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Tribunes of the People

FABC's closed-door media policy for conference needs explanation

  • Fr. Bill Grimm, Tokyo
  • Japan
  • December 3, 2012
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“Tribune” is a common name for newspapers. There are papers by that name in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Nigeria, the United States, Argentina and many other countries. One of the world’s major international news sources is the International Herald Tribune, the name of which is the result of the 1924 merger of two New York City newspapers, the Herald (which originally published it) and the Tribune.

The name Tribune comes from the title of an official in ancient Rome. The tribuni plebis were chosen by the people rather than appointed by the rulers and served as representatives of the ordinary people. They had the authority to veto actions by the rulers.

Newspapers are named for the tribunes because one of the main functions of a healthy press is to represent the interests of the people by examining and publicizing the actions of rulers. Of course, rulers are not always pleased by the attention and so they frequently try to thwart the press and its modern media descendants in the exercise of their vocation.

The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences will hold its re-scheduled 10th plenary meeting December 10-16 in Vietnam. The meeting of “rulers” in the Catholic Church in Asia will be closed to journalists.

Explaining the shutout, Fr. Raymond Ambroise, head of the FABC Office of Social Communications, said the bishops “do not feel free to speak openly with journalists present.” In other words, our bishops are uncomfortable having the eyes and ears of the People of God looking at what they do and listening to what they say.

This is not the first time that the FABC has tried to prevent the tribunes of the people from keeping an eye on the body that, in theory at least, sets much of the tone and direction for the Church in Asia. In November of last year, the FABC Office of Clergy sponsored a seminar in Bangkok on “The Impact of Pedophilia Crisis on the Church in Asia.” It, too, was closed to the media.

Adverse reaction to that closing seemed to bear fruit and there were indications that the FABC would become more open to letting the Church know what their “rulers” were doing. Apparently, the lesson, if it was learned at all, has been forgotten.

When those in power are allergic to having their activities witnessed by outsiders, even when those “outsiders” represent the whole reason for the leaders’ existence, we must ask why.

One reason, of course, is that their meeting will deal with legitimately confidential matters requiring the protection of third parties (not of the participants themselves).

Less edifying are cases where the leaders are corrupt or petty and fear exposure of their corruption and pettiness, or they hope to hide their real motives, opinion and differences.

Another reason may be that the leaders are inept and fear that people will realize that they are “led” by the incompetent.

Yet another is that they are ashamed or at least embarrassed by what they do or say behind closed doors.

Finally, they may simply either fear or disdain the people they are supposed to serve.

The theme of the FABC gathering in Vietnam is “Responding to the Challenges of Asia: The New Evangelization.” It does not bring to mind any conceivable matters of confidentiality, but if such matters were to arise, they could be dealt with in closed sessions without closing the entire gathering.

So, the bishops’ decision to exclude the media cannot be attributed to a desire to protect third parties. On the contrary, the FABC will presumably hope for wide dissemination of their decisions, if only post factum.

So, we are left to wonder if the reason the FABC fears the tribunes of the People of God is that the bishops are corrupt, or petty, or dishonest, or inept, or incompetent, or ashamed, or embarrassed, or fearful, or arrogant or “all of the above.”

Is this really the message the FABC wants to convey?

Father William Grimm is a Maryknoll Missioner and publisher of ucanews.com

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