It’s balance that all of us have struggled to achieve at some point or other. I know that my output has suffered at times, it’s hard to retain perspective when you have a small group of people, intent on destroying your professional reputation and even attempt to interfere in your husband’s vocation, fuelled by a heady combination of resentment and jealousy.
It’s part of the inevitable cost of propounding an orthodox Catholic perspective on the internet which will invariably attract negative attention from those to whom your message, your values and everything that you stand for is a complete anathema.
I’ve refrained from joining the Protect the Pope brouhaha, despite the fact that on the whole I overwhelmingly support Nick Donnelly’s work, because communications between a Bishop and one of his clergy should be private – I don’t know what was said, the Bishop’s motivations for asking Deacon Nick to take a pause and whether or not he intends this to be a permanent state of affairs.
I’ve heard Deacon Nick speak a few times on EWTN’s Celtic Connections and it’s hard to reconcile this image that many would wish to paint of a bat-guano spittle-flecked mentalist, with the polite, softly-spoken, reasoned and theologically educated gentleman who loyally, faithfully and accurately defends and reflects magisterial teaching and corrects errors being propounded in allegedly Catholic publications, blogs and the mainstream media.
But so much can be lost in tone, and admittedly in recent times, without wishing to be either treacherous or traitorous to Deacon Nick, whom I admire greatly, I do agree with some commentators that the tone of his blog has, perhaps unintentionally, come across as overtly aggressive or perhaps lacking in charity.
I’ll go a bit further and put my neck on the line to say that personally, I have been dismayed to witness attacks, not only from Protect the Pope, but from other members of blogosphere on my own bishop, Kieran Conry, which call his orthodoxy into question. From my personal perspective Bishop Kieran has always been a kind, orthodox bishop, who has behaved in a deeply pastoral and understanding fashion, not only to my family, but to me personally.
I don’t want to make this post about Bishop Kieran per se (and I will delete uncharitable comments) but as Robin said in this month’s Catholic Life magazine, Kieran was the one to give Robin the nudge he really needed and when Robin went to see him back in Easter 2010, told him that he had no other option other than to offer his resignation to his Anglican bishop and become a Catholic, whilst rightly, at the same time, making no promises about future vocation. This is not the mark of an unorthodox bishop and neither are his recent initiatives of reviving the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Friday (which looks set to be taken up by other Bishops’ conferences around the world), encouraging Catholics take prayer into their work-place and most recently getting people back to confession by promoting the sacrament. As our diocesan bishop he deserves and has earned our loyalty and personal respect.
Both of us have found some of the attacks on him quite hard to swallow, but such can be the vehemence and bitterness involved on the Catholic blogosphere, we have refrained from commenting or entering into the fray. That fact is very telling. Also while some bloggers have written some things with which I disagree, or have found uncharitable, overall the quality of their output has been high. All of us have the odd off-post – the nature of blogging is amateur and while we should aim for highest standards of truth and accuracy, overall if someone continues to write unpalatable stuff, then there is always the option to stop reading it as opposed to picking public fights, which contravene scriptural principles. Catholic ideals of tolerance entail that divergences of opinion mean that rejecting another’s ideology or view is not commensurate with rejecting that person’s friendship. Half the problem, especially on Twitter has been a stasi-like attempt to dictate friendships and make others guilty of a crime of association. We are not a cult, calling out heterodoxy is not the same thing as shunning, yet interestingly enough it has been the liberal contingents who reject vast swathes of Catholic teaching who have been the ones attempting to target and isolate orthodox voices of reason who communicate with those of a more strident bent and turn certain bloggers such as ‘Eccles’, into untouchables.
Getting back to the Deacon Nick furore, it seems to me that a pause is not quite the same thing as being censored or silenced. We don’t know all of the circumstances. I am inclined to charity on both sides. Recently there has been a fashionable tendency by some Catholics to denigrate or deride Deacon Nick’s blog for its focus upon magisterial teachings regarding sexuality rather than themes of Catholic Social Teaching which impact on political issues. Deacon Nick has been sneered at for appearing obsessed with sexuality or others’ orthodoxy which seems to me to be unfair. He seems to have been under attack from several factions which as I know from personal and bitter experience, can make one overtly defensive and short on patience. While it’s tempting to keep steaming on regardless and not let the beggars get to you, sometimes a pause is wise – it gives you time to spiritually recharge and return stronger and more refreshed. It isn’t necessarily a silencing.
We all have our specialist focus areas, while I often get written off as a religious bigot, the focus of my blog is often deliberately theologically-lite, mainly because others do this better and because I am aware that I have a wide cross-section of readers. One could almost classify it as ‘Catholic in name only’, except that would imply a measure or level of dissent, whereas I adhere to and endorse the catechism of the Catholic church in its entirety. My focus tends to be upon pro-life issues, especially abortion and on the failures and shortcomings of contemporary feminism. Deacon Nick’s focus is transparent. Vatican II urges the laity to take the initiative therefore if people believe that Deacon Nick’s blog has a one-sided focus, there is nothing to stop them from setting up their own and plugging the perceived gap, instead of attempting to dictate to others what they should and should not write about.
I’ve never really thought about my aims in any depth, I blog on the hoof, as and when the urge takes me, fitted in around the other responsibilities I have to juggle, but if I had to pin it down, I guess my aims would be to demonstrate that it is possible to lead a happy and fulfilled joyful life as a Catholic woman, to inspire others to enquire and look more deeply into the Catholic faith themselves, as well as change hearts and minds regarding the rights of the unborn. As a Catholic woman surrounded by contradictory and confusing messages about the role of women in society, I aim to offer comment and common sense from a socially conservative perspective.
So I’d be unlikely to be one of those bloggers likely to fall foul of the bishops. Also let’s not forget the massive elephant in the room here, I am obviously constrained by what I can and cannot say for a number of obvious reasons. My obligations and responsibilities mean that I cannot be so free and easy with my opinions as others, even when I am dying to correct misinformation which is out there, or highlight an injustice or issue which might be of concern to Catholics. There are several times I find myself having to sit on my hands and recent situations have highlighted the appeal of blogging pseudonymously which may mean that one doesn’t get quite the same platform, but do at least allow you to speak freely without compromising your work or family’s confidentiality.
But the main reason that I refrain from getting involved in inter-Church politics is simply to avoid the backlash and nastiness, not least to my family, should give all blogging Catholics pause for thought. If Bishops don’t always take the internet as seriously as they should, it’s because they are put-off by the reams of nastiness and uncharitable comment out there and have perhaps been misled into thinking that the Catholic blogosphere consists of uninformed, unkind ranting on specialised issues which are of no concern to the faithful at large. Which is why bishops often ignore correspondence pertaining to the internet. They think it’s one big messy squabble out of which no-one comes out well.
Bloggers should be aware that they are not as influential as some might like to think – none of the parishioners in any of parishes which I have attended in the past few years have ever discussed the shenanigans on the blogs or Twitter. Most of them didn’t even know I even blogged, or was a member of Catholic Voices until they unexpectedly caught a few seconds of me on the telly or radio. It might seem a big deal to us, or other Catholics if we’re on the BBC, or have millions of people reading our blogs, but I bet Deacon Nick or Fr Tim Finigan, to name two of the biggest independent bloggers aren’t regularly mobbed in Sainsburys. Nor, I should imagine are the professionals, such as Joe Kelly of the Universe, Madeleine Teahan, Francis Phillips, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, Luke Coppen, Tim Stanley, or even Damian Thompson. The most I’ve ever had is a mother in the playground tell me she saw me on TV and thought I scrubbed up really well and looked totally different, and someone ask were they drunk or did they really see me on the news in the pub on a Friday night?!
We shouldn’t get too big for our boots, but we should also remember who and what it is we represent and act with dignity, respect and charity at all times. If we want both the bishops and the public at large to take us seriously, which we should, especially if there are serious issues which need tackling, (Cramner made an interesting point about whether or not bloggers would have drawn attention to clerical child abuse had they been about at the time) then independent voices such as those on the blogosphere are vital, so we need to make sure that we do not waste the opportunity.
The ever sardonic tweeter Heresy Corner, a.k.a Nelson Jones, has frequently wryly and sardonically observed the similarities between online in-fighting amongst Catholic and feminist circles. It’s inevitable to some extent given the fallenness of human nature, but publicly quarrelling ourselves into irrelevance and obscurity while those with the power to actually change things, ignore pressing issues relating to matters such as catechesis and the spread of heterodoxy, is Dawkins’ dream.
But it’s a testament to the overall quality of amateur bloggers that many of us who aren’t clerics like Fr Tim or Fr Ray Blake, such as Laurence England, Greg Daly and Megan Hodder, to name but a few, have been picked up by not only Catholic publications, but also by the wider mainstream media as a whole. It is in part thanks to my blog, that media researchers googling for an alternative point of view on a topic have given me a much wider global platform than I could ever imagined when I started and one that has resulted in a regular weekly column and radio show.
It’s vital for Catholicism that both the laity and clerics continue to speak in the public square, have a voice in the mainstream media as well as contribute to internal discussion. If we want to be heard, we need to up our game and make sure that we are worth listening to.