Catholic speakers bureau prepares for Pope's visit

Worth Abbey Church

Worth Abbey Church

An "authoritative but unofficial" bureau of media-trained and well-briefed Catholic speakers is being prepared in the months leading up to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK. 

Catholic Voices is a project of the Catholic Union of Great Britain. Its president, Lord Brennan, and the Abbot of Worth, Christopher Jamison, are the project's patrons. Catholic Voices is independent of the Bishops' Conference, but has its approval. 

Between March and June, a team of between 20 and 25 people will be invited to attend twice-monthly briefing sessions with experts on contentious issues likely to come under the spotlight during the papal visit. They will also receive three day-long media skills training sessions during those months, and conclude their formation with a residential retreat at Worth Abbey in the summer. 

The team will then be available to the media prior to and during Pope Benedict's  September visit. 

In his address on Monday to the English and Welsh bishops in Rome, Pope Benedict called on them to "insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society" and "to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church's mission." He also held out the example of Cardinal Newman, saying "great writers and communicators" were needed in today's Church. 

Abbot Christopher Jamison said: "Catholic voices came out of discussions that followed the disastrous outcome of a major public debate about the Church last October. Some Catholics were afterwards calling for a professional group of apologists - a modern-day version of the old Catholic Evidence Guild but geared to the demands of the modern media. Pope Benedict's address to our bishops in Rome show how important and necessary this project is. "

Catholic Voices draws on the experience of the Da Vinci Code Response Group. In 2006 a team of Catholics was brought together to respond to media interest in the run-up to the release of the film of Dan Brown's book. 

"The Da Vinci Code Response Group generated positive coverage of the Church from the unpromising start of a grossly misleading novel. This shows what is possible provided that you avoid defensive aggression on the one hand and naive enthusiasm on the other," Abbot Christopher said. 

The DVC Response Group was co-ordinated by Jack Valero and Austen Ivereigh, who will also co-ordinate Catholic Voices together with Kathleen Griffin, a former BBC producer and experienced media trainer. 

Lord Brennan said: "The idea is to have a good mixture of people on our team. Some might have a particular knowledge or expertise, but we are looking mostly for fresh faces, people who are willing to be trained in how to put across their views in the quick-fire settings of media interviews and debates. The team will be available before and during Pope Benedict's visit and we hope will continue in some form afterwards."

He said the objective was to give the team sound intellectual formation in Church teaching and media skills training, as well as preparation and support. 

People interested in being involved in the project as either experts or speakers (or both) are invited to email  by 10 February. 

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