Q&A: From sports news to the Good News

Meet Mark Haas, the new Public Relations Director for the archdiocese

Aaron Lambert

Mark Haas thought he would be a sports anchor for much of his career. God had other plans.

Now, Haas is the new Director of Public Relations for the Archdiocese of Denver — a position that the communications office for the archdiocese has never traditionally had. Haas has enjoyed a fruitful career as a TV sports anchor — including a four-year stint on CBS 4 here in Denver — and brings a unique skillset to the archdiocese.

So how did Haas go from being a sports anchor covering the Denver Broncos on Super Bowl 50 to the director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Denver? We sat down with him to find out.

Denver Catholic: What sort of background do you come from?

Mark Haas: I grew up in Fort Collins and became very interested in the combination of sports and media, so I wanted to create a career out of that. I went to the University of Southern California, and then spent the next 12 years working my way through small television markets, with stops in St. George, Utah, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Calif., and then four years here in Denver at CBS 4. I’ve spent my career working on the media side, so I have an understanding of how newsrooms work and I’m hoping that in this role, knowing how journalists work will help me to spread the stories and message of the Church in northern Colorado.

DC: How does a sports anchor end up as a PR director for the Catholic Church?

MH: I was born and raised Catholic, and like a lot of young adults, I went through some ups and downs in terms of my faith, but in the tough times, I’ve always been drawn back to a relationship with the Church and with God. Especially within the last year – I thought I was going to have a long career doing sports television. It was something I liked, it was something I enjoyed, it was something I thought I was good at. But I was faced with an unexpected job loss, and looking at what was important to me in terms of staying in Colorado, starting my family here and wanting to find a career that had value, I really turned the situation over to God. To best of my ability, I said, “Whatever you have planned for me next, I’ll do.” Through a long process of applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, and trying to figure out what my skills could translate to, I ended up at the archdiocese and found a group of people that saw some value in my previous experiences and how I could translate them into some new experiences. There was a disappointment in leaving a career I loved, but there is excitement now in getting to start a new chapter and work for my Church and work in a capacity where I can better live and grow my faith.

DC: What are your goals as the PR director for the archdiocese?

MH: I think that for a long time local news coverage, in general, focused mostly on negative stories, but I’ve seen that start to change and local media give more attention to positive stories, and is there any better news than the news of Jesus Christ? My goal is to help highlight some of the great things that are happening in the Catholic Church and to make sure people are aware of the services that are offered by the Catholic Church.

I’ve also seen in my career, that many people have a negative opinion of the media and are hesitant to trust them, but it’s been my experience with the reporters, anchors and journalists I’ve worked with that they sincerely want to do a good job – they want to tell fair and truthful stories. So, my goal is to bridge the gap and be a great liaison between the media and Catholic Church, helping the local outlets do their job, and inviting them to tell our great stories.

DC: Who’s the most famous person that you’ve met?

MH: Peyton Manning. Peyton was very smart with the media and he knew how to avoid questions that he didn’t like. During tough times with the Broncos, he had a way of making a joke that we would all kind of bite on and that would become the headline as opposed to talking about the struggles with the team. He was very skilled – but professional – with the media.

COMING UP: Historical clarity and today’s Catholic contentions

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One of the curiosities of the 21st-century Catholic debate is that many Catholic traditionalists (especially integralists) and a high percentage of Catholic progressives make the same mistake in analyzing the cause of today’s contentions within the Church — or to vary the old fallacy taught in Logic 101, they think in terms of post Concilium ergo propter Concilium [everything that’s happened after the Council has happened because of the Council]. And inside that fallacy is a common misreading of modern Catholic history. The traditionalists insist that everything was fine before the Council (which many of them therefore regard as a terrible mistake); the progressives agree that the pre-Vatican II Church was a stable institution but deplore that stability as rigidity and desiccation.

But that’s not the way things were pre-Vatican II, as I explain at some length and with some engaging stories in my new book, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform (Basic Books). And no one knew the truth about pre-Vatican II Catholicism better than the man who was elected pope during the Council and guided Vatican II through its last three sessions, St. Paul VI.

On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII, thought to be an elderly placeholder, stunned both the Church and the world by announcing his intention to summon the 21st ecumenical council. That night, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (who would be known as Paul VI four and a half years later), called an old friend. An experienced churchman who had long served Pius XII as chief of staff, Montini saw storm clouds on the horizon: “This holy old boy,” he said of John XXIII, “doesn’t know what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up.”

That shrewd observation turned out to be spot on –– and not simply because of the Council, but because of the bees and hornets that had been buzzing around the ecclesiastical nest for well over 100 years.

Contrary to both traditionalist and progressive misconceptions, Catholicism was not a placid institution, free of controversy and contention, prior to Vatican II. As I show in The Irony of Modern Catholic History, there was considerable intellectual ferment in the Church during the mid-19th century, involving great figures like the recently-canonized John Henry Newman, the German bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (grandfather of modern Catholic social thought), and the Italian polymath Antonio Rosmini (praised by John Paul II in the 1999 encyclical, Faith and Reason, and beatified under Benedict XVI). That ferment accelerated during the 25 year pontificate of Leo XIII, who launched what I dub the “Leonine Revolution,” challenging the Church to engage the modern world with distinctively Catholic tools in order to convert the modern world and lay a firmer foundation for its aspirations.

American Catholicism, heavily focused on institution-building, was largely unaware of the sharp-edged controversies (and ecclesiastical elbow-throwing) that followed Leo XIII’s death in 1903. Those controversies, plus the civilization-shattering experience of two world wars in Europe, plus a rapid secularization process in Old Europe that began in the 19th century, set the stage for John XXIII’s epic opening address to Vatican II. There, the Pope explained what he envisioned Vatican II doing: gathering up the energies let loose by the Leonine Revolution and focusing them through the prism of an ecumenical council, which he hoped would be a Pentecostal experience energizing the Church with new evangelical zeal.

John XXIII understood that the Gospel proposal could only be made by speaking to the modern world in a vocabulary the modern world could hear. Finding the appropriate grammar and vocabulary for contemporary evangelization didn’t mean emptying Catholicism of its content or challenge, however. As the Pope insisted, the perennial truths of the faith were to be expressed with the “same meaning” and the “same judgment.” Vatican II, in other words, was to foster the development of doctrine, not the deconstruction of doctrine. And the point of that doctrinal development was to equip the Church for mission and evangelization, for the modern world would be converted by truth, not ambiguity or confusion.

Over the past six and a half years, it’s become abundantly clear that more than a few Catholics, some quite prominently placed, still don’t get this history. Nor do the more vociferous elements in the Catholic blogosphere. Which is why I hope The Irony of Modern Catholic History helps facilitate a more thoughtful debate on the Catholic present and future, through a better understanding of the Catholic past.