By John-Henry Westen

Father Frederico LombardiTORONTO, June 3, 2008 ( – Jesuit Father Frederico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See Press Office, addressed the Catholic Media Convention in Toronto Thursday providing a fascinating study in effective communications.  Lombardi, who also oversees Vatican Television and Vatican Radio, spoke on “When the Pope speaks to the world” analyzing the strategy behind Papal communications.  A key message in Fr. Lombardi’s talk was the “balance between the positive message and the clear identification of evils, divisions, weaknesses and dangers” present in the world.

Despite stressing an emphasis on the positive, Fr. Lombardi was very clear that issues need to be addressed with courage and clarity.  “We have to know how to recognize and denounce the evils, the risks and the dead ends present in contemporary culture,” he said. 

The consequences for failure in this regard are dire, he suggested.  “It is vitally important to tell the truth with clarity and simplicity. Every ambiguity, every reticence and, worse still, every intentional concealment of the truth, will exact a dear price in the end. The vicissitudes connected to the sexual abuse crisis were the weightiest proof of this.”

The Vatican spokesman said that he was nonetheless convinced, “that we must use the power of the word only to bring people together and never to drive them apart, to make peace and not to create conflicts, to aid mutual understanding, dialogue, the building of a community whose richness is greater precisely because it is the result of the fusion of so many different gifts.”

Illustrating the point, Fr. Lombardi recalled: “During a conversation with a group of German journalists shortly after his trip to Valencia, Spain, for the World Day for Families, one of them asked Pope Benedict why he chose not to mention the fact that the Zapatero government was so aggressive toward the Christian vision of the family. The Pope replied, saying he had only twenty or thirty minutes to give two speeches and that he had chosen to use that time positively to express the beautiful idea of the Christian Family. When there is time for more ample and elaborate discourses, then we need to recall the negative points as well. But it is always necessary to have a criterion, a hierarchy in expressing the Christian proposition. Evidently, that which is positive takes first place.”

Lombardi added however “Of course we must be realistic. We have to know how to recognize and denounce the evils, the risks and the dead ends present in contemporary culture. In this, Benedict XVI is clear and decisive. In this, he refuses to compromise.”

The Vatican spokesman continued: “His critique of relativism, subjectivism, individualism, of materialism and hedonism, is frequent and frank, especially as regards current tendencies in European culture. He is convinced that values are at stake which are extremely important for humanity, for society and the future.”

The Pope, said Lombardi, “is convinced that the manipulation of life and the distorting of the proper relationship between a man and a woman pose very serious risks for humanity.”  The spokesman concluded the point saying that Benedict XVI “is convinced that closure to a transcendent horizon causes us to lose our basic points of reference and he maintains that it is his duty to say so with clarity.”

Lombardi proposed that “the speeches of Benedict XVI during his recent visit to the United States are a particularly effective example of the balance between the positive message and the clear identification of evils, divisions, weaknesses and dangers.”  He added, “The best way is the one that avoids the traps of naëve optimism and those of radical pessimism, which does not believe in the presence and the power of the workings of grace.”

Pope Benedict’s address to Catholic University presidents was noted for his encouragement to those involved in the important calling of higher education. Nevertheless the Pope pointed out during that address that “Any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.”

Similarly, Pope Benedict was very open about his love for and encouragement from the vitality of Catholics in America.  He also spoke openly about “the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.”


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