Pope Francis Injects Civility into a World in Sore Need

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 6:56am
Photo by Luca Zennaro

Pope Francis Injects Civility into a World in Sore Need

by Peter J. Michaels,  guest contributor

There was an article in Politico about a message to the media from Pope Francis, and I thought it might be a good place to start a discussion.

I was born in New York to an Irish Catholic mother and German Catholic father. I attended parochial schools from kindergarten through college. My brother Joe left home at 14 to become a priest, and I remember too many Saturday afternoons at our dining room table pretending piety while Joe practice-officiated a Mass when home for a visit.

As an adult, I have steered clear of the Catholic Church and, throughout my career as a journalist, maintained a deep belief in and commitment to the separation of church and state that was clearly the intent of our Founding Fathers.

Now comes Pope Francis blowing long-needed winds of change and channeling the Founding Fathers in ways that the world needs to really hear. I am not quite ready to become a regular at Mass, but it is heartening to hear the leading spiritual figure of the Catholic Church espousing a position of civility and reasonableness.

As communications director for the National Institute of Civil Discourse, I was proud to be part of a conference we convened in December in Washington, D.C. that brought together journalists from a wide range of media outlets from around the country. The focal point of the conference was civility in the media, and we explored for three days the question of the media’s role in guiding and inspiring more civil discourse in our nation.

Pope Francis was channeling much of what was discussed in December in his annual message for the Church’s World Day of Communications. As the pope urged journalists everywhere,

“We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted.”

He also urged media consumers not to “barricade” themselves behind single points of view and information that merely reinforces narrowly drawn opinions of how the world should be. And, the pope even called for all to pull back on “bombarding” with religious messages.

In my nearly 40 years as a journalist, this is the first time that I recall a pope offering a view on the media’s roles and responsibilities in the world. Think. Be silent. Be calm. Listen. This is papal instruction from which we can all benefit — those of us who write the words and stories, and those of us who read, view, and listen to them.

I may be a lapsed Catholic but it is heartening to hear a pope so in tune with the world and in sync with my own work and mission to inject civility into a world in sore need.

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Peter J. Michaels is the communications director for the National Institute for Civil Discourse. With 30-plus years of news management and programming experience, his career includes writing, producing, creating, long-form programming, and management of producers, reporters, and writers at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C. and at NBC in New York. He holds a BA in English from St. Bernard College in Cullman, Alabama.

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Thank you for your message. The Church has a long trip to get out of the Dark Ages... More ignorance and bigotry manifested than any where else, plus the Religions who rubber stamped their Heresy into their Religion!!! Big job!

This is a short (attention span) article on a long message from the Pope.

Understand that comment as a criticism.

Peter,
I'm so glad you liked what Pope Francis has to say. Funny enough, right in his letter, Pope Francis referenced Pope Benedict XVI address on communication from last year. The magisterium has long been outspoken about the importance of charitable communication. The Second Vatican council dedicated one of the 16 council documents to this topic. It is called the Decree on instruments of Social Communication, and can be found on the Vatican Website. However, what you say it true. Who can remember any of those documents? I guess Pope Francis proved his own point. Maybe I'll see you at Mass some time. :)

I was just preparing to write a similar message, Donna, when I noticed that you had beat me to it and expressed my thought much more succinctly than I could have. Thank you.

Peter, I am glad that you and journalists everywhere are opening yourselves up to the Church. My hope, however, is that this pontificate would serve as a mirror to journalists like yourself. Francis-mania or no, papal statements like these have always been readily available to any journalist of this century who was willing to do due diligence research before publishing an article. Perhaps a principle of civil discourse that we can all learn is a commitment to letting an institution speak for itself about what it does and doesn't teach. Francis, who is always quick to refer to the teachings of his predecessors in his statements, said in a recent interview with Corriere della Sera, that he takes offense to the prevailing media narrative that his is somehow the Church's savior.