On Monday night I attended a presentation on the Vatican's public diplomacy. The takeaway was that the Church largely relies on information distribution, via resources like L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, Vatican Central Television and the Church website, but that an institutional bias towards secrecy and glacial responses to scandals were major problems.
So it was a surprise to me to learn that the Vatican has issued a rapid response to an issue of grave importance that extends well beyond the Catholic community. I'm talking, as you've probably guessed, about the Beatles, who were praised in L'Osservatore Romano this weekend for their grand contributions to pop music. Benedict, if I may presume to whisper some words of wisdom, I think the church's information and communication specialists may have missed the mark on this one.
I'm hardly the first blogger to suggest the Catholic church is blowing on twigs while the forest burns, but I am sympathetic to its position. For centuries, the Church had a near monopoly on the means of mass communication, and questioning any of its pronouncements was unthinkable. Still, it has had many, many years to adjust to the idea of non-papal broadcasters. If the Holy See wants to succeed in its goal of spreading the gospel and fostering peace and justice for all, it needs to raise its game and its pace in the global public sphere. And it needs to quickly condemn and resolve crises within its own flock--and I don't mean pop tunes.
The Church needs decisive action and rapid responses. Otherwise its message will be shaped, distorted and dispersed by a sea of snarky bloggers before it can even begin, and the Vatican will find itself writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear.