It could be better.
It could be less talky, more dramatic — and shorter.
But it’s a start.
At nearly 10 minutes long, this mini-documentary, “The Right to Religious Freedom,” is a worthwhile document, making its point about the vital importance of freedom of religion (not just worship) for Catholics, people of other faiths and even people of no faith, who believe in liberty and the right to have a conscientious objection.
But, it’s a production by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which doesn’t appear to have learned much from Pope Francis about reaching out through media — and that’s not saying a lot. As we all know, the pope’s freewheeling media style can be disconcerting, but no one can deny that he’s had an effect at a visceral level, even for some lapsed Catholics and those who’ve never set foot in a church.
What the Vatican has on its side right now in terms of media outreach is a pontiff who’s accessible and approachable, who exudes warmth and good humor, and who’s not so full of his own importance that he’s above snapping selfies with fans …
… or creating an Instagram account that was an insta-hit.
The USCCB is still too attached to the notion that the magisterium has to look majestic, so this video — while well-executed — is too dry and emotionally contained to be truly stirring.
However, it is chock-full of important things being said. If only there was a two-minute version, focusing more on the Little Sisters of the Poor, with the legal arguments thrown in as onscreen words or voiceover.
Under no circumstances, though, would I have lost this quote from Professor Helen Alvare of George Mason University Law School:
Religious freedom means the state is not overarching and in your face at all times. When religious freedom goes away, and there is no transcendent authority, there is only majority will. The law is the only norm, and the people in power now are always the only power.
But not all high-impact video has to have bells and whistles. By contrast, watch this deeply personal testimony from Michael Voris of the media apostolate Church Militant. Whatever the truth of what he says about the Archdiocese of New York (which has vigorously rejected his assertion that it’s digging up dirt on him), this unadorned confessional monologue has immense power.
It’s a look at a man — who appears to be pretty ragged around the edges — baring his soul for the good of what he represents. He doesn’t have to dissolve into tears or rend his garments to get his point across. He just speaks with clarity and authenticity.
I’m not urging the USCCB to make videos like Church Militant’s, but the bishops need to realize that all the intellectual arguments in the world don’t hold up against opponents who go straight to the gut, and who aren’t shy about impugning the motives and the character of anyone who disagrees with them.
Of course, we’re not going to go toe-to-toe or blow-for-blow with our opponents — we’d be pretty bad Catholics if we did that — but unless we open our hearts and show the world what the Faith means to us on our deepest levels, we’ll not only lose the argument, we may lose the ability to publicly make it.
Good try, USCCB, but you can do better. You must do better — and so must we.
Images: Wikimedia Commons; L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters