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Catholic Comment News

Catholic Comment approach outlined at seminar

"Light not Heat" - Catholic Comment speakers explains their approach to communication at Dublin Seminar.

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Identifying shared values, reframing stories, being compassionate and learning to win hearts not arguments are all principles of communication essential for Catholics who want to put the Church's case in the public square. 

So said Petra Conroy, Co-ordinator of Catholic Comment at the organisation’s first seminar in Dublin at the weekend.  Over a hundred people took part in the event that drew people from all over Ireland.

Catholic Comment was formed in February 2012, and officially launched just before the International Eucharistic Congress in June 2012.  The organisation follows the model of Catholic Voices in Britain, which was formed in the run up to the Pope’s visit to Britain in 2011.

When Catholic Comment originally advertised for Catholics willing to become speakers on the media in February, there were more than 200, “expressions of interest.”  The idea was to put together a panel of lay people, representing all walks of life, who would be able to talk competently on issues of faith and morals. 

They interviewed forty people, and finally fifteen did the training.  This consisted of three full weekends working under the tutelage of a few people experienced in dealing with the media.  Two of the trainers were part of Catholic Voice in the UK and shared the benefit of their experience.

“We want to be the first ‘go to’ people for breaking stories on faith issues,” Gene Dalton, a primary school teacher in Dublin and one of the first Catholic Comment trainees ,told the seminar.  By the end of the IEC, the organisation had handled twenty-two requests from the media for spokespersons for television, radio and print media from Ireland and abroad.

Petra Conroy, co-ordinator, explained that the Catholic Comment approach to communications consistsin re-framing the typical presentation of a story critical of the Church, for example its stance on condoms and AIDs in Africa. 

“We have to look for the shared values like commitment, love or human rights, and start a dialogue there.”

 In relation to AIDs in Africa, this might be to show how the Church cares about people, how numerous missionary organisations are working on the ground to help people with AIDs, and speaks from the point of view of, “an intimate knowledge.”

Another principle is to be compassionate.  Robbie Butler, a junior doctor in Dublin, shared an experience of speaking at a debate in UCD on the motion, “That the Catholic Church is irrelevant in Ireland today.” 

“For me, witnessing, not winning, is important.  I tried to speak to people rather than at them.  Making points is important, but perhaps even more important is how you communicate with people.”

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At the seminar, Petra Conroy emphasised that it is important to understand that the media often works at very short notice, so speakers must be ready to give an interview at short notice, and not be disappointed if they are not interviewed in the end. 

“That is the way the media is,” she said. 

Expert commentators to Catholic Comment are Breda O'Brien, David Quinn and Dr Patricia Casey.

Ms Conroy told ciNews that the next appeal for speakers from Catholic Comment will occur in February 2013 with the training shortly after. 

There is no fixed term for panel members.  “The experience in the UK is that there is natural fall off after a time.  People can do it for as long as they want,” she said.  People can also become involved by sharing media contacts, setting up a local Catholic Comment group, providing prayer group support, helping with fundraising or becoming an expert speaker on a particular topic.

by Susan Gately

(From Susan Gately, Catholic Ireland News, with permission: http://www.cinews.ie/article.php?artid=10873)

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