Skip to comments.The Catholic Blogosphere: friend or foe?
Posted on 05/27/2010 2:28:39 PM PDT by Balt
It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong (Voltaire).
Some twenty-five years ago, a discussion arose in the seminary about when a priest should or should not be dressed as such. All manner of examples were thrown out for consideration: restaurants, movie theaters, baseball games (with and without altar boys), etc. One of our professors, Msgr. William B. Smith, STD, whose obituary your M. Div. wrote last year and will post here eventually, had the most lucid comment: Whenever a priest is in a situation where being known as a priest would cause him some embarrassment, its probably a place he ought not to be.
This web site is not a blog;which will become obvious as time goes onbut it supersedes a previous site which clearly was. Whats the difference? A blog is a running stream of thoughts that happen to occur to someone who, for whatever reason, wants to share whats bubbling about in the brain with whomever he imagines could possibly be interested. Thats not to say that blogs are always that haphazard; and some of them can be filled with all sorts of useful information and insights, in spite of the fact that the average blogger is writing, basically, to an audience of other bloggers. Collectively, we know this kind of community as the Blogosphere, a term which Dan Rather used (unsuccessfully) to brand the phenomenon as dangerous and subversive.
But it is precisely its subversive nature that makes the blog important: a blog is an exercise in free speech;an electronic soapbox on a global street cornerone that has become increasingly crucial in a time in which even the current government of the United States is searching for ways to silence dissent. As Dan Rather so transparently put it, in a blog there is no filter. There are, of course, two ways to take that remark. His meaning, Im sure, was that the dissemination of information without the editorial control of a seasoned and qualified journalist will often be inaccurate and misleading. At the time, he spoke of raw data being thrown out to the public without analysis or context. What most of us took away from it was an attempt on the part of someone who had enjoyed the ability to control what we think, suddenly having that power striped from him by what he perceived as unshaven, uneducated and unpaid nabobs, sitting in front of their computers in their pajamas.
The Danas Bernie Goldberg likes to call himwas unknowingly attempting to make war on a foreign alliance which, under cover of darkness, had already taken the interior line and brought superior forces to bare: the Internet, the personal computer and the free mind. Once he understood that he was surrounded and outflanked, he tried to sue for a conditional surrender, floating the idea that (paraphrased): Well, yes, the raw info is out there for the taking; but you will still need me to tell you whats true and what it means. In other words, he was acknowledging that he and his comrades in arms were never again going to be the source to which people turned when they wanted to know what had happened that day; but, he was desperately clinging to the fantasy that, having garnered all manner of information from Cable News, Internet wire services, blogs and listserves (both affectionately and in a derogatory way known as the alternative media), the thoughtful American would still tune in to the CBS Evening News so that The Dan could sort it all out and guide him in making all the right conclusions. Or, to put it bluntly, no one should believe anything they see, hear or read until a real journalist has verified it. Dans network embraced the idea by styling itself The Network of Record: i.e., You dont know its true until you hear it from us.
At the same time that journalism was being turned on its head, the establishment of the Catholic Church in the United States was also being surrounded by bloggers; and Im proud to say that I was one of them. When the USCCB appointed a lay person, who had previously worked for the Lutherans and who had ties to a pro-abortion group, to a position within its pastoral administration, it was your M. Div. and some others who blew the whistle. As could be predicted, the spokesman for the Conference didnt deny that the information was true;which would have been impossiblebut, taking his cue from Dan Rather, he defiantly declared that this information is found on blogs; the inference being that, even though we cant deny that its true, the only reason you know about it is because you read it on a blog, which means that you, too, are a lowlife guttersnipe, and certainly not a team player. The salient feature of all criticism of the blogosphere, both Catholic and secular, is that truth is always secondary to the means of transmission.
There a very telling scene in Otto Premingers film, In Harms Way, in which John Waynes character, a cruiser commander on December 7th, 1941, is ordered to seek out and destroy the enemy if at all possible. He interprets this to mean that his ship is expendable; so, he ceases to steer a zigzag course in order to catch Japanese carriers already well on their way back to Japan. Predictably, hes torpedoed. After the declaration of war, he meets with the fleet commander, and is told hes being relieved of duty pending a board of inquiry. The CINCPAC, played by Francois Truchot, is sympathetic, and says:
Captain Torri, youre about to be caught in the vacuum between a peacetime and wartime Navy. Six months from now, theyll be making admirals out of captains who exhibit some guts; but right now theyre just reacting to the Pearl Harbor disaster, and punishment is the order of the day.
The Catholic Church in America is, at this moment, caught in the vacuum between a corrupted and restored ecclesiology. The Bologna Schools interpretation of Vatican II, i.e., the spirit vs. the actual content, is discredited with the election of Joseph Ratzinger. Not only Masses celebrated according to an older missal, but even Novus Ordo Masses celebrated facing vox Dominum rather than facing the people (or, as it could also be called, opposing the people with the clerical barrier of an altar between them). Bishops have been appointed who say and do things for which their predecessors would have suspended a priest and sent him for counseling; and, while the unreconstructed still outnumber the new wave by twenty to one, the writing is on the wall. As Ratzinger himself said, speaking of the Novus Ordo, This is not the reform the Council Fathers asked for. But a priest who speaks those same words could find himself under censure, as the Pope's vision has yet to catch up with those who were promoted in a previous age, and who have not yet learned to fear "the pharaoh who knows not Joseph."
Whats interesting about Pope Benedict is that he refuses to play this new game according to the old rules. Casting aside the gentlemens agreement that governed Church politics in the past, he seems to have a steady eye on where his bread is buttered; and that includes the Catholic blogosphere. Tucked away in his message for the last World Communications Day was this:
Priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different "voices" provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelisation and catechesis.
One newspaper editorialized by adding:
The secular media have interpreted this as a papal invitation to priests to "get blogging". We suspect they are right. Pope Benedict XVI is unlikely to spend much of his day online, but he is almost certainly aware that blogging has become a powerful phenomenon in Catholic circles. Many of the world's most engaged Catholics visit blogs several times a week, to pick up information and rumours about the Church, and also to air their views. One might protest that some of the information is inaccurate, that some of the rumours are false and that some views aired are contrary to Church teachingbut the fact remains that blogs fill a vacuum created, in part, by ecclesiastical structures that have lost the knack of communicating with the laity.
It is no accident that among the most successful blogs are those run by individual priests, rather than dioceses. Not only do the faithful like to know what their parish priest is up to, but a seasoned and witty evangelist can build a cyber-parish that extends for thousands of miles.
Seasoned and witty. Those words fill your M. Div. with nostalgic thoughts about his old blog. When a blog has been around as long as that one was, it cant help but develop a family around itsoldiers in a common cause. A site like the one youre now reading, by contrast, has little chance of developing that kind of camaraderie around it. It is a twisted but true fact of human nature that its humor and sarcasm that can draw oppressed people together; they provide a comfort and a release of pent-up frustrations. The danger, of course, is that liberals have no sense of humor, as everyone knows. Since everything is possible to their openi.e., vacantminds, anything that makes fun of something or demonstrates absurdity is an insult.
Add to that the fact that churchmen in positions of authority cant help but isolate themselves from whats happening in the trenches. Back in 1992, your M. Div. was called to task for something that was said on line. It was irrelevant that the report received was grossly inaccurate;a fact which was later proven but still dismissedthe salient point of the dressing down wasbelieve it or notWhat does a priest need with a computer, anyway? To a chancery official like that, the Holy Fathers words quoted above must have produced a reaction similar to Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet when told something incompatible with his basic programming: a catatonic state and sparks flying out of his ears.
So, is the Catholic Blogosphere friend or foe? Its certainly a friend to Pope Benedict, as he is to it. With all of its dangers and traps, its occasional inaccuracies and sporadic lack of charity, the Holy Fathers reform of the reform wouldnt even be on the radar without it, much to the chagrin of the old school. Should priests be involved? Clearly the Pope thinks so; and I feel that my old friend, the late Msgr. Smith, would agree that the Blogosphere is not one of those places where a priest ought not to be.
(ty) I enjoyed that!
Thanks so much for a good post and a refreshing change of topics about the Church.
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