Reflecting on today’s gospel (Lk 17:5-10) I could not help but recall the opening speech at the Australasian Catholic Press Association’s conference last month in Auckland. Mike Fitzsimons’ topic was on the role of the Catholic press—to comfort the disturbed or to disturb the comfortable.
Jesus’ challenge to the disciples over their treatment of slaves comes as a surprise. If slave owners two millennia ago thought at all about relieving their slaves’ fatigue after a day’s toil in the fields, the consideration would have been readily dismissed. It was not common practice to favour the slave’s needs over one’s own.
But Jesus used shocking images to introduce us to the reign of God in which slaves would be honoured as equal human beings—the last shall be first.
And this is where Mike Fitzsimons’ challenge comes in. Many readers would be surprised, astounded even, to think that what they read in their Catholic newspapers and magazines should be anything but comforting to those disturbed by these changing times.
We live in a beautiful country and it is the media’s job to reflect this. But, says Fitzsimons, as well as reflecting the glories of Godzone, the job of journalism is to tell about the deprivations—the fact that we have a growing rate of violence towards children most of it inflicted by family members, or the rapidly growing gap between rich and poor, or the woefully inadequate state of government housing.
‘By telling the truth and seeking to inspire, you will be comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable.’
Fitzsimons says telling the truth means sifting and verifying evidence rather than merely reporting what we are told, identifying what is important, what is in line with the gospel.
This ‘requires some distancing from our masters and “church professionals” (like any journalism does)’.
August saw the launch of a book by Australian retired bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, which rapidly sold out, perhaps because its first chapter challenged the church to face up to the issue of sex abuse within its ranks and address the root causes rather than just manage the issue (See Susan Wilson’s review on page 5). The launch was widely reported in global Catholic media—comforting for some, disturbing for others, depending on your perspective.
With Mike Fitzsimons’ challenge in mind, Wel-com will continue to strive to tell the truth without fear or favour in the hope of both comforting the disturbed and of disturbing the comfortable.
Copies of Mike Fitzsimons’ full speech are available from the Wel-com office.