Page 6, 26th February 1999

26th February 1999
Page 6
Page 6, 26th February 1999 — Come off it, Father!

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Come off it, Father!

Patricia Hardcastle challenges a critical priest

Challenges of Christian

Communication and Broadcasting by Fr Dominic Emmanuel, Macmillan

Press, £42.50

FATHER DOMINIC Emmanuel has many years' experience in religious broadcasting, and this book is the result of his doctoral studies on the challenges facing religious broadcasters in a multi-religious, secular world. Brought up in India, he describes his childhood home as "literally surrounded by Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, a few Jains and even a Buddhist family" a huge help to him in his later broadcasting career.

Such a multi-faith society inevitably fostered a strong interest in ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue, and indeed the first two chapters focus on these developments over the last century. The movement from what is described as religious monologue, each Church communicating solely with its own members, with occasional forays attacking the other Churches (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) and non-Christian faiths, to a religious dialogue between Churches and other faiths, is placed within the context of overseas missions. The focus on inter-religious developments in India is both fascinating and highly topical.

Communication is at the heart of the Gospel message ("Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News"), while at the same time often a challenge for the Churches. A clear distinction is rightly made between the need to communicate what the Church is about, and the need to communicate the Gospel message of Jesus. Indeed, even the communication style of Christ comes in for intense scrutiny, and its persuasiveness is emphasised.

The section on the Catholic Church's own document on social communications, Communio et Progressio (1971) is almost disappointing in its brevity; indeed, given the sometimes excessive attention to detail of the history of the World Council of Churches, there is room for a broader discussion of Catholic communication in a book by a Catholic author focusing on the Catholic Church.

Leaving aside the intensely theoretical chapters on dialogical theory, the final two chapters look at Christian communication in practice, from the early days of broadcast communication to modern communication practice.

Emmanuel's main thesis that successful communica tion must be a form of dialogue between equal and mutually respecting parties — is surprisingly difficult to extract from his rather academic text. Doctoral theses rarely translate into bestsellers, unless much of the academic nitpicking has been substantially edited. Apart from the obvious irony that a text on communication fails to communicate its own message clearly, comments such as "most of the communication within the Catholic Church appears to be a oneway, top-down monological process", combined with a dismissive account of the Church's own commitment to mass communication, merely reinforce a stereotypical criticism of the Church.

Given that the current Pope is one of the most recognised faces in the world today, that the Vatican's Internet site is highly acclaimed and received three million "hits" in its first two days, that the laity are consulted by the hierarchy as never before, and fulfil an increasingly active and important role in the Church, these criticisms of the Church's current communication practices, imperfect though they no doubt are, seem a little out of place in a book by a Catholic communications specialist. A more rounded appreciation of the Church's use of mass media. and some editing of the more academic historical and theoretical points could give this book the wider appeal it probably deserves.

The author is on the staff of the Catholic Media Office.

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