Program #0215 for Friday, January 13, 2012: Terry Donilon

January 13, 2012

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell

Today’s guest(s): Terry Donilon, Secretary for Communications and Public Affairs of the Archdiocese of Boston

Links from today’s show:

Today’s topics: Terry Donilon, spokesman for Cardinal Seán, and the Church in the news

Summary of today’s show: Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell have a conversation with Terry Donilon, the secretary for communications and public affairs for the Archdiocese and the official spokesman for Cardinal Seán, who outlines his path from growing up in Rhode Island through majoring in theater in college to working for a number of Rhode Island politicians as press aide and spokesman. Terry also talks about how he left a good job as spokesman for Shaw’s to come work for Cardinal Seán in some of the Archdiocese’s darkest days and reflects on some of the biggest stories he’s dealt with in his position. Scot, Fr. Mark, and Terry discuss whether the media is biased against the Church and then predict what will be the big stories related to the Church in 2012.

1st segment: Scot and Fr. Mark talked about the busy week in the Pastoral Center, without about 1,000 guests total coming in to talk about pastoral planning in the Archdiocese. Fr. Mark said we have to work out these things to have the best plan for the Archdiocese going forward. Scot said one of the big differences in the Church from his days working in the private sector is that the Church has a consultative decision-making process, even though the decision is ultimately the Cardinal’s. Fr. Mark said the Cardinal’s personality is that he likes to hear from everyone. People said the website is being built to receive feedback from people.

Scot said yesterday was the Presbyteral Council meeting. Fr. Mark has a particular role on the council as judicial vicar. They discussed pastoral planning and physician-assisted suicide. They also talked about ways parishes can collaborate.

2nd segment: Scot and Fr. Mark welcome Terry Donilon to the show. Scot said Terry has served in a variety of public relations jobs in both private sector, politics, and now the Church. Terry said his parents were both intimately involved in government and politics. They were 4 kids and his father was former head of Providence school committee and his mother was a head of a union.

Scot said was a theater major in college and was heading to theater education. Terry said working in the theater prepared him well for working with the media in Boston. It opened him up in terms of communicating and having a broad background. Terry talked about singing before a legendary liturgical choir director. Terry said he wasn’t as musically inclined as his siblings, but his freshman year at Emerson College, he had to take a semester off due to illness and listened to lots of singing baritones. He went back to college and got the lead in a musical. Many of his classmates have jobs in theater and entertainment today, including several on Broadway.

Scot said he can’t do justice to Terry’s voice. It’s a powerful voice. Terry said he’s sung at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In 1996, he sang for Pope John Paul II in Rome.

Terry worked in radio coming out of college, and worked in Providence. He met Providence Major Joe Paolino, who became a friend and brought him on staff. He went on to work for Governor Bruce Sundland and a congressman. He thinks it’s important to instill in his own kids the importance of politics and public affairs. Scot said he’s served pro-life Democrats. Bob Weygand was a pro-life Democrat who lost the senate race in 2000 against Republican Lincoln Chaffee.

Terry said he grew tired of the political mindset after a while. He said it’s more fun to be on this side of politics. He’s been encouraged to put his name on a ballot, but he thinks running for office changes you. It’s rare to find someone like New Hampshire Republican Ovid Lamontagne who doesn’t get changed.

Terry said it’s a fascinating and important world, but the people involved are often insulated from the world outside politics. Scot emphasized that it’s important to get beyond the slogans and understand what exactly the issue are.

Scot asked Terry what it was like to work with Shaw’s. Terry said it was a time of growth for Shaw’s, opening stores and growing jobs. Supermarkets are job creators and an economic engine. They can totally transform a town. He said many towns are centered around these companies in their midst.

Terry asked himself how he got from Shaw’s to the Archdiocese. He’s always been involved in the Church, it’s always been important to him. He’s sung in church for more than 20 years. In December 2004, he was considering what he’s going to be doing the rest of his life. Five months later, he was working for the Archdiocese. If you’re willing open yourself up to the Lord, he will lead you.

Scot noted that the Archdiocese was going through a difficult time then, with the abuse crisis and reconfiguration. Many of his friends told him he was crazy to take the job, but they understood it was the right move for him because of his backgrounds. His daughter, who was a teen at the time, asked him why he wanted t go work with the old, stodgy institution. He said the leadership had a made a commitment to make things better and they have. He thinks it can be difficult to work here, but at the end of the day, we’re better off today than we were in 2004. He said the Church is a rock in people’s lives despite the tumult and they cling to it.

Fr. Mark said when critical decisions are made by the Cardinal and his advisors, they do so with the best intention to do what’s right and just. Terry said there are days when he wants to go crazy when he sees what some people write, but then he steps back and considers how to help the cardinal carve through the onslaught. When the history of Cardinal Seán is written, it will say he met his objective of healing the Archdiocese of Boston.

3rd segment: Looking back over his time here, Terry said the top story is how Cardinal Seán has been committed to helping survivors of sexual abuse with healing and reconciliation, as well as bolster the morale of priests and laity.

Other stories included financial transparency and solvency. The archdiocese was losing about $15 million per year on its budget. Terry said the Cardinal is very handy with budgets and numbers. He dealt with it decisively and forthrightly. Terry said the Cardinal opened the Archdiocese’s books more than any other diocese in the country.

Terry said with Pastoral Planning, the cardinal has been working on this for a long time. The cardinal is taking an organic approach. Part of the approach is to bring more people back to Mass and so he wants to get the media to pay attention to stories like Catholics Come Home.

Scot asked about the perception that the media is biased against the Church. Terry said he doesn’t think the editors and reporters look for ways to attack the Church. Instead, we have a highly charged political environment with a very liberal community and high-power educational and cultural and industry organizations. This creates friction with the Church. For the most part, they have repaired a relationship with the media that was damaged, which damage including a lack of trust on the part of the public too. They repair the media relationship in order to get the message out. He said these are human beings doing this work. Obviously, at the high level they disagree with us on many issues, but we can’t give up our position because we are willing to step out and speak on the issues.

Fr. Mark when do you have to react defensively and when do you let it go. Terry said it’s a judgment call. He said he has a wide lens of what’s out there short term and long term. When someone attacks the Cardinal and the church in a slanderous and damaging way that damages what the Church stands for, they take the reporters and media to task for what they have done wrong. But he’s built a mutual respect in a way that we have fewer of those moments. For the most part, we get fair and balanced coverage. We’re a very large organization in this area. We are the second-largest social service organization in the state. We educate many, many children. Take those away we’d all be paying higher taxes and perhaps receive lower quality services. Terry said the media look at us and say that we have a big footprint in the Commonwealth.

Terry said when he first started 20 years ago, there were no blogs, no email, no smartphones and news was generated once per day. Now the news cycle is measured in minutes. It’s important to have a strong message and strong message and stay true to who you are. In this archdiocese, we have a great leader who heals, rebuilds, returns trusts, and brought back credibility.

Scot said media organizations are under tremendous financial pressures. He asked how that affects the coverage of the Church when stories about scandal can sell papers or get ratings. Terry said the state of the media is that they are in a state of survival. We’re seeing them change how they do things. He doesn’t think that the newsroom thinks about cranking up stories to sell papers. Most credible papers and TV stations take their jobs seriously. But there’s a lot of experienced reporters that have left the industry and there’s a new inexperienced group that will take time to educate.

Fr. Mark said sometimes it’s frustrating to see the headlines are unbalanced while the story is good. Terry said the headlines can often drive what the rest of the media report. Terry said the reporters in Boston for the most part do well in not ambushing you. Fr. Mark also commented on the soundbite being taken from a long interview.

Terry said people often read the Globe and Herald editorial pages and wonder how we can say that’s fair coverage. Terry pointed out that editorial writers and newsroom reporters don’t influence each other on a daily basis; there’s competition there between them.

Scot asked what will be the big stories will be in 2012. Terry said the upcoming consistory will be a big one and the 10th anniversary of the Dallas charter in June as well as the pastoral planning in the archdiocese. He thinks it will be a year of great growth for the Archdiocese. He thinks the big issue pushed by the cardinal and other Mass. bishops will be the assisted suicide ballot question. What we’re learning is that the bishops have the right message and we have a right and a track record of involving ourselves in these big issues. The Church has a history of having a place in the debate.

4th segment: Now as we do every week at this time, we will consider the Mass readings for this Sunday, specifically the Gospel reading.

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD
where the ark of God was.
The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, “Here I am.”
Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am. You called me.”
“I did not call you, ” Eli said. “Go back to sleep.”
So he went back to sleep.
Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli.
“Here I am, ” he said. “You called me.”
But Eli answered, “I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep.”

At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,
because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet.
The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time.
Getting up and going to Eli, he said, “Here I am. You called me.”
Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth.
So he said to Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply,
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
When Samuel went to sleep in his place,
the LORD came and revealed his presence,
calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

John was standing with two of his disciples,

and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,

“Behold, the Lamb of God.”

The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.

Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,

“What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi” – which translated means Teacher -,

“where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”

So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,

and they stayed with him that day.

It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,

was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.

He first found his own brother Simon and told him,

“We have found the Messiah” – which is translated Christ -.

Then he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said,

“You are Simon the son of John;

you will be called Cephas” – which is translated Peter.

Scot said both readings are about callings. Shouldn’t we able be saying, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” We’re creating the space so we can hear him speak to us. In the Gospel, it reminds him that if it wasn’t for Andrew finding Jesus and bringing Peter to him, we wouldn’t have the first among the apostles, Peter our first Pope.

Fr. Mark said we see Andrew three times in the Gospel of John. Here he meets Jesus and then goes to bring Peter to him. At the feeding of the 5000, Andrew brings the boy with loaves and fishes to Jesus. Later on he brings some Greeks to Jesus. The first time, he brings his family to Jesus, then he brings a youth, then he brings a Gentile. Scot said Andrew didn’t have to do all the convincing. For us, we can say we don’t have to do all the convincing. We have to bring them to Jesus and let Jesus do the convincing. Fr. Mark pointed out how St. John the Baptist sends his disciples to follow Jesus. The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are here, which is “Come and see.”

Scot said when people have questions about the Church, we can say, “Come and see.” Come to Mass with me, share this life with us and you will see.

Fr. Mark said these readings tell us that we invite the Lord to speak to us and hear the Lord say to us, Come and see. Scot said the Catholic Church is where we have met Jesus Christ and so come and see where he is.

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