Jesus Our Shepherd
Fortnight Of Words
by Phyllis Zagano, NCR

I'm not sure what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Fortnight for Freedom accomplished except to send folks to their dictionaries for the definition of "fortnight." This new word from the traditionalist lexicon joins the unpronounceable "consubstantial." I haven't heard "perichoresis" anywhere yet, but it's coming.

Should church be a place where you need flashcards to figure out what's going on?

It's a problem of ecclesiology. Where once the folks to be evangelized were outside the fold and everybody inside got involved (you know, the whole church), now it's the top-down, we're-in-charge bishops who own the words, and the target audience is all the baptized, especially the former, sort-of and once-in-a-while Catholics who occasionally turn up in church. A special target audience is the keep-your-mouths-shut theologians (male and female) and, for that matter, all women.

For the bishops who see themselves at the pointy end of the pyramid, it's all reduced to a marketing problem. A couple of U.S. bishops say they need "more sophistication" in their "messaging" and someone to "strategize" for them.

Good grief.

The corporate PR concept has even caught on in Rome -- witness ex-Fox newscaster Greg Burke's new communications role, invented not long after Cardinal William Levada said central command needed assistance with "product identity."

The language is getting scary. Where once, shall we say, "product identity" was carried by location (your basic cathedral) and clothing (cassocks, chasubles, birettas), the buildings are now tourist sites and the clothing is connected to antiquated ideas, mostly in Latin.

Meanwhile, the messengers who say they own the message can't seem to figure out what it is.

Not sure you need high-powered PR, gentlemen. The message is simple. Beyond the belief that all (not "many") are made in the image and likeness of God and deserve honor and respect, the outlines are already mapped out for you in the Gospel. I rather like Chapter 25 of Matthew. You know, the part about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and all that. For the record, that's Matthew 25:31-46. Then there's the stinger in Matthew 6:14: forgiveness of injuries. And, by the way, the instructions say you go out to all the world to proclaim the good news.

But, I digress.

Well, actually, no, I do not digress. The problem is not "messaging," it's the messengers. The problem is not who will "strategize," it's who acts on the strategy. As for "product identity," well, I cringe at the phrase. Greg Burke is a nice guy, but even without the butler's Xerox machine, information control is impossible in the labyrinth of the Curia.