Preparing future priests for dinner conversation, email usage and dealing with the media

I had the privilege yesterday of addressing about 35 Catholic seminarians at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

The topic: How to “interact” with the media.

I was on a panel with John Woods, editor of Catholic New York, and Beth Griffin, a writer for Catholic News Service. They’re both real pros whose work I respect.

We each chatted for a few minutes and then took an interesting assortment of questions from the group.

As you might expect, I argued in favor of “openness” with the media. I tried to make the case that it’s in everyone’s best interest for priests to take calls from reporters, arrange interviews and try to explain their beliefs and actions (in a clear, concise and careful way). The opposite approach — not returning calls, offering a “no comment,” turning your back on a reporter — never makes reporters go away and ultimately contributes to less accurate and meaningful news reports.

Does interaction with the media ensure accurate and thorough news reports? Of course not.

The panel was asked about reporters with an “agenda,” the questionable accuracy of bloggers, the messy fall-out from the high-pressure, 24-hour news cycle and other factors that can make the media quite scary for clergy.

All good points. No question about it. But the Media Machine is not going away and many priests will have to face it at some point.

Beth, John and I all had the same message: Be truthful. Be helpful. Be clear. Be careful.

Father Gerard Rafferty (that’s him), who teaches Scripture at the seminary and introduced us, may have said it best: “We can’t be afraid of proclaiming what we believe.”

Our presentation actually came at the end of a two-day seminar called “The Priest in the Public Eye.” The idea was to help future priests fully realize that they will live much of their lives in the public eye and to understand what it really means.

They started on Monday morning with a presentation on — get this — social etiquette. How should you look, introduce yourself, greet others, even offer handshakes. How to interact with staff and parishioners. What it means to be a good host and a good guest. Even how to offer a toast and work a receiving line.

This is the life of a priest, right?

Bishop Gerald Walsh, rector of the seminary, covered basic communication, from the parish bulletin and the parish website to answering invitations and writing thank-you notes.

Father Stephen Norton covered the advantages — and potential dangers — of Internet networking and email use. For example: Choose an appropriate email name, even for personal accounts.

Yesterday morning — and I wish I could have seen this — the seminarians learned about dinner etiquette. We’re talking how to deal with forks and spoons, how to make appropriate conversation (avoid politics and religion, anyone?) and knowing when it’s time to leave. Also: Silence the cell phone.

Then came our program about dealing with the media.

Griffin had one of my favorite bits of advice for the day: Don’t refer to your archbishop as an “ordinary” or an unknowing reporter may report that you referred to Archbishop Dolan as, well, an ordinary joe.

A reserved ‘thank you’ from Cardinal Egan

I’ve long admired Cardinal Egan’s columns in Catholic New York, the newspaper of the archdiocese.

He can be a fine story-teller, it seems to me. I’ve particularly liked several columns about past pilgrimages and various encounters with interesting people of all sorts.

I was once assured that he did indeed write them himself and that he did so at a manual typewriter, with great care.

So I was kind of looking forward to his grand finale — his final column, which appears in the new CNY.

Also, his recent statements to a radio interviewer about the need for the Catholic Church to consider optional celibacy for priests had me thinking that he might go out with a bang.


His final column — called “A Thank You” — is a rather muted piece that reveals little.

The cardinal expresses his admiration for the various groups who make up the archdiocese — priests, permanent deacons, religious men and women, the laity, people of other faiths, the parishes.

Then he reiterates a few rather obvious priorities — education, Catholic Charities, health care, the seminary system.

He thanks the offices of the archdiocese for helping him, stating that “Thanks to them, the Archdiocese is free of debt, fiscally secure, properly structured and looking forward into a bright future.”

Then he wraps things up, somewhat abruptly, with graciousness:


There is much more that I could and should say. However, I fear I may have already worn out my welcome in the pages of this highly respected and growing Archdiocesan publication. Permit me to conclude by simply assuring the People of God of the Archdiocese of New York that I will never celebrate a Mass without mentioning them by name to the Lord. To have served as their bishop has been an honor and privilege beyond anything I might have ever imagined.


And that’s all, folks.

Egan getting more kudos for anti-abortion column

Not surprisingly, Cardinal Egan’s latest (and most interesting?) case against abortion is whipping around the blogosphere and getting raves from pro-life bloggers.

Three Catholic mothers in Texas write: “Cardinal Egan, GREAT JOB” and: “Teach it, fathers! Preach it. Live it. Who cares what the world thinks? They’ll never like us anyway. It’s a fools game to try.”

Another blogger writes of Egan’s column — which basically says that a photo of a 20-week-old fetus proves the anti-abortion case beyond doubt –  “How startlingly clear true reason is, when confronted honestly.”

Another: “It’s the single best pro-life plea I’ve read in a long time.”

Numerous blogs, referring to the photo Egan wrote about, have offered (in more or less the same wording): “Cardinal Egan wants you to LOOK”

Still others have continued a trend that began with Egan’s statement about Nancy Pelosi: comparing him to his predecessor. One blogger wrote: “Well done, Cardinal Egan, you are a tribute to the legacy of our beloved John Cardinal O’Connor.”

Although Egan took some hits for sitting next to pro-choice Obama at the Al Smith Dinner, I continue to think that he is reshaping his legacy to some degree as a leading abortion fighter of his day, at least within Catholic circles.

Egan, again, leads the anti-abortion charge

Speaking of the Great Abortion Debate (see below), Cardinal Egan says there is no debate.

fig19.jpgAll because of this picture — and others like it.

The Archbishop of NY, in the new Catholic New York, continues to raise his profile as one of the day’s most outspoken opponents of abortion.

I’ve noted several times that Egan’s harsh statements toward Rudy Giuliani and Nancy Pelosi have become rallying cries for pro-lifers.

Wait until they read Egan’s new column. Referring to this picture — “of a being that has been within its mother for 20 weeks” — he writes:

The picture on this page is an untouched photograph of a being that has been within its mother for 20 weeks. Please do me the favor of looking at it carefully.

Have you any doubt that it is a human being?

If you do not have any such doubt, have you any doubt that it is an innocent human being?

If you have no doubt about this either, have you any doubt that the authorities in a civilized society are duty-bound to protect this innocent human being if anyone were to wish to kill it?

If your answer to this last query is negative, that is, if you have no doubt that the authorities in a civilized society would be duty-bound to protect this innocent human being if someone were to wish to kill it, I would suggest—even insist—that there is not a lot more to be said about the issue of abortion in our society. It is wrong, and it cannot—must not—be tolerated.

Egan says that photographs like this one — and a 2-DVD set from the National Geographic Society — present visual evidence that stamps out other arguments.

Then he offers this: “If you can convince yourself that these beings are something other than living and innocent human beings, something, for example, such as “mere clusters of tissues,” you have a problem far more basic than merely not appreciating the wrongness of abortion. And that problem is—forgive me—self-deceit in a most extreme form.”

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life has competition here. So does James Dobson and others who lead the charge against abortion.

Egan even compares the “self-deceit” of abortion-rights defenders to the self-deceit of Hitler and Stalin:

Adolf Hitler convinced himself and his subjects that Jews and homosexuals were other than human beings. Joseph Stalin did the same as regards Cossacks and Russian aristocrats. And this despite the fact that Hitler and his subjects had seen both Jews and homosexuals with their own eyes, and Stalin and his subjects had seen both Cossacks and Russian aristocrats with theirs. Happily, there are few today who would hesitate to condemn in the roundest terms the self-deceit of Hitler, Stalin or even their subjects to the extent that the subjects could have done something to end the madness and protect living, innocent human beings.

He concludes with this:


Do me a favor. Look at the photograph again. Look and decide with honesty and decency what the Lord expects of you and me as the horror of “legalized” abortion continues to erode the honor of our nation. Look, and do not absolve yourself if you refuse to act.

As I’ve said before, I believe that in the past year, Egan has transformed his legacy for many people. He will be remembered by many for challenging supporters of abortion with a steely new rhetoric.

Archdiocese of NY lashes out at media

There is a buzz building about a statement on page 4 of the new Catholic New York.

It is from Joe Zwilling, the long-time communications director for the Archdiocese of New York. It begins:

“Of late, the Archdiocese has received an unusual number of contacts from reporters who indicate that they are about to write scandalous or damaging information about the Archdiocese or the Archbishop.”

The statement then mentions a report in the Boston Globe about Kerry Kennedy’s new book, in which Judge Anne Burke was critical of Cardinal Egan. I blogged about this a few days ago.

The statement also mentions an article in Vanity Fair about Raffaello Follieri, the Italian con-man who pled guilty this week to conspiracy, money laundering and fraud. The article alleges a relationship between Egan and Follieri that the archdiocese denies.

What I’ve heard a few people ask this afternoon is…Can that be all? Or are other “scandalous or damaging” reports coming?

The statement, by the way, also includes this about the article in the Boston Globe:

“Interestingly, when the reporter heard Mr. Zwilling’s responses and was told that both his questions and the answers would be published in Catholic New York, he pleaded that his name not be mentioned. Evidently, he does know the importance of one’s good name — at least his own.”

It could be me, but I can’t find the statement on the CNY website…