Fr Tim Finigan says Church leaders should not be using 'personal standing to squash disagreement' after blog controversy
A leading English priest blogger has said that it’s impractical for bishops to seek to “censor the blogosphere”.
Fr Timothy Finigan, author of the Hermeneutic of Continuity blog, made the comment after Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster asked Deacon Nick Donnelly “to voluntarily pause from placing new posts” on his blog Protect the Pope.
Fr Finigan, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen, south east London, wrote: “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.”
After the bishop’s request Deacon Nick Donnelly, who writes the Protect the Pope blog, will be taking an indefinite break from blogging, while his wife, Martina Donnelly, has taken on the running of the blog for the time being.
A statement released by the Diocese of Lancaster last week said: “After learning that a notice had been placed upon the Protect the Pope website on March 7 saying: ‘Deacon Nick stands down from Protect the Pope for a period of prayer and reflection’ the Bishop’s Office at the Diocese of Lancaster was able to confirm that Bishop Campbell had recently requested Deacon Nick Donnelly to voluntarily pause from placing new posts on the Protect the Pope site.
“Meanwhile, it was also confirmed that the bishop asked Deacon Nick to use this pause to enter into a period of prayer and reflection on the duties involved for ordained bloggers/website administrators to truth, charity and unity in the Church. Deacon Nick has agreed to the bishop’s request at this time.”
In a short statement on the Protect the Pope website Martina Donnelly wrote: “As Nick’s wife I am writing to thank you for all the kind messages, prayers and gifts that Nick has received. You may have noticed that he has not posted for a while and I did not want you to be worried, as although he is still far from better, this silence has not been caused by his illness. Rather Nick has been asked to observe a period of prayer and reflection. Please continue to pray for Nick during this time.”
When asked by The Catholic Herald if he thought his blog had ever crossed the line, Deacon Donnelly replied: “No.”
He said: “I think blogging is an incredible tool for evangelisation, I started blogging in 2010 before the papal visit because I felt I needed to answer lies and misrepresentations about the Catholic Church. When I launched Protect the Pope it received coverage all over the world. I even received coverage in Vietnam. When I finished Protect the Pope I was getting 100,000 views per month.”
He said that the aim of his blog was simply “to compare and contrast what’s being said and done in the Church with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That can never be wrong.”
He said that he would rather not continue blogging in the future if it meant that he would have to change this basic aim. He emphasised that the “period of reflection” was indefinite and added: “The past three days I’ve had so many messages of support from my readers, even people who don’t agree with me. I’ve found that really encouraging. That’s been a positive experience from all of this.”
When asked if he thought that Catholic bishops understood the blogosphere, he said: “My feeling is that their a priori position is suspicion and they don’t understand blogging’s potential. They don’t react to it well.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has told the leaders of the world’s ordinariates that while blogs could be a helpful tool of evangelisation, they could also “express unreflected 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, where necessary, to intervene.
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