Pope Benedict XVI has left the scene and I want briefly to look at his performance as a communicator. A past anecdote may be instructive here. I worked in communications with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) for four years in the early 1990s. Those were not easy days for the church. Issues regarding the sexual abuse of children by clerics and the church’s role in residential schools were becoming hot topics and causing great angst. I recall asking one of the bishops if we should do some public opinion polling. He was amused and replied, “Bishops don’t ask for advice, they provide it.”
When Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005, much was made of their different personalities. John Paul had been widely hailed as a great communicator while Benedict was considered to be more cerebral and introverted. John Paul was indeed a charismatic man but his communication was mostly all one way. He believed, as popes and bishops have over the centuries, that they are the repository of God’s wisdom and it is their duty to share it with the rest of us.
In that fundamental way, there was virtually no difference between the two popes. Now, on the threshold of a new papacy, we are being told that we should not expect the message to change, no matter who is elevated. Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto likes to say that Moses did not descend from the mountain with Ten Suggestions in hand. The church’s message apparently is fixed. What is at stake in communicating that message is not a change in substance but rather in the style of delivery.Read More