As controversy rages over Catholic blogs we ask five incisive writers what role blogging should really be playing in the Church’s life
BISHOP PHILIP EGAN: BLOGS ARE A GREAT HELP
Blogs have become an important feature of Catholic life. I believe that when they are responsible they do the Church a great
service. In the early decades after Vatican II there was a rush to devise participative structures, such as parish councils and diocesan pastoral councils, that would involve the laity in forming policies and decision-making. However, in this process the Church unwittingly borrowed models from the corporate world of business and from governmental democracy. Sometimes the result has been councils marked by power struggles between clergy and laity or between factions.
It is a model that suits certain types of laity, usually the more articulate, while the vast majority of the laity remain, literally, speech-less. Lay people have precious few opportunities within the ecclesial community to share their experience and to give public testimony to their faith. My own view is that we need to devise new models and new approaches in order to bring about a greater collegiality between bishops, priests and the laity. The aim would be to enable the laity more effectively to participate within the Church and to carry out their apostolate in the world.
This is why I think blogs are a great help. They enable ordinary Catholics to express themselves. It is heartening that the vast majority of these blogs are sound, expressing, as one would hope, the orthodox faith, that is, a real love for Jesus and His Church. My only reservation is that some bloggers become strident and even very uncharitable. I tried to address this in my Lenten pastoral letter to the diocese. I discussed the Eighth Commandment within today’s digital age and said that “we must exercise discretion, respect others and their privacy, and not engage in slander, gossip and rash judgment. We must avoid calumny, that is, slurring and damaging people, and not spread abroad their sins and failings.” I went on to ask: “How do I use Facebook or Twitter? Am I charitable when blogging? Do I revel in other people’s failings?”
The Rt Rev Philip Egan is the Bishop of Portsmouth
FR TIM FINIGAN: AN EXPRESSION OF CHARITY
A technical definition of a blog is: “A series of discrete textual posts which may include pictures or other media, arranged in reverse chronological order.” As with many innovations in communication, it is a simple idea capable of powerful influence. We could say that blogs can be used for evangelisation, but that can become a cliché if we do not specify just how we evangelise. I have used my own blog to do various things, which include (not necessarily in order of importance): sharing knowledge, especially of my own subject which is theology; encouraging others to live their faith; opposing false ideas or bad practice; answering questions from Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, people of other faiths and atheists; sharing humorous observations, pictures or videos; standing up for justice for those who are oppressed; promoting the sanctity of human life and the family; offering spiritual guidance and prayerful reflection;
and posting photos and descriptions of beautiful places, liturgical celebrations and fine churches.
Communicating with others is a fundamental Christian priority. By forming friendships we share our lives and particularly our love for Christ. This is not always through explicit preaching, but by the forming of relationships in which trust and respect leads to the acceptance of information and advice from each other. People often warn that online interaction is artificial. We do have to be careful sometimes to get behind the language used online to relate to the real person, but I have been able to meet in the flesh many people I would never have met without the blog, even travelling to different countries to join in conferences and cultural events. Catholic blogging has many uses, but the most powerful is that basic Christian endeavour to communicate in charity as members of the body of Christ.
Fr Tim Finigan is a parish priest in Blackfen, Kent. He blogs at The-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com
JOSEPH SHAW: A WAY OF EVANGELISING
Anyone can set up a blog and say, instantly, whatever they like. This means that they can spread news and information with astonishing speed, and they can give a voice to those excluded from other forms of communication. It also means that they can provide a platform for cranks and weirdos.
Catholic blogs have provided a great service to the Church, spreading information necessary to counter one-sided presentations of Catholic issues in the mainstream press. They can draw attention to, or even publish for the first time, otherwise obscure sources, translations of foreign-language documents, photographs and videos. The mainstream press can usually – though as the case of the abortionist Kermit Gosnell showed, not always – continue to ignore the inconvenient facts, but the blogs inform active Catholics who find themselves discussing the issues with friends, fellow students and work colleagues.
Similarly, they perform an important role in the new evangelisation, by presenting the beauty of Catholic teaching, art and the liturgy. Today, people who want information turn first to the internet, and if they want to know what Catholics say about something they are likely to end up reading blogs.
The positive role of blogs may seem outweighed by the opportunity they provide for the malicious. But a few things should
be borne in mind. First, as the recent case of Lord McAlpine has shown, the law of libel is not suspended on the internet. Secondly, establishing a reputation for accuracy and fairness is essential for blogs which wish to be taken seriously. Thirdly, there are usually blogs eager to expose the falsehoods put forward by other blogs, and they will come up in the same list of search results.
Blogs certainly have limitations and dangers, but they are already playing an important part in Catholic life, and they are here to stay.
Dr Joseph Shaw is chairman of the Latin Mass Society. He blogs at Lmschairman.org
MAC McLERNON: A REAL APOSTOLATE
When I started my blog, Mulier Fortis, back in May 2006, blogging was a relatively new phenomenon and there were few Catholic bloggers in Britain. Today this has all changed. Through sites such as Blogger and WordPress, anyone with an opinion can start a blog. It means that there is much nonsense out there on the internet, but there is also a vast amount of valuable information available. Encyclicals, exhortations and decrees, which once took weeks or months to be disseminated, now can be accessed within minutes of publication. It’s worth noting that, generally speaking, good information drives out bad. If a blogger writes something factually inaccurate someone will rapidly correct him. If such mistakes aren’t addressed and are repeated, then that blog will soon be ignored and forgotten. Blogging is a very democratic medium.
The Catholic Church is not a democracy. As the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) famously said: “Truth is not subject to a majority vote.” Christ founded His Church and handed the keys of the kingdom of heaven to one of the disciples, Peter. The Church has had a hierarchical structure ever since. The immense popularity of blogs written by priests and deacons who explain the teachings of the Church in such an accessible way demonstrates the recognition given to their authority.
Nevertheless, the role of the laity in evangelisation cannot be underestimated. The Vatican II decree on the apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, reminds us that we are called to look for opportunities to announce Christ, “either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life”.
Lay people are thus urged to counteract the errors which undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and society itself, by making use of whatever gifts of intelligence and learning they possess, doing everything they can to explain, defend and apply Christian principles to various problems in accordance with the mind of the Church.
A lack of proper catechesis has led to many Catholics being unaware of Church teaching or, if they are aware of it, rejecting it as irrelevant. Catholics who write blogs therefore have a specific apostolate: that of informing others what the Church actually teaches (and correcting the many misunderstandings and deliberate distortions), and showing how these teachings can be lived out in daily life.
Mac McLernon blogs at Mulier-fortis.blogspot.co.uk
ELIZABETH SCALIA: A FRONTLINE MINISTRY
Catholicism is, as Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has rightly written on this site, “essentially a calm faith”. Understanding that God’s times and ways are not ours, and believing in things “seen and unseen”, Catholicism is a Church content to take the long view. Particularly in matters of evangelisation, the Church trusts that any field seeded for love of Christ and in service to others will – through the patient, expedient promptings of the Holy Spirit – bear good fruit at the time appropriate to God’s purpose. The Church accepts that, by then, the worker may be long gone – a witness never meant to see the ripening. Most of her greatest missionaries, social workers and preachers have accepted it, too.
With the advent of new media, things have changed. The internet has created exciting possibilities for real-time informational and interpersonal evangelisation. I have seen mischief against the Church get stopped in its tracks and turned around by bloggers quick to correct mainstream media narratives and insist on right representation. Growing alongside the splendid wheat of such opportunities, however, is the ironic chaff of addled attention spans, which befuddle all parties.
In the cyberfields of the Lord, those seeking answers, or consolation, expect to find it instantly, and those tending the missions also – if quite unintentionally – seek some fast feedback. Accustomed to praise (or friendly debate) from social media readers, they too have become trained to swift responses and the tidy, almost transactional resolution of spiritual matters. When that happens, a blogger unaccustomed to deeper ministry – and the sincere clerics, religious and lay people charged by the Pope Emeritus to “give the internet a soul” are indeed engaged in a new type of front-line ministry – might find resistance to be disorienting. The blogger may overstep the natural boundaries that have always, and must forever, define Catholic evangelical work in any venue, but perhaps especially in the restless field of the internet: to hoe the row and plant the seeds, and nurture where we may, content to let the always timely Holy Spirit draw and prompt everything Christward. There, right orientation resides for both for the fitful seeker, who may drop in and out too quickly to be known, and the blogger, charged to attract, not repel.
Elizabeth Scalia is the author of Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. Her blog, The Anchoress, is found at Patheos.com
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