Over 50 parishioners from across the Diocese of East Anglia attended the workshop at Our Lady and St Thomas of Canterbury, arranged by the Communications and New Evangelisation departments within the diocese.
The main speaker was Brenden Thompson, CEO of Catholic Voices, a project set up to help people share the story of the church and improve its representation in the media.
When faced with difficult questions about your faith or controversies facing the church, Brenden argues that people often instinctively either fight, flee or freeze.
Instead he says, you should avoid the temptation to quickly become defensive and try to see where the person talking to you is coming from.
Using a technique Catholic Voices have developed, which is called “reframing”, you should try to work out the frame or perspective from which the questions are coming.
“You should try to identify the positive intention of the questioner and then reframe the question, and your answer, to be positive rather than defensive,” said Brenden.
“Ask yourself what they are really saying, what values do they hold and what values do you hold,” he said. “You should then ask yourself what you need to know to answer the question and what do you want to communicate.”
Using the example of clerical abuse in the Catholic church, Brenden said that we need to acknowledge the wrong-doing and the hurt and agree that we share the anger felt and want to channel that into making sure justice happens and that abuse cannot take place in the future.
“Because the abuse is historic doesn’t mean that the pain is historic,” said Brenden. “We need to acknowledge that we are a reforming institution but not yet reformed and we need to listen to the voices and stories of the victims.
“Integrity must come before policies if they are to have any effect,” he argued, “and we need to shift the focus from the so-called ‘scandal’ to the victims. We need to learn to speak in a non-defensive way.”
In all of our communications we are in fact aiming at a type of repentance argued Brenden – a conversion of not only minds but also hearts: “Don’t win the argument but lose the soul.”
In a final session, Brenden outlined the Catholic Voices ten principles of civil communication:
Participants appreciated the workshop and ideas talked about.
Ciaran Losasso, from the Ignite Team, said: “Brenden was an excellent speaker who gave us a lot of insight into how we can share our faith including those aspects which are more controversial and how to share it with clarity, with confidence and with positivity.
Teresa Wiseman from Wymondham said: “It was excellent and thought-provoking. It would make the average Catholic think twice before they jump in to an argument to try to defend the faith. With a little knowledge, and confidence in what you are saying, he suggested you should think about what perspective the person you are talking to is coming from.
Pictured above is Brenden Thompson, CEO from Catholic Voices, in Wymondham and delegates.