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: Nothing about us without us

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The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA