A friend has passed on to me the pastoral letter (PDF) for Lent by Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, which was read throughout his diocese yesterday. It is short, prayerful and to the point, highlighting how it is all too easy these days to sin against the 8th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.” The bishop says among other things that we should ask ourselves: “Am I charitable when blogging?” Really, we should all pin this question at the top of our screens in large letters, as a reminder to take care when we do so.
Poor Austin Ruse, president of C-FAM, a Catholic Families and Human Rights Institute in Washington. He was understandably heated at what he saw (rightly) as the moral corruption in American places of higher education and made an intemperate remark: that those who encouraged this corruption “should be taken out and shot”. Of course he shouldn’t have said it and he quickly and publically regretted it, as he relates in The Catholic Thing – but it was too late. His words had “gone viral”, as they say, and no amount of apologies or explaining that it was a figure of speech made any difference to the self-righteous fury of the liberal establishment in America.
Ruse exactly illustrates Bishop Egan’s question, even if he was hosting a national radio show rather than blogging, when he used the unfortunate phrase. Dismissive remarks, mockery and prejudice jump from our mouths and our typewriters almost as fast as we think them. Such is the instant ferocity of the blogging and twitter brigade that, as with Ruse’s “stupid gaffe” as he described it, you then have your work cut out trying to restore any semblance of a balanced discussion.
Fr Dwight Longenecker, also on The Catholic Thing, provides the background to Ruse’s anger. It seems that a Duke University freshman called Miriam Weeks, who is majoring in women’s studies, revealed on Piers Morgan’s television show that she is making pornographic films under the name “Belle Knox”, in order to pay for her college tuition fees. She said she had chosen to be a porn actress and does not feel exploited. Nor, it seems, is her college critical of what she is doing. Longenecker comments: “The common assumption is that anyone is welcome to have sexual intercourse with anyone else in whatever way as long as everyone consents. Sex is like tennis. It’s fun if you have a good partner.” Behind all this are decades of hard-line feminist writings (Miriam Weeks justified her choice of work using the language of her Women’s Studies programme) and the rigorous rejection of any alternative way at looking at women.
I have just been reading a book entitled The Authentic Catholic Woman by Genevieve Kineke, a convert, which provides just such an alternative view. Written “to help women understand their femininity”, the book is a beautiful and eloquent response to young women like “Belle Knox” who have been brainwashed to see their sexuality as a commodity to sell rather than a gift orientated towards motherhood, whether physical or spiritual. Even as I type this, I am aware of the vast gulf between the Church’s teaching about the “feminine genius” and the assumptions purveyed on student campuses and in Women’s Studies. I suppose it was the perception of this gulf, and how young women are being destroyed by a pitifully reductive view of themselves, aided and abetted by their elders in academe, that made Austin Ruse blow his top.
Kineke writes that “sexual utilitarianism is flagrant, acceptable and well-packaged”. She points out that girls are raised “to be self-reliant and career-minded…She may hope for marriage but the men around her assume that she is sexually available with no strings attached. If she balks at ‘free love’ she is labelled a prude or assumed to be maladjusted.” For authentic role models, Kineke chooses Maria Montessori, Edith Stein, Elizabeth Leseur and Mother Teresa among others: women who found glorious fulfilment and the realisation of their gifts and abilities by putting them at the service of others. She writes, “If we woman can discover the richness of our vocation, then we will have an impact…If we are faithful to our femininity we … can rebuild a civilisation of love and life.”
It’s always easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle. Ruse would have witnessed better to the true vocation of young women – and perhaps planted a seed in the minds of his audience – if he had briefly argued Kineke’s theme rather than rubbish the enemy. His humiliating comeuppance is a lesson we can all learn from. We have to speak the truth – but always with love; that’s what Christian charity is about. Bishop Egan is right and the question we must constantly ask ourselves is: am I, as a Catholic, being charitable when blogging, tweeting or engaging in any other public forum?