When I meet Catholics at events around the country, one thing which always comes up is disappointment and frustration that the Church is frequently misrepresented in the mainstream media. Time and again, people complain to me about the distortion that they see in newspapers and on television and radio about what the Church teaches. They’re not paranoid. The misrepresentation is real. Some of it is motivated by ignorance or groupthink.
Many people who work in mainstream media are not themselves religious, nor do they know anyone that is religious. Ryan Tubridy said on radio recently that he didn’t know any couples who go to Mass. In a country where one in three people go to Mass every week, it’s a startling claim. But, he’s not lying. Instead, he lives in a bubble.
It’s the same with many other journalists: they simply can’t identify with people of faith because they don’t know anyone like this. This is a huge problem for mainstream media, and one reason why many Catholics tell me they never buy a secular newspaper or watch the news anymore.
There is also, of course, bias plain and simple. Often stories are deliberately reported in such a fashion as to paint the Church or Church teaching in the worst possible light.
So, what’s to be done? Well, the old proverb says that it’s better to light a candle than curse the dark. That’s why The Irish Catholic is hosting a conference that will give Catholics – priests as well as people in the pews – the tools and information they need to answer the Church’s critics and explain what the Church teaches in a positive light.
‘How to Defend the Church Without Raising Your Voice’ will be held in Dublin’s Red Cow Hotel on Saturday, April 28 and will hear from people like Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh and former British ambassador to the Vatican Francis Campbell about how to articulate the beauty of the faith in a secular culture. Whether it is a smart-aleck relation or a work colleague with genuine questions about issues as contentious as women priests and contraception in the fight against AIDS, this is the conference for you.
Other speakers will include Senator Ronán Mullen, Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign, columnist Breda O’Brien and the ousted UCD student president Katie Ascough.
The conference is based around the hugely-successful ‘Catholic Voices’ model which aims to shed light rather than heat on contentious issues where the Church interacts with the secular world.
In the context of the referendum on abortion, the conference is also an ideal opportunity for pro-life people to ensure that they are up to speed on all the arguments they can use to combat the misinformation that is part of the repeal campaign.
The conference will show that far from being a negative, Catholicism is actually a radical ‘yes’ to a life lived to the full. The event will not shy away from troubling issues like the Church’s handing of sexual abuse, but it will show the enormous transformation that has taken place to ensure that the Church is now at the forefront of child safeguarding.
Austen Ivereigh and I have also co-writen a book, How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice. In the foreword to the book, Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin writes that “St Peter urges Christians to ‘always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience’ (1 Peter 3:15-16).
“That advice,” the archbishop writes, “is as relevant today as when the Apostle gave it to the first followers of Christ. In fact, it is arguably more important today in a world of rapid communication where a story can circle the globe in a microsecond.”
If you’ve ever flicked through the newspaper or watched a current affairs programme and grumbled at the treatment of the Church, this is the conference for you. If you’re just interested in deepening your understanding of why the Church teaches what it does, this April 28 event is also unmissable for you.
How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice will be held at the Red Cow Hotel in Dublin (ample car parking, close to the M50 and directly accessible from the city centre via Luas red line).
To register call Dublin 01.687.4028, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or register online at www.irishcatholic.com/product/defend-faith.