13 October 1962: John XXIII tells journalists to serve the truth and contribute to peace
By Linda Bordoni
Journalists from across the globe came to Rome in droves to report on the Council whose purpose was to “bring the Church into the modern world”.
Pope St. John XXIII was well aware of the role and the power of the media and had already set in motion a series of innovations to help the press tell the story.
According to those journalists who attended, the most important innovation in the press office of the Council was that the summaries of the debates, prepared by employees in various language groups, were accompanied by explanations from theological experts on the points under discussion, so that the briefings were transformed into an authentic theological school for journalists.
And journalists were amongst the first groups present at the Council to receive the greetings and encouragement of the Pope who met them in the Sistine Chapel on day three of the Council. He spelled out the esteem in which he held representatives of the press, recognized the importance he attached to their role and invited them to contribute to peace on earth.
“On the occasion of the Council,” he said speaking in Spanish, “we have created a press office and a secretariat for the techniques of diffusion. And we have set up a conciliar commission which, together with the lay apostolate, will deal with the press, radio and entertainment.”
At the service of truth
The Pope reminded those present of their duty to always be “at the service of truth,” and reflecting on how the message conveyed by different media was able to reach and ultimately “guide the thoughts, feelings and passions of a large part of mankind,” he warned against the distortion of the truth by the media, which he said, “can have incalculable consequences.”
Acknowledging the temptation to be “more concerned with speed than accuracy, more interested in the ‘sensational’ than in what is objectively true”, John XXIII urged journalists not to allow personal opinions or beliefs blur or obscure the truth.
Feeding curiosity and nurturing good relations
The Pope noted that an ecumenical council brings with it “external and secondary aspects capable of feeding the curiosity of a hasty public.”
“It can also, in the long run, have a beneficial influence on relations between people, in the social and even in the political sphere. But it is first and foremost a great religious event,” he said.
By saying this, the Pope continued, “we tell you what tact, what reserve, what concern for understanding and accuracy we have the right to expect from an informer who is anxious to do honour to his noble profession.”
"We ask all of you to make an effort to understand and to make understood the primarily religious and spiritual nature of these solemn conciliar sessions," he said.
The father of the Council went on to list his expectations for the press in the exercise of its mission that he said, must have “salutary effects for the orientation of world opinion about the Catholic Church in general, her institutions and her teachings.”
He warned against prejudices that can flourish when “loyal and objective information cannot get through” and “which sustain in people's minds roots of mistrust, suspicion and misunderstanding, the consequences of which are deplorable for the progress of harmony among men and among peoples.”
These prejudices, he said, are often based on inaccurate or incomplete information.
Keep the public interested
“The very announcement of the Council has aroused considerable interest throughout the world,” the Pope said, inviting the journalists to keep the public “interested and sympathetic towards the Council and help to revise, if necessary, erroneous or incomplete opinions.”
You will be able to bear witness, he continued, “that she [the Church] has nothing to hide, that she follows a straight and straightforward path, that she desires nothing but the truth for the happiness of mankind and fruitful understanding among the peoples of all continents.”
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