Professor Talks Communication in the Catholic Church

To communication professor Vincent Rocchio, the Catholic Church has an Internet problem.

On Friday night, Rocchio hosted a roll-out event for his book, Christianity and the Culture Machine: Media and Theology in the Age of Late Secularism, in the Theology and Ministry Library on Brighton Campus. He spoke about his nine-year journey in writing the book, and analyzed a video clip from the movie Joyeux Noël as an example of the kind of work he did to complete his book. Rocchio also had copies of Christianity and the Culture Machine available for purchase for the people in attendance.

Rocchio is especially interested in how the media is used to communicate with others. His previous works, Cinema of Anxiety: A Psychoanalysis of Italian Neorealism and Reel Racism: Confronting Hollywood’s Construction of Afro-american Culture, both challenge existing paradigms.

In his first book, he analyzed how Italian neorealism lacked any contemporary theory, and in his second, Rocchio studied the structures of racial hierarchy and how the media portrayed racism. So, naturally, when it came to the topic of the institutional Church, Rocchio began to wonder why the Church as a whole does such a poor job of communicating.

The contradiction found in the Church and its poor communication led to his latest book. The Church, he said, is failing to use media to convey its theology.

“I believed the solutions to that problem could be found if we applied some of the theoretical tools of media and theoretical studies to the problem,” he said.

In the marketplace, Christianity is everywhere, but the Church has been stuck in, as Rocchio put it, a medieval model of how it conceptualizes its relationship to its audience. As the rest of the world changes with new technology, the Church is failing to grow and develop its communication outlets. It simply can’t keep up, he said.

Currently, the Church has a Vatican newspaper and radio station, but their effectiveness is questionable.

“The Church still doesn’t know how to communicate the vitality of its message in ways that cultivate and captivate the allegiance of its followers,” he said.

Hollywood, Rocchio said, is much more effective at spreading the message of Christianity.

It found a gap, and it is trying to articulate these messages with storylines that have components of Christian theology.

Rocchio studied Profits and Kings, The West Wing, and Seabiscuit to understand how Hollywood portrays these Christian ideals within the story lines, he said.

As for the writing process, it wasn’t easy. Rocchio’s wife battled cancer, and he stopped teaching and writing to be there for her, as well as his kids. This caused about a three-year gap in his work, but he eventually came back to it.

When he began to write again, he felt he was “wandering around in the dark” studying this new sub-discipline between media and theology. It was something that had not been done before.

Rocchio also struggled because he felt he was just one scholar complaining to a hierarchy that did not want to listen and did not care. But he was wrong.

When Pope Francis replaced Pope Benedict XVI in 2013, Rocchio knew it signaled a change not only for the Catholic Church, but also for his studies. He now saw someone who had a similar idea to his, acting upon it while in a position of power.

Pope Francis started doing what Rocchio had been studying and writing about.

“He wanted to shift the whole concept of the Church from obedience to authority, to amorality, to a concern for humanity and how that moves us closer to God,” Rocchio said.

Featured Image by Sophie Reardon / Heights Editor

September 25, 2016