Bishops and the blogosphere

The Catholic Herald posts an editorial today on the rather rocky relationship that can exist between bishops and bloggers.

But we believe that the emergence of the Catholic blogosphere is one of the most significant developments in the 21st-century Church. Blogs not only provide a new space for the free exchange of Catholic opinion but also take the Church deep into the online world in which increasing numbers of people spend most of their waking lives. Catholic blogs, at their very best, have a kind of prophetic dimension. Of course it’s unpleasant to be denounced by the Jeremiahs of the internet, but if they help us reflect critically on the way we use whatever authority we have in the Church they are performing an important service.

Blogging has proven to be more than a noughties fad. Throughout this century people’s views of the Church are likely to be shaped by what they read in the Catholic blogosphere. This presents a challenge both to bloggers and bishops. Bloggers need to up their game, striving to uphold the basic media standards of truth, fairness and accuracy, and reflecting constantly on whether they are presenting the faith appealingly to non-Catholics. The bishops, meanwhile, should consider embracing the Catholic blogosphere. The best way to do this would be through face-to-face meetings with bloggers in their dioceses. Misunderstandings could be resolved and bloggers encouraged to bring bishops’ messages to a vast new audience.

We in  Ordinariate circles have some comments by Cardinal Mueller to consider.  These from his visit to Houston last year (via Ordinariate Expats):

  • The Archbishop particularly took blogs to task, stating that they are a way of promoting what he called “unbridled, unreflected” comment and dissent. He stated that love must be the foundation of our work as bloggers.

Or this from his talk to the Ordinariate pilgrims in Rome in February:

The Prefect went on to issue a word of warning about the potential problems caused by the “new media”, particularly through blogs. He said that some of the ordinariate clergy and faithful wrote blogs, which, while being a helpful tool of evangelisation, could also “express un-reflected speech lacking in charity”. The image of the ordinariate was not helped by this, he said, and it fell to the ordinaries to exercise vigilance over these blogs and, if necessary, to intervene.

 

A while back, The Hermeneutic of Continuity blog reacted to Mueller’s comments and the apparent suppression by a bishop of a deacon’s popular blog Protect the Pope. 

Fr. Tim Finegan writes:

I do wonder about the practical wisdom of attempting to censor the blogosphere. Protect the Pope now carries posts by Mrs Donnelly, and she has offered an invitation to others to contribute material – which several writers have already taken up. Other censored bloggers can also simply start up a new blog under a pseudonym, or use alternative social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter are well-known but the possibilities are endless. As activists on the internet pointed out years ago, censorship is just another bug for which you find a hack or a workaround. The danger is that a previously censored commenter will be probably not be inclined to moderation in a new social media incarnation.

Bishops also have on their side the great respect of most Catholics for Bishops. Quite often a blog will criticise a Bishop severely, only to find that another blog tells a different side to the story, or the Bishop issues a statement clarifying things – and then receives a lot of support from Catholic bloggers. The discussion will continue, but the Bishop is not exactly powerless to defend himself.

Bloggers work in an environment which is open to everyone. One of the healthy things about such open communication is precisely that you cannot rely on personal standing to squash disagreement. As Fr Zuhlsdorf put it so well, the internet operates a “Reverse Gresham’s Law” whereby good information drives out bad. You can say something inaccurate or unfair if you want, but you can be sure that you will be corrected – within minutes if you have any personal standing – and the more you ignore correction, the more you will be attacked, and the lower your reputation will sink.

The converse is also true. Bloggers who dare to speak honestly and truthfully even when it is risky to do so, especially when they are courteous, even when expressing strong opinions, gain great respect from others. In my opinion, Deacon Nick Donnelly is one such blogger and I was unhappy to hear that he had been silenced. Now that “pastoral solutions” and “imaginative ways forward” are so much in vogue in another context, I hope that this faithful Deacon can be “welcomed and included.”

 

Fr. Hunwicke wrote the following several days ago:

Clerical bloggers do a vast amount of self-censorship, largely so as to protect the reputation of the Church, and not least of the Bishops, in this country. They even refrain from writing about matters in which they have been painfully and personally involved, so as not to damage further the Church’s image. They suppress information which is sent to them. And they find themselves trying to calm people down and to reassure the troubled.

To be presented, as a result of these efforts, with the news that one is a Problem; that one is to be treated like a Naughty Little Boy who needs to be Carefully Watched and Strictly Disciplined, leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth.

 

I personally am for a free-ranging blogosphere and attempts to exercise a top-down hierarchical control are doomed to failure and betray a lack of understanding of social media.

Yes, it is rough and tumble.  Yes, one must develop a thick skin.  Yes, controversy and conflict drive reader stats—which is why my readership is so small since this blog is not controversial.

Anyway, lots of food for thought.

 

 

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3 Responses to Bishops and the blogosphere

  1. Mary says:

    If it is any consolation to you, Deborah, I find you controversial!

  2. Rev22:17 says:

    Deborah,

    The following item in today’s bulletin from the Vatican Information Service (VIS) seems to speak directly to this subject. The last paragraph of the item is particularly poignant. Here is the full article.

    DISINFORMATION, SLANDER AND DEFAMATION: SINS OF THE MEDIA

    Vatican City, 22 March 2014 (VIS) – This morning in the Sala Clementina of the Vatican Apostolic Palace the Holy Father received in audience the members of the “Corallo” Association, a network of local Catholic-inspired broadcasters from all regions of Italy. The Pope gave an off-the-cuff address to those present, in which he defined the virtues, mission and sins of the communication media.

    “Your work should be carried out along these three routes: the path of truth, the path of goodness, and the path of beauty. But truth, goodness and beauty are consistent – they come from within, they are human. And, on the path of truth, along these three routes, we can find mistakes and even traps. ‘I think, I look for the truth …’: be careful not to become an intellectual without intelligence. ‘I go in search of goodness’: be careful not to be an ethicist without goodness. ‘I like beauty’: yes, but be careful not to do what is frequently done: do not look for cosmetics to create an artificial beauty that does not exist”.

    The Pope went on to refer to the “harmonious unity” of the work of broadcasters, commenting that, although there are large and small media entities, “in the Church there is neither large nor small: everyone has his or her function and help for others, the hand cannot exist without the head, and so on. We are all members, and also your media, whether they be large or small, are members, harmonised in their vocation of service to the Church. No-one should consider themselves to be too small in relation to another that is too large. Everyone is important in this harmony, for the Church is harmony in diversity. … It is important to seek unity, and not to subscribe to the logic that the large fish swallows the smaller fish”.

    Pope Francis then went on to speak about clericalism, which he defined as “one of the ills of the Church. But it is a sin of complicity, as priests are subject to the temptation to clericalise the laity, while many laypersons ask on their knees to be clericalised, because it is convenient. … So this is a sin committed by two hands. We must resist this temptation. The layperson must be a layperson, baptised and with the strength that comes from baptism. A servant, but with a lay vocation, and this cannot be sold, bargained for, and one is not complicit with the other, because it is a question of identity. … Is the deacon or the priest more important than the layperson? No! … The function of the layperson cannot be exercised by the priest, and the Holy Spirit is free: sometimes it inspires a priest to do something, and at other times it inspires a layperson. This is something that is discussed in the pastoral Council, which is very important. A parish that does not have a pastoral Council and a Council for economic affairs is not a good parish: it lacks life”.

    Finally, the Holy Father commented that the media embody many virtues, but also many sins. With regard to the latter, the three most significant are those which “take the road of lies: … disinformation, slander and defamation. The last two are serious, but not as dangerous as the first. Slander is a mortal sin, but it is possible to clarify the situation and become aware that it is slander. Defamation is a mortal sin, but it is possible to say: this is an injustice, because this person did something at that time but has now repented and changed their life. But disinformation means telling half-truths, the part that is most convenient to me, and not saying the other half. Therefore, those who watch the television or listen to the radio are not able to arrive at a perfect judgement, because they do not have all the elements necessary to do so, and the media do not give them. Please, shun these three sins”.

    So we now have the three lies of the media: disinformation, slander, and defamation.

    Norm.

  3. EPMS says:

    Leaving aside the use of the term “disinformation”, which may be just a translation issue, I would question whether anyone, even with the best will in the world, can tell the whole truth about anything, in this fallen world.

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