“A Church that is occupied primarily with herself sickens with self-absorption,” Pope Francis wrote in a speech that he handed out to members of the Association of Catholic Journalists in Germany, in a meeting at the Vatican on January 4, 2024. In a world that is increasingly polarized, Pope Francis encouraged these journalists to help the Church and its members be in communion, while also mentioning the German Synodal way and calling to live a more universal and spiritual synodality.
“The Church is mission, and Catholic communicators cannot but get involved and remain, so to speak, ‘neutral’ with regard to the message they transmit,” the Pope wrote in the speech. “It is important not to have an introverted attitude, but rather to ‘go forth’ to bring the Christian message to every sphere of life, using the media and possibilities available today.”
The Pontiff received the members of the Association on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of its founding. He highlighted how proper communication helps people live together “in communion” and how “this is essential in the Church, where the bond with universality develops and is harmonized in a particular way through the ministry of the Successor of Peter.”
He explained that today the “Church needs communication that is ‘gentle and at the same time prophetic.’”
“How many conflicts today, instead of being extinguished by dialogue, are fuelled by false or inflammatory statements in the media!” the Pope wrote, praising the Association’s commitment to ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, peace, freedom and human dignity. “It is even more important that you, steadfast in your Christian roots and the faith you live daily, ‘demilitarized’ at heart by the Gospel, support the disarming of language.”
The controversial German Synodal way
In calling for Catholic journalists to play this pacifying role, the Pope also mentioned the national Synodal process undertaken in Germany from 2019 to 2023. This process, aimed at finding answers to the crises the Church faces, such as secularization, declining vocations and abuse cases, resulted in a rather reformist agenda often at odds with the Vatican.
The assemblies that were held as part of the synodal way, the most recent one in March 2023, called for the establishment of a shared governance system between bishops and laypeople, the authorization of blessings for homosexual couples, and an evolution of Church doctrine on sexuality, priestly celibacy and women’s ministries.
While Pope Francis had encouraged this synodal path in 2019 with a letter to German Catholics, he has subsequently often been critical, as have several senior members of the Roman Curia.
During this audience with the German Catholic journalists, the Pontiff encouraged them to re-read his 2019 letter. In particular, he emphasized two key points in the text that he considered “fundamental in order not to go astray”: “care for the spiritual dimension” and “the universal, Catholic dimension.”
Adapt to the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, not to the models of the world
The first dimension calls to adapt “to the Gospel and not to the models of the world” while rediscovering “docility to the Holy Spirit and not to the spirit of the times,” the Pope explained. The second “universal” dimension is to not “conceive the life of faith as something relative only to one’s own cultural and national sphere.” He in fact highlighted the importance of participating in the universal synodal process and how Catholic communicators can help “mutual understanding rather than opposition.”
“A Church that is occupied primarily with herself sickens with self-absorption,” he wrote in his January 4 speech. In a recent letter from November 2023, addressed to a group of Germans opposing the national synodal way, the Pope shared their concern that a certain part of the Church in Germany seemed to be straying from the common path of the universal Church.
Communicators always need to build bridges
The German journalists were not the only representatives of the world of media and communications that the Pope has met in the last weeks. On December 29, 2023, he also met with the leadership of the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Convent in Assisi, and granted their Italian magazine, San Francesco, an interview. In it he called them to build “bridges of peace” and be apostles of reconciliation and forgiveness.”
On that same day he also met a group of Vatican photojournalists and asked them to be “free” and always “convey life.”