Catholic Voices in the media wilderness

08 Apr 2013

By Matthew Biddle

The founders of Catholic Voices Australia with Fr Nicholas Pearce at the organisation’s launch on April 4. From left to right: Chris Bergin, Kathleen Bergin, Penny Badwal, Robert Dugdale, Madeleine Dugdale, Therese Nichols.

A group of young Catholics in Melbourne are strengthening the image of the Church in Australia by representing it in an informed, educated and orthodox way.

Late last year six lay Catholics founded Catholic Voices Australia, an organisation that seeks to provide the media with access to well-informed, practicing Catholics who will represent the Church truthfully and passionately in the media.

Chris Bergin, one of the founders of Catholic Voices Australia, said it was important to have well-formed people speaking about the Church in the media.

“The aim of Catholic Voices is to put a positive message into the media cycle about the faith and the Church,” he said.

“The media news cycle governs so much of how people become informed about everything that’s going on in their lives.

“We’re committed to, wherever possible, getting the Church’s message out into that environment.”

Mr Bergin and wife Kathleen, along with four other Victorians, formed the group to fill the urgent need to establish a better representation of the Church to the public.

The accountant and father-of-three said the group had been thinking about starting Catholic Voices for about a year.

Catholic Voices was first established in the United Kingdom for the 2010 visit of Pope Benedict XVI, with a team of 23 Catholics.

There are now groups in ten other countries, including Spain, Chile, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland and the USA.

Speaking at the official launch of Catholic Voices Australia in Melbourne on April 4, Dr Tracey Rowland said the British model was a great example of what such a group is capable of.

“Instead of New Age nuns and defrocked priests giving the lion’s share of the media interviews, young, university educated British laity stood before the cameras and spoke of their love for the Church,” she said.

Dr Rowland asserted that one of the strongest criticisms of Catholicism is that it is “a religion for social losers.”

“If our Catholic Voices Australia participants look like they can hold down a professional job, as they all do, and that they might actually have some friends, as well as a sense of humour, then their arrival on the media scene in Australia will be a significant advance for the Church’s public relations,” she said.

“The Catholic Voices project requires a combination of courage, a good sense of humour and intellectual panache.”

Operating independently of the Catholic Church, the group relies on fundraising to cover its running costs.

“We have the approval of our local Bishop, Archbishop Hart here in Melbourne … but we are 100 per cent in line with the Church’s teachings,” Mr Bergin said.

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent election of Pope Francis provided the perfect opportunity for Catholic Voices to take centre stage, albeit at very little notice.

“When the pope resigned we quickly moved into action to train up a very small core group of people so that we could take advantage of the Church being front and centre in the media and make sure the Church was, wherever possible, represented in a positive light,” Mr Bergin said.

During the papal transition, representatives of Catholic Voices took part in 12 interviews on radio and television stations including Sky News, Channel Seven, 2GB in Sydney, and ABC radio national.

“We moved incredibly quickly from when we decided to get a group together,” Mr Bergin said.

“It was a matter of ten days, and we had someone who had never been in the media before, doing a live cross on Sky News for example.”

Catholic Voices Australia will hold a training weekend later this month to provide attendees with media skills and expert apologetic knowledge.

Jack Valero and Austen Ivereigh – the two founders of Catholic Voices in the United Kingdom – are travelling to Melbourne to assist with the training.