Aurelio Porfiri

In our past articles, often was remarked how the Church media landscape today is marked by strong divisions. These division of course were not born in the last five years, but maybe in this period they became stronger. Certainly the social media has brought a completely new way of communicating, of shaping messages and understanding pressing issues. Because of this, we have to make a selection among the many possibilities the web offers us for information about the Church and about society.

One of the strongest voices in the blogosphere is retired veteran vaticanist and Italian Journalist Sandro Magister. Settimo cielo, his plurilingual blog (Italian, English, French and Spanish) is an important source of information consulted around the world and considered as one of the most authoritative.

Recently, he has sound the alarm for the situation in the Church with special reference to the issue of intercommunion: “Attention. The conflict that has exploded in Germany for and against communion for Protestant spouses should have exceeded the threshold of alarm for the unity of the whole Church.”  Only few days before was reporting about the tragic situation of the Chilean Church, torn by scandals connected with cases of sexual abuses, where all the Bishops had resigned, leaving in the hands of the Pope the decision on how to handle their situation. The newspaper Il Foglio (May 26) commented on how this scandal is putting Church leadership in great difficulty.

On the same day of the newspaper article,  Pope Francis addressed the participants to a conference organized by the Centesimus Annus Foundation, also saying: “Your Conference has chosen for its title this year ‘New Policies and Life-Styles in the Digital Age.’ One of the challenges linked to this theme is the threat families are facing from uncertain job opportunities and the impact of the digital cultural revolution.  As the preparation process for this year’s Synod on Young People has made clear, this is a vital area in which the solidarity of the Church is actively needed.  Your own contribution is a privileged expression of the Church’s concern for the future of young people and families.  Indeed this is an activity where ecumenical cooperation is of special importance and the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople at your Conference is an eloquent sign of this common responsibility.” So, current difficulties, social media, digital revolution, the hopes for young people….

With many of these things in mind I sat with Sandro Magister in a nice coffee shop very close to the Church of Santa Cecilia, very dear to musicians and so also to myself, for a little conversation that included an unavoidable topic: China.

What you think about the fact that today a lot of the communication, also inside the Church, uses social networks, social media? How has this changed the way these messages are received?

My opinion, instinctively, is quite pessimistic. I believe that these new ways we have for communication through the web, in all their ways, are not really helping to go to the core of Christian faith. They put in motion many kind of inputs that in some way create a sort of fog that make more obscure the transmission of what is essential.

What is the reason?

It depends on the modalities of transmission of these messages. These are modalities where rapidity, hurry, brevity (not the same thing as clarity) are summed up together and make everything more confused.

You are a retired journalist, like Marco Tosatti, another very popular blogger in the Catholic world. But through your blogs you are still highly influential, your blogs have a huge following and are consulted by lots of people around the world. Something like this, only 15 years ago, would be difficult to conceive. Don’t you think this is something unprecedented?

Yes, this is true, indeed. What I was saying in general, on the overall new media system, cannot eliminate the fact that inside this world there are voices that are highly recognizable, very clear in their expressive forms and that can put in motion some very constructive insights. It is always a treasure trove in this big galaxy and it is not always easy to understand the strong voices or solid truths.

Let us consider in your case. What are the blogs that you most follow (and hopefully trust) in Italy and outside Italy?

Regarding the information inside the Church I think there are some steps that are almost compulsory. In Italy La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana is one of them. Another one for me very important because it gives us the “voice of Santa Marta” is Vatican Insider. For an important aggregator that makes this filtering work easy,  I may mention Il Sismografo. Regarding the voices outside of Italy Crux Now  is useful, directed by John Allen, that puts together several voices and positions, from those that give passionate support to the present pontificate (Austen Ivereigh) to others that are more descriptive, objective, but that also offer a very good service. Other important medias of American Catholicism that have a very marked point of view and that is useful to have under your radar go from First Things, the New Catholic Register and the New Catholic Reporter.

In the last months we are talking a lot about China and of course,  our magazine being published in China, this is for us also a pressing issue. You also write a lot about China. If you would need to give an opinion, outside the divisions that are evident, what would that opinion be?

My opinion is that today, in a completely changed world, we are back to some issues that were alive in ’60, especially at the higher levels of the Church, about the diplomatic approach with nations and political systems that were antithetical with respect to the same Church. Before, we had the Communist world led by the Soviet Union. Today we have China. The two stories, Ostpolitik [the political strategy implemented by the Catholic Church especially during the pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II — Ed.] and what we have now are not 100% the same, but there are elements that can be compared successfully. Also at that time there was a strong opposition to the way Vatican diplomacy dealt with the Communist countries as now there is a strong opposition with the way our own current Vatican diplomacy seems to deal with China.

There are many opinions on the fact if the Ostpolitik was successful or not…

Yes it is true.

And maybe the reason there is strong opposition is because some people would prefer to avoid what they perceive as another possible failure…

There are of course lessons coming from history that we have to be aware of. But some people seem not to understand these lessons from history. Why? Because we are in a moment where there are in leading positions the “heirs” of those who were leading the Ostpolitik, a strategy that was not successful in its time.

During the pontificate of John Paul II it is true that there was Cardinal Agostino Casaroli who was the secretary of state [the leading figure for the Vatican Ostpolitik — Ed.] but the strategy of the Church was dictated by the Pope himself, and this strategy was completely different and was successful, animating that kind of spiritual revolution that will be a winning strategy. But today we have the heirs of Casaroli who have the power. I think the leadership wanted to reach this agreement because they think that advantages will be greater than the disadvantages. But I think this is wrong.

I think that someone who expresses the reality of a Chinese Church that is under strong pressure from the government, even if with his own peculiar way,  is certainly Cardinal Zen. He expresses the resistance of this Church to a diplomatic strategy that is seen as a worsening of this situation. He can do this because he feels a free person, he is not making calculations, he is defending something that he feels is in danger.