Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 21, 1962 – Fifty Years Later


        Press coverage of the first Council in nearly a century was a challenge for the hundreds of journalists who had been assigned to Rome -- and for the Church itself.

       “The first few days of the Council sessions (mid- October of 1962) were hectic and frustrating experiences for the press and media.  The correspondents who came to Rome were at a loss on how to report the happenings of each day.  The journalists were informed that texts of what was said by the various speakers were unavailable,” reported Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste of Belleville, IL, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee.  Additionally, some writers mistakenly expected an “ecumenical” Council to include the equal participation of non-Catholics.

        Many Council Fathers from European nations sent weekly newsletters to the their diocesan papers, but “the U.S. Bishops’ ‘Press Panel’, sponsored by the hierarchy of the United States, was the answer to the appeal of newsmen for a competent and reliable source of information.”

        The Press Panel was set up by the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC, later called the NCCB, and today the USCCB – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).  The committee for the Press Panel was chaired by Bishop Zuroweste who, as a priest, had been editor of his diocesan newspaper.  The press met almost daily with the panel’s priest-experts in theology, scripture, ecumenism, canon law, liturgy and church history – among them young Father William Keeler of Harrisburg, PA (later Bishop there, eventually Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore).

      Newsweek and Time reporters stated: “Nothing can substitute for interviews for more accurate reporting…What the press needs is access to Bishops and theologians who can speak frankly about the great event (of the Council).”

        One American Redemptorist, Fr. Francis X. Murphy - writing under the pseudonym “Xavier Rhynne” – sent periodic reports to The New Yorker magazine.  His unofficial, behind-the-scenes commentaries were called “frank, and sometimes irreverent”, perhaps too simplistic in labeling “progressives” and “conservatives” -- but were very popular.

       Pope John XXIII, at an audience for 807 international journalists, urged the press to stress the religious aspects of the Council.  Gathered in the Sistine Chapel with the huge throng of reporters (some of whom had not been inside a Church for a long time), the Pope asked for their “loyal cooperation in presenting this great event in its true colors … (not) more concerned with speed than accuracy”, nor “more interested in the ‘sensational’ than in the objective truth.”

        “You will be able to see and to report the true motives which inspire the Church’s action in the world.”

        During these October days, the attention of millions of people was focused on a Cuban missile crisis between the US and the USSR; historical research has shown that, diplomatically, John XXIII played no small part in averting nuclear war.  The missile crisis was likely in the Pope’s thoughts, as he urged the members of the press to work for “the interior disarmament which is the necessary condition for the establishment of true peace on this earth.”
(Next week: The Sacred Liturgy – First Topic)                                               

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