Luke Coppen and Richard Shaw report on the results of
the annual low week meeting of the bishops' conference
THE BISHOPS of England and Wales have accepted a plan to bring together all the Church's national media activities under a single roof.
They made the decision at their Low Week meeting after they were presented with the results of an independent report, which concluded that the Church's three most important national media operations should be merged.
The report, ordered by the bishops in November, called for the Archbishop of Westminster's press office and the Church's national press office and media training centre to brought together in a single office, under one national communications director.
The bishops hope to appoint the director during the summer and want the new Catholic Communications Centre to be operational by the start of October.
Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, chairman of the Catholic Media Trust, said the decision to combine the Church's national media operations was an "important moment" for the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
He said: "I think it's a very important moment. I'm delighted that the bishops' conference has grasped this moment and indicated its willingness to implement the review."
He said that the review, conducted by James Moir, controller of BBC Radio 2, and Angela Salt, former director of communications at the Millennium Commission, revealed the need for better communications between the two press offices and the media training centre.
"It's basically looking at a way of pulling together the communications operations in the Catholic community," Bishop Hollis said, "so that everyone knows what everyone else is doing. It means the left hand will know what the right hand is doing."
The report, which will not be published immediately because it contained a detailed assessment of the work of individual bishops' conference employees, argues that a single national media office would lead to greater efficiency.
Bishop Hollis said that the Church's three national media bodies — the Archbishop of Westminster's Public Affairs Office, the Catholic Media Office and the Catholic Communications Centre — had grown up independently and "haphazardly". But he accepted that now it was necessary to link them together.
The bishop, who will lead the search for a director of the new integrated media office. said it would be a "key posidon" in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The candidate would be "professional and confident" with years of top media experience. Bishop Hollis said that both priests and lay people would be considered, as the Church wanted to appoint "the best person" for the job.
The new director will help to bring the work of the three existing bodies together under the umbrella of the Catholic Communications Service.
Toni Horwood, acting director of the Catholic Media Office, said that the changes would make the Church a more effective communicator.
"It's really just to make things more efficient to enable the Church to communicate in a more effective way," he said.
Dr Jim McDonald, director of the Catholic Communications Centre, who will be contributing to the working party implementing the changes, said that a single national communications office would help the Church respond more effectively to media enquiries.
He said: "It gives us an opportunity to have an overview of communications across the Church nationally and locally — a place where this new director, as proposed, could have some kind of lead role in ensuring that these issues are addressed."
Dr McDonald said it would also improve the Church's internal communications.
"I think it's an important step for the Church because for the first time it is saying explicitly that communication is very important and we're putting in place structures that will make it more effective. That's a big step forward," he said.
James Parker, Cardinal Murphy-O'Comior's assistant for public affairs, said: 'The implementation of the recent media review is essential to the future of Church communications and I welcome any changes that enable the Catholic Church in England and Wales to become even more effective in the proclamation of the Gospel."