Sooner or later it had to happen. Whilst it is obvious to everyone that most blogging priests are (as it is expected by them, besides being an excellent character trait) extremely prudent in their public utterances and attentive not to let disagreement between them sink to a level unworthy of their habit, it was only a matter of time before some serious clash would erupt in the Catholic blogosphere.
In this instance, the episode seems to go a while back and has as protagonists a lofty Monsignor with a tendency to reinvent Catholicism and a passionate, but rather emotional retired priest loved by everyone. When, therefore, the lofty Monsignor (most probably not influenced, I hasten to add, by the liquor so famous in his part) wrote a rather extraordinary theory about Our Lord not being physically present after the Resurrection (to refute which it is enough to read a Gospel; alas, Monsignori are not anymore what they used to be), the emotional priest, full of righteous anger, reacted in a way which the very sensitive Lofty Monsignor considered libellous. A longish controversy apparently ensued, at the end of which the good priest announced the intention to close his blog.
Now, I am not a priest but I know something about being emotional; for this reason I’ll allow myself a couple of considerations.
1) It is utterly contemptible that a religious – besides reinventing Catholicism in the most extraordinary way, but I suppose this comes with the progressive credentials – should stoop so low as to engage in a longish, bitter controversy with another religious over the use of such adjectives like “lofty”. I can think of one or three adjectives which would be far less pleasing for the Monsignor to hear, vastly more appropriate, and certainly not actionable. If this becomes a fashion, the use of the internet from brave priests as a showcase for orthodoxy might be stopped from above, which would be a big disgrace.
2) I may be cynical here, but unless the man is in serious need of professional help I can easily imagine that this controversy has been brought about for so long precisely in order to discredit conservative Catholic blogs written by Catholic priests , or at least with this consequence seen as a pleasant side effect of the controversy. Even in the land who gave us whiskey one must be aware of the fact that his own reputation will suffer most atrociously and in all eternity, as google has the memory of an elephant. But I might be wrong here, and the professional help what is truly needed.
3) Without being a lawyer by trade, I can’t conceive that adjectives like “lofty” can really constitute an actionable offence. Were this the case, no single blog a’ la “Homo Smoke” would be functioning, no single expression like “homo smoke” were ever used on the Internet and the turnover of the Internet libel lawsuit industry would greatly exceed the one of the global armaments. This is simply not the case. Look at how journalists berate and belittle each other every day on press and internet and draw your conclusions.
These are professionals, mind, certainly better trained than a retired priest in the subtle matter of libel laws; and still they shoot at each other with the pump gun day in and day out.
4) Having said that, I can’t say that I approve the decision to close one’s blog because some chap in some very cold and windy place starts threatening one with absurd lawsuits. Such a behaviour smells, if I may say so in the kindest of ways of a certainly very kind man, of passive-aggressiveness. “Look what the brute has done to me, an old man” is the message. We are all humans of course, but in my eyes the first thing (the inordinate, ridiculous reaction of a man who can’t even read the Gospel) has nothing to do with the second (the decision to close the blog).
Whatever lawsuit might be initiated (and it would be the grandest waste of money and reputation, if you ask me), the decision to close the blog wouldn’t have any influence on it. The closure of the blog can only be seen as an aggressive act toward a person thus indicated as the responsible for the closure. But this is just not true. Whatever the faults of the man (“Fawlty” he has also been called, I wonder whether this is actionable?), he is most certainly not responsible for the blog closure.
Summa summarum, I’d be very pleased if this episode would teach the Catholic Times that if you carry the name “Catholic” you should have contributors who can read the Gospel and know the most elementary facts about Jesus; and I truly wish that the good old priest will, perhaps in time, realise that by closing the blog he has made the impression of the one who goes away with the football. This can’t be good and can’t be right.