If you surf around for blogs written by Catholic priests, you will not be able to avoid noticing that the tones are becoming more and more critical. Some priests are more open in their criticism and do not shy away from the “F-word” (Francis, that it). Others are more circumspect, but nevertheless very clear in what they say and who is the addressee of their complaint. Other still criticise left and right of the target, Voris-style, but you sense the darts get nearer to the bull’s eye.
One truly wonders how long this will go on.
We must understand two important elements here:
1. Dissent is acted against extremely slowly, if at all, but in the new “time of mercy” there is no mercy for Catholicism. The LCWR continue their antics undisturbed, but the FFI are brutally persecuted after suspicion of “Proto-Lefebvrianism”.
2. If a professor or a theologian dissent from Church teaching no less than an official enquiry of the CDF will, perhaps, persuade them to at least tone down their tone. In contrast, every orthodox blogging priest can be ordered by his bishop to shut down his blog overnight.
It does not take a genius to recognise that if the present “age of m… arijuana” continues, the danger that many of these blogger priests will be requested to either renounce to criticism of the Destroyer or shut down their blogs is very real.Come October, it seems reasonable to think there will be open resistance and condemnation to any Kasperite measures that were to be adopted, or proposed, or offered to “reflection”. At this point, more an dmore bishop will be tempted to “go Campbell”, and order their priest to shut down their “divisive” blogs, that puts heretics against Catholics when everyone knows Jesus wants us to all play cards together.
Many priests will, I am sure, comply in a spirit of obedience; persuaded that no blog is indispensable; that others will carry on the flag; and that the responsibility for the cessation of the blog will be exclusively on the shoulder of the bishop.
But at some point a priest will simply refuse to comply, believing that the bishop is simply not due obedience when he acts in open complicity with evil; this priest will rather invite persecution and legal confrontation than stop caring for the salvation of souls through his blog.
At this point things will become interesting, because the matter will land in front of ecclesiastical courts, and they will have a rather hard time officially sanctioning the right of a bishop to muzzle perfectly Catholic opinions of their own priests because, being Catholic, they are deemed divisive. Then the bishop himself can be asked to stop being a bishop because either he is catholic, and then he is divisive, or he is not divisive, and then he is not being a bishop.
Let this kind of legal confrontation become very frequent and very public, and what we have is a first-class showdown between perfectly Catholic priests and their perfectly anti-Catholic bishops.
It might be, I often think, good for a priest with the intention to resist the muzzling to simply state it – purely hypothetically of course – in his own blog. Something on the line of: the bishop is a wonderful, wonderful shepherd and all that, but wrong orders will not be obeyed, and if the event were to happen (which it will neva! evah!), well then in this utterly hypothetical case, see you in court.
Not that it will ever happen, of course. No. ‘Course not. Perish the thought.
In this case, I think, there would be a kind of United Catholic Front, of people who simply say “I think blogging is integral part of the way I work as a priest, and I will be a priest through my blog as I am a priest otherwise, unless I am told in court I am wrong”.
Just a thought.
I have no objection to censorship, if it is done within a settled legal framework; that is, by a qualified Censor librorum who, if he withholds a Nihil obstat, gives and is required to give precise reasons for doing so. I would have no criticism if the system were not only restored, but extended to the blogosphere, and, of course, to clerics and laics who write columns and editorials in 'catholic' journals! But it has fallen into disuse. My apprehension is that a public and canonical process might have been replaced by something furtive; that a bishop (or whatever) might act resentfully but covertly because of views which are doctrinally orthodox but which don't suit his personal agenda. Or that censorship might function as an informal, unminuted, understanding within an Inner Circle that X is 'off-message'; with subsequent disadvantages for X. In other words, I fear that what, at first sight, looks like a libertarian advance (the disappearance of formal Censorship), might in reality be simply a Bullies' Charter. As I have written before, I regard Dogma and Law as the safeguard of ordinary Catholics, both lay and clerical, against Arbitrary Power.
Firstly, I understand Father's concerns: when official control is substituted for unofficial suggestions to shut up, a huge door is open to, well, episcopal bullying. It grates me no end, for example, that in the matter of “Protect the Pope” the bishop asked Deacon Nick to stop blogging, without any public explanation of why a bishop asks a very public blogger to stop his very public blogging activity. Basically, it simply cannot be excluded Deacon Nick was requested to, ahem, “pull a Werling” and just be silent, losing his face as the bishop saved his. Fortunately, when Deacon Nick informed his readers of the fact he did not just state that he had decided to, but that he had been requested by the Bishop to, well, shut up; which in turn caused the many mails to the bishop; which in turn caused the press release with the notorious words I have already mentioned on this blog, and which put bishop Campbell, erm, rather in the soup.
Father Hunwicke's fear that “a Bullies' Charter” might be advancing is, therefore, entirely justified. Imagine that: you are a blogger priest, or a blogger deacon, and the Bishop summons you and tells you to stop blogging and not to tell your readers who has asked you to do so, in order not to foment “division” and “disharmony”. What now, skipper? When you add to this that that particular blogger has been asked by the bishop to stop blogging (call it as you want: that's what it is) because he was being a brave Catholic blogger, you get the picture.
Having said that, Father Hunwicke's censorship proposal is in my eyes entirely unfeasible. The huge number of blogging priests out there would cause an unmanageable administrative work and cost only to control what is going on; it would obviously be completely unrealistic to think that every blog post receives a previous nihil obstat, but it is not realistic to think that every blogger with holy orders receives one before starting to blog, and is monitored afterwards. This as we write the year 2014; but what might happen in the year 2024 or 2034 makes the idea of either previous control or institutionalised monitoring even less viable. Besides, if a nihil obstat is necessary for a new priestly blog, it would be very easy to put sand in the mechanism by just “delaying” approvals for new priestly blogs; there's no urgency to give approval to your blog, Father X; there are enough already of those.
Moreover, many priestly blogs exist exactly to provide a voice outside of the mainstream Vatican PC information. Would an excellent priestly blog like Traditional Catholic Priest obtain the coveted nihil obstat? I doubt it. What about Father Rodriguez? Or Gloria TV? Would we ever know that such and such an initiative was proposed and rejected, and why? You wish. It would be covert bullying instead of overt one; but in the end, much of a muchness. I do not doubt the likes of Nicholson and the other chap with the sword would obtain the Nihil obstat, but as Nicholson and his ilk are part of the problem we would be on square one.
This, only considering the blogs run by priests or deacons. If we extend the policy to the immense world of blogging laymen, the idea becomes utterly outlandish; besides the fact that most lay bloggers would react to the request of the bishop to stop blogging with a smile; if they are in a good day, that is. Hey, the bishops – and now the Bishop of Rome – are the main reason why they are blogging in the first place, so it would be like asking a physician to stop curing bubonic plague because there's an epidemy going on.
What to do, then?
My idea would be – and this is also what is going to happen, volens nolens – that everything continues as it is; that blogger priests blog because they are priests who feel they should blog and this is perfectly in line with the new evangelisation mantra, and that bishops stop them if they feel the blogger priest should be stopped; which unavoidably will – unless the priest does not even want to say that he was requested to stop blogging – be subject to public scrutiny, possibly involving not only bishop Campbell, but bishop Heinz and bishop Baxter as well.
Obviously, a priest or deacon can blog anonymously, de facto if possibly not de iure. The old and lamented Kreuz.net blog – forced to close by the German Gaystapo – was certainly the work of priests, and of excellent ones at that. But again, those must have been priests who needed that their bishop does not know they are blogging, lest the V II thought police intervenes.
The fact is, though, that by the grace of God we live in a time of atomised information sources, and this seems destined to increase in the foreseeable future. No bishop, no censor librorum, no Pope, not even the US secret services will be able to shut down this flow of information. The control of this tsunami of ASCII characters will be left to the reader, who will pick among the bonanza of sources those he find most worthy of his time. The reader will decide if he finds, say, Campbell's soup or the Deacon's pie or Mundabor's fettuccine to his taste, and there is no way anyone else can change this.
In short, this means that the best way for the bishops to prevent the spreading of bad blogging is by encouraging the spreading of sound Catholic instruction. This will in turn automatically filter away the bad sources, and reward the good ones.
Unfortunately, the spreading of sound Catholic teaching is exactly what bishop Campbell wants to prevent; which in turn means what we already know from the start: to wit, that bishops who try to stop bloggers are embarrassed by the bloggers making the job they are supposed but refuse to do: feed the sheep with sound instruction, fight heresy and heterodoxy, and care for the salvation of souls.
I prefer Mundabor's (or Deacon Nick's, or Father Z's) healthy homemade fare, and thank you very much.
Some questions for those priests or deacons or canonists that might be so kind as to answer me.
1. Can a bishop give a blanket ban on “blogging” in his diocese? For example, by stating “blogging tends to inevitably become judgmental and divisive, and fosters divisions; therefore, I command that no priest or deacon of this diocese run a blog”.
2. Can this “blanket”, “preventative” ban be extended to other social activities; like, say: Twitter, Facebook, or taking part to discussion fora?
3. If a Bishop does not like an already existing blog of a cleric, can he order the priest or deacon to shut it down, or even to delete the entire content as, say, “Proto-Lefebvrian”?
4. If a Bishop is allowed to shut down or forbid clerics from such activity because they “spend” in some way the name of the diocese, can he forbid that they take part to these activities anonymously, either as, say, “Dealbabor ;)”, or in a generic way, like “TraddyPriest”, but with no link to the Diocese? I know the one or other might blog anonymously anyway; but I am asking whether this would be in violation of their duty of obedience to the Bishop in a matter in which the bishop has a legitimate right to expect obedience, or not.
If any person in possession of detailed knowledge in the matter can give me such information, I would be very grateful. Desires for anonymity or non publication of the information provided will obviously be respected.
Once we have the canonical situation clearer, we will be able to better gauge the danger for the blogging activity of clerics in general; which, I am sure, does not worry only myself but many of my readers, too.
Many thanks in advance.
I always admired the quiet style and soft diplomacy of blogging priests, a feat of which I am entirely incapable. I actually suspect in seminary they are trained to face confrontations or thorny issues in a fitting way, as I seem to recognise a certain “style” through the board; as if there were rules they all follow, though they don’t write about them.
In the last three months, the traumatic transition from one Papacy to the other has put blogging priests in front of huge challenges because of the (now) conflicting duties between loyalty to the Pope – which is clearly more pronounced in a priest than in a layman, as it should be – and the loyalty to sound – at times, basic – Catholicism, both of them slapped in the face by the present Pontiff everytime the fancy takes him to say something he thinks smart, or pleasing to his audience.
Speaking here only of the blogs I like, up to now I have recognised three styles of reaction. They all have in common a soft, diplomatic, conciliatory approach, but differ visibly in the way they do it. In my eyes, they are the following.
1. Ignore the scandals. Whenever the Pope blunders, the blogging priest of type 1 just does not write on the matter, at all. “Bishop XYZ appointed to the archdiocese of ABC”, or “Conference on TLM in ABC” are the likely blog post issues. They seem to say – without saying it – “what is a poor blogging priest to do in a situation like this…”. My sympathy goes out to them.
2. Amplify the good news. This type of blogger will insist in wanting that we see Francis as a continuation of Benedict, and exhibit in a triple salto mortale to persuade us Francis is a perfectly suited Pope, if we just care to look at things from the right angle. Not bad, merely different. Again, I appreciate the spirit and admire the good will. As I see it, though, the problem with this approach is firstly that, if you allow the metaphor, a peasant has succeeded a professor, and the difference is so brutally evident no amount of good will can ever bridge it; secondly, that the new Pontiff talks nonsense with such alarming frequency – and, which is worse, with such indifference towards his own blunders; clearly the fruit of humility – that every comparison with his extremely guarded predecessor has been untenable for the last, erm, three months. Summa summarum, I would call strategy Nr 2 a very nice try, that would have great success if Pope Francis were not so … Pope Francis.
3. Criticise brutally with nice words. This third – and by far littlest – group will word the criticism in such a way that it is still clearly within the boundaries allowed to a blogging priest, but does not hide much of everything that is going wrong. Again, I have found only very few of these blogs, but when I do they are worth the reading. They find the way to make the messages very clear, but so nicely wrapped.
It will be interesting to see how this situation evolves as this Papacy unfolds. I find it very difficult to believe Francis will want to make his reign more similar to Pope Benedict’s as time goes by; actually, I suspect the contrary will be the case, with the new Pope introducing more and more his own style (or lack thereof) in the years to come, particularly after the not improbable death of the Pontiff Emeritus (may he have a long and happy retirement) during Pope Francis’ pontificate.
We shall see. Please cut some slack to your favourite blogging priests, whose situation is rather different from the one of a layman, and not easy at all.