(Melbourne)David's previous articles
1916, Theodore Roosevelt made a statement on public discourse which has had
profound ramifications nearly one hundred years later for societies and the
means they use to describe reality and to communicate truth. Roosevelt warned
against a particular form of language which employs deception, avoidance,
hyperbole and masking to disguise truth. Roosevelt said that such language was a
blight on his nation observing that the
use what have been called weasel words was one of the defects of our nation.
his 1946 English and Political Language,
British author, George Orwell warned against the very same dangers of convoluted
and obtuse rhetoric,
great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between
one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, intuitively to
long words, and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
the past month the renowned BBC veteran journalist John Simpson has made an
impassioned plea for that organisation, as a matter of urgency, to abandon all
forms of institutional jargon and commit itself to straight, clear and
unambiguous language in its reporting.
as avoidance and denial
sophisticated cultures absolutely abhor certain stark and confronting realities.
One example is the evasive manner in which death is dealt with. There is a whole lexicon full of weasel words
used to evade the fact of death: to die
= pass on, no longer with us, gone fishing; the word killed
has now been morphed into deceased;
Necropolis (ancient Egyptian city of the dead) has made a come-back as a
weasel word; it’s antiquarian, sounds far more sexy, chic and marketable than cemetery.
Denial of death expressions are legion, ubiquitous and culturally pervasive.
Doctors and funeral directors love them so.
from the more dramatic instances of the rhetoric of avoidance, the cosmetics of
linguistic deception and spin permeate every aspect of our existence, social,
economic and political. Semantic
gobbledegook is one of the more spectacular of the growth industries in
contemporary society. Spin is what makes the world go round and nobody can get
the past few years ecclesiastical weasel words have emerged in vast numbers to
comfort or distress, uplift or depress, overwhelm or underwhelm, persuade or
disgust and all depending on one’s perspectives and convictions. Some examples
of weasel and definition:
See of Peter = a long way from the Sea of Galilee.
of the Reform = the roll back, relativisation and domestication of Vatican II.
Spirit of Vatican II = a wind blowing in a Northerly direction. It should be
Catechism of the Catholic Church = the official, authentic interpretation of
wishes of the Holy Father = Clear sign posts on the road to salvation.
to the Pope and the Magisterium = a sure sign of authentic Catholicism.
Roman Curia = Work experience for the professionally incompetent.
Vatican Bank = a kind of Laundromat for international money changing and
teaching = Infallible dogma.
accurate translation of the original = the Last Supper was held in Latin.
many’ = it actually means ‘all’ but the Latin doesn’t say it.
Roman Curia = sheltered workshop for challenged clerics on ‘work
Cappa Magna = Episcopal symbol of dispossession and humility.
Orientem (Priest’s back to
the people at Mass) = Mithras style
liturgical clerical mooning.
Mass rubrics = moon walking, effeminate clerical liturgical line dancing in
= those who can think independently and protest the scuttling of Vat II.
= those perceived not to follow the will of the Holy Father.
Catholics = those deemed to be ‘pick and choose’ Catholics by George Weigel.
Catholics = the opposite of Cafeteria Catholics.
Social Justice doctrine = the opposite of the socio-economic ideology of George
Weigel, Michael Novak and the other Catholic neocons.
Mass of Paul VI (Novus Ordo)
= clown Masses/ popular entertainment.
Vernacular Missal = an offense against the majesty of God; the Book of Banality
= all those things lay people do but are actually reserved to clerics alone.
parishes = a theological oxymoron.
participation in the traditionalist mind = passive-receptive attendance at Mass
with après working bees.
The possibilities are endless……..
should come as no surprise that the top levels of the Catholic Church have now
begun to appreciate the benefits of having a strong and effective public
relations arm. There is a lot of catch up to be done. After years of relentless
criticism over the systematic cover-ups of clerical sexual abuse fiasco,
financial scandals, charges of institutional corruption and poor governance, the
Vatican through to local episcopal conferences are finally getting into the
business of promoting the brighter side of their existence. In Australia, it is
called euphemistically, Starting afresh
from Christ almost as if there had never actually been an Incarnation in the
first place. However, in taking on
public relations experts, the Church exposes itself to the kind of scrutiny
formerly reserved to Media Watch
programs. People have grown up awfully fast in the past fifty years or so
and they have memories.
Jose comes to the rescue
Burke former Time Magazine, then
Legion run National Catholic Register (not
Reporter) and Fox TV Rome reporter and
consecrated member of Opus Dei, has been employed by the Vatican Press office.
Among other things Burke faces some serious damage control issues and the need
to attempt a melioration of a catastrophically bad situation. Burke's will work
to provide a more friendly and pastorally caring face to a Church which has come
to be perceived as an irresponsible monolithic Catholicism Inc. He will also be
striving to promote a more attractive product. Burke is a realist and is keenly aware that he has a
daunting challenge ahead as he assists Fr Frederico Lombardi SJ, the director of
the Vatican Press Office.
of the most important things Burke is tasked to do is to educate Curial
bureaucrats on the importance and power of the Internet, to take this world (English language Internet especially) into
account. Burke is quite candid too about the enormity of his brief,
especially in processing and producing information which will lend a more
credible voice and present a more appealing public face to the Vatican.
Ultimately, it is very much about the creation of image
and he knows it,
appointment reveals the perception of the need to pay
attention to the media not only at the
moment of communication but already in the preparation of what will be
communicated. I’m not a public relations expert but I know what journalists
seek, I am used to monitoring the information scene, I have some ability to
understand on what thing a word or news that is given will fall.
language is the bread and butter of the advertising world. A principal intention
behind this literary genre is to convince prospective consumers that what they
might want is what they really need,
that what the neighbours have it actually good and desirable for you as well.
the Catholic hierarchy wants to know very urgently how it all works and Burke is
going to help them.
a recent NCR article on the USCCB
initiative, The Fortnight for Freedom, Phyllis
Zagano has picked up on the ecclesiastical PR phenomenon and offers some insight
into the significance of why it is
happening and why exactly now,
the bishops who see themselves at the pointy end of the pyramid, it’s all
reduced to a marketing problem. A couple of US bishops say they need ‘more
sophistication’ in their ‘messaging’ and someone to ‘strategize’ them.
corporate PR concept has even caught on in Rome – witness ex-Fox broadcaster
Greg Burke’s new communications role, invented not long ago after Cardinal
William Levada said central command needed assistance with ‘product
Zagano is concerned about is the people
who say certain things rather than what is said. But it is not as simple as
that. Zagano needs to keep in mind that, in an organisation such as the Catholic
Church, both medium and message are intrinsically connected, mutually identified
and fundamentally interdependent. The papalization of the
Church over the past forty years is evidence of this.
Her overall point, however, is a
valid one. If the presenters were of a mentality actually engaged with realities
outside their hermetically sealed bubble then the message they broadcast would
probably be of a different calibre, content and with a different focus,
problem is not the ‘messaging,’ it the messengers. The problem is not who
will ‘strategize,’ it’s
on the strategy.
As for ‘product
identity,’ I cringe at the
phrase. Greg Burke is a nice guy, but even without the butler’s Xerox machine,
information is impossible in the labyrinth of the Curia.
New Evangelization was previously directed at overcoming the forces of
exterior darkness with the light of the Gospel. This was a programme ad
extra, outward looking and fundamentally oppositional to the world,
the standards of the secular axis of evil, secularism, relativism and any other
kind of godlessness. This kind of politico-religious evangelical crusade was
taken up rather aggressively by John Paul II with the support of key political
figures such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and robustly popularised by
right wing populist conservative apologists such as George Weigel and the like
minded of the evangelical Catholic right.
the walls of European secular political totalitarianism have long crumbled, the
cultivated totalitarianism of the Vatican variety has continued to flourish. Its
new battle ground is western secular democracy and its liberal institutions.
This conflict is the native soil of the New Evangelization outward focus. Its warriors are the clerical and
lay new evangelists who have appropriated to themselves, with the blessing of
the Pope, the task of confronting, head on, the secular other world. They are the leaders of the new crusades of the twenty
first century. Increasingly, to their dismay and disgust, they are finding that
they are without a real army behind them. Not only that, most of the troops
failed to show up for training.
disturbing especially since Ratzinger became Pope in 2005 is the fact that the
energy of the so called New Evangelization
has been refocused. Its thrust is now very much directed at the internal
Catholic constituency. The Papal and Curial suspicion is that the faithful have
been badly directed by the ill-defined Spirit of Vatican II. The spin goes like this: the
Council, being essentially pastoral and not dogmatic in nature, can and must
be reinterpreted by the Magisterium for the good of the faithful. The uncertainties
must be removed, the perceived ruptures
with the immemorial Tradition of
previous Councils must be repaired and continuity
must be restored – all weasel words of
the new ecclesiastical apologetics.
official, Vatican directed programme of restructuring, remodelling, Reform
and intense mass re-education is about to commence. It will be spread out
over the especially dedicated timeline known as the Year
of Faith. The guide book for this pilgrimage to the shrine of the Second
Vatican Ecumenical Council on its fiftieth anniversary is the Catechism
of the Catholic Church and the tour guide is its author, Joseph Ratzinger.
Timbs writes from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
of the information and citations used here are from
Bruce Petty’s splendid site on Weasel Words.
For a discussion on the Catholic Church as a Corporation, click here.
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