VATICAN CITY – It makes little sense for the Catholic Church to complain about ethical failures in the media if it is not paying attention to educating future communicators in ethics, said Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The archbishop said he wanted to know how Catholic universities are preparing students to work in the media and how his office could support them in their work.
The council invited 90 professors and staff members from 58 departments of communications at Catholic universities and institutes in 44 countries to a May 22-24 meeting to share their curriculums, experiences and concerns.
“The council needs to know, to understand what is happening in forming professionals in the field,” he said.
Archbishop Celli said he extended the invitations and posed questions, but planned to spend most of the meeting listening.
The chief questions he posed to the participants are: What does it mean to be a Catholic department of communications? What are the challenges being posed by rapid changes in the field? How can a communications curriculum reflect Christian teaching on the value of the human person? How can the departments present Catholic ethics applied to the media?
The archbishop said he sees increasing unease in the way people approach the media and in the field of communications itself; technology has advanced rapidly, allowing people to communicate much more easily, but there is a sense that the truly human aspect of communications – dialogue, respect, listening and understanding – are getting lost in the shuffle.
“Human beings were created as beings in communication; they grow and develop through their communication with others,” he said.
Archbishop Celli said he is amazed when he discovers that a Catholic university has a communications program with “exactly the same curriculum you would find at a secular university.”
Catholic universities are “not schools of indoctrination,” nor should they be “schools of religious fundamentalism,” he said, but the values they teach should reflect the emphasis Christianity places on the dignity of each human being created in the image and likeness of God.
A communications ethics course at a Catholic university, the archbishop said, cannot be limited to explaining the legal definition of libel and slander and how to avoid being sued, but should include a background on the Catholic view of the human person and Catholic social teaching.
Archbishop Celli said he knows many Catholic universities have student bodies that are not predominantly Catholic or even Christian, but they have an obligation to teach “the basic values” that the church holds and that it shares with all people of good will.