Media group set up for Pope's visit will hold lectures, meetings and debates with the aim of keeping Catholics in the public sphere

Catholic Voices – originally conceived to meet the media demands during the Pope’s visit to Britain – is being refashioned as an academy aimed at keeping Catholics in the public sphere.

The group, consisting mainly of young lay professionals, was brought together to meet the growing media demands surrounding Pope Benedict’s visit. The members were given training on presenting themselves in the media and briefings on difficult Church issues.

Organisers say the project’s new form was inspired by the Pope’s call for Catholics to be active in the public sphere but also because of “the need to maintain and develop the existing network of speakers and experts brought together by Catholic Voices, to provide for their ongoing formation, as well as continued support for the project”.

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The Catholic Academy, as it is called, will hold a regular series of meetings, including public events, lectures and debates. The organisation will also host Chatham House-style meetings on the Church’s place in the public sphere.

The group also plans to host a series of dialogues with people who are hostile to the Church. Eight members of Catholic Voices met a group of humanists who were part of the Protest the Pope coalition during the last week of October and more meetings are being talked about. The new Academy also hopes for dialogue with victims of clerical sex abuse.

While the media training for the Catholic Voices group was based in London, the Catholic Voices Academy will run a programme of briefings and media training sessions for a group in Manchester next year between March and
July.

The original members of Catholic Voices, which was made up of “ordinary Catholics”, were selected by the project’s founders and co-ordinators, Jack Valero of Opus Dei, Austen Ivereigh, a Catholic journalist, and Kathleen Griffin, a producer at the BBC.

Those wishing to join the Academy’s speakers’ bureau go through a selection process where candidates will be chosen for their Catholicity, their sympathy to the bishops, and their presentation skills. The organisers have said they would prefer younger applicants with “ordinary jobs” from outside London, although they remain open to exceptions.

They will hold interviews in February 2011.

Dr Ivereigh and Miss Griffin are putting together a book which pulls together the briefings that were used to train up the Catholic Voices volunteers before the papal visit.

Organisers hope in part to pay for the costs of free media training by holding workshops at market rates for church organisations learning how to deal with “neuralgic issues”.

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