward, the Church hierarchy must admit that the modern media is manipulating Church Teaching, and hoping to stir debate within our ranks so as to convince outsiders that there are factions within the Church. They particularly want factions to develop over doctrines that are settled. The ultimate goal of those who control the message is to present the opponent, or at least some in the opposition, as being on board with their message. Once that happens, the push to get people to believe that change in the Church and Church Teaching is coming is simple. For the past few weeks, headline after headline has made that claim. And when change does not come, the minds of many people remain convinced that it eventually will. The unfortunate fallout will be the disillusionment of the many Catholics already steeped in the secular message, because they will be convinced that the Church is irrelevant.
Ironically, it was Jesus Who commanded His disciples to be of one mind and heart. That command does not mean there will never be disagreements within the Church, or that dissent will disappear across the board. There are areas where doctrine needs to be developed and in these there can be disagreement, but that should not happen with regard to eternal doctrines that are settled. We live under the dictatorship of relativism that has convinced many there is no Truth or Absolutes. Particularly in areas of Marriage, Family, and human sexuality, the Teaching has been well delineated, and constant. The desire that Jesus expresses is that even though we have to work out our disagreements, we all do so with our eyes on Him, and embrace the Revelation that He is.
Due to some of the recent mistakes made, there are those who claim the Vatican now has to do damage control. If only it were damage control regarding a simple errant statement, that would be a blessing. It amazes me how there are those who think spinning the current synod the right way would somehow correct the current misunderstanding of the Church’s Teaching on Marriage and the Family. The damage at this point in history is far greater than grappling with the image of prelates bickering over the wording in a document. It is like trying to put out a house fire with a glass of water. The question before the Church today is not “should we be nicer to those whose lives are a mess,” but with the more relevant question, “how do we undo decades of a catechetical failure that has resulted in a widespread high jacking of the Splendor of Truth?” Indeed, the souls of many have been high jacked by secular forces, and it is this high jacking that has left so many lives in a mess. As has been the case down through history, it is the mess that people find themselves in that the Church tries to address. The problem is that they are trying to do it through short-term memory. Throughout the entire pontificate of St. John Paul II, these Teachings were clarified, and the necessary pastoral remedies put forth. Rather than constantly looking for something new, how about we give a chance to what is already in place?