Catholic blogging

Both the Catholic Herald’s Op Ed and Bishop Egan’s press release, firmly hit the button when it comes to Catholic blogging and social media.

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.

Catholics and sex – business as usual

An unpleasant type of snobbery seems to be pervading certain parts of the internet at the moment, with bloggers such as Protect the Pope coming under fire for their continued and persistent promotion of life issues.

“Why can’t you widen your focus to include matters of social justice?” goes the refrain. Pope Francis’ recent interview having been interpreted by some quarters that Catholics need to stop focussing on issues arising from matters of human sexuality and instead concentrate their efforts on the poor.

Much ink has already been spilled over this, including my own in the Catholic Universe (apologies, recent events mean that I haven’t been up to date with posting my columns on the blog) but Francis has not said that we must abandon these issues, but that they must not be our only Gospel. Evangelisation does not begin with bashing another over the head for their shortcomings, or lecturing people solely on one area of doctrine while forgetting that the aim is to engender a love of Christ and a desire to focus on His message. Issues such as sexuality, abortion, poverty and hunger all flow holistically from the two main commandments of Christ, to love your God with all your heart and soul and then to love your neighbour as yourself.

This loving one’s neighbour as oneself means speaking the truth with charity. A love of one’s neighbour means attempting to stop them from falling into error, therefore we cannot ignore it when someone imperils their soul, we cannot validate sin by ignoring it, but rather act with love and compassion.

Figures such as Deacon Nick Donnelly and myself who have quite a strong pro-life bent to our output are not being urged to stop, or widen focus, but to remember what it is precisely that we are attempting to achieve. I can’t speak for Deacon Nick, but it’s something that I consider every single day and why at times, my writing can sometimes have a tortuous quality, in that I am trying to consider all angles and not alienate the very many non-Catholic onlookers who pop into the blog from time to time.

To those interlocutors who would urge me to concentrate on other matters of social justice, my riposte would be to “stick with what you are good at”. My particular vocation and charism when it comes to writing, blogging and speaking is that of issues surrounding the family, the unborn, human sexuality and the feminine vocation. In the spirit of Vatican II, if you perceive there to be a gap, then why not fill it yourself? If the wholesale killing of the unborn, the destruction of the family and the exploitation of the sick and elderly are not matters of social justice, then I don’t know what is?

I was someone who was brought up without any sort of understanding of what the Church taught regarding contraception. All I knew was that the Church said you couldn’t use the pill or condoms and not being the most intellectually curious of children, it didn’t occur to me to ask why. My mother used to tell me that the Church’s stance on condoms was wicked and it was a line I swallowed hook, line and sinker, even being so daring as to put it into an RE essay on one occasion, to which Mr Glynn smiled indulgently and said he thought that was a bit strong.

We had the mandatory SRE talk on contraception in what is now called Year 9 (third year in old money) and my thoughts were ‘oh wow, okay this is how it works, the pill seems like a jolly sensible thing, I might go and ask for it’ without any sort of guidance or comment, or even balancing biological information as to the downsides or risks. Of course in my day, the morning-after pill or long acting reversible contraceptives such as the implant were yet to be invented, but I’m sure that had they been, I would have thought them advisable and the Catholic church was just being silly and out of date. We were not even informed of the potential side-effects, contraception was ‘impartially’ presented as being an effective way to avoid pregnancy. There was no discussion about relationships whatsoever, aside from an unspoken sense that if you did have sex, be sure not to get caught.

Despite completing a GCSE in Religion with an ostensibly Catholic syllabus, the subject of contraception was never covered. Sister P once came out with the unforgettable statement that if you were having sex to round off the end of an enjoyable evening then you had no self-respect, a statement that never made any sense as an adolescent and needs further explanation. I would never insult any non-Catholics or leading feminist figures by claiming that a love of sex, or treating it as a recreational activity denotes a lack of self-respect. While I suspect that there are many women whose sexual behaviour does stem from a basic lack of self-respect, it cannot be said of everyone.

Culture encourages us to treat sex as a meaningless recreational activity at the same time as promoting the god of personal autonomy and self-respect. To have multiple sexual partners, to engage in outrageous sexual practices, does not automatically denote a lack of self-respect, rather the opposite. Indulging one’s own sexual proclivities, no matter how deviant or potentially physically and psychologically unhealthy is seen as a good.

So it makes no sense to be telling adolescents or adults that to succumb to their sexual appetites and cravings denotes a lack of self-respect and is not an affective or appealing argument without further exploration. It certainly didn’t chime with me.

But by not being taught about what we should aspire to, because no-one held chastity up to me as a goal or a good, because abortion was never explained in anything more than abstract philosophical terms, and never explored in any detail, I was profoundly hurt and damaged in my teens and twenties and subject to a lot of unnecessary heartbreak and mistakes.

Funnily enough once I embraced the church things turned good and fell into place, but not without forays into co-habitation and an attempt at marriage in which I lacked all understanding of what marriage actually was and what it meant, never having received any guidance or preparation.

A combination of parents’ embarassed silence on these issues and a school whose attitude was ambivalence, indifference and turning a blind eye to the obvious sexual escapades of their pupils, (unless they were caught when sanctions had to be seen to be applied) meant that I was extremely susceptible to the influence of women’s lifestyle magazines like Cosmopolitan, whose dissonant message has not changed over the past 30 years. Have as much sex as you want, with whomsoever you want, here are some tips to make it spicy, if you’re not swinging from the chandeliers or not wanting to swing from the chandeliers, you are doing something wrong and in all likelihood sexually repressed, besides which you need to make sure you are good at it if you want him to call you again.

These two articles demonstrate the dissonance nicely – a Telegraph columnist deliberates on how soon one can call a relationship a relationship without scaring off a man, but unashamedly admitting that a long-term relationship is the goal, and this piece in the Daily Mail gives women tricks to please men the first time that they have sex, in order to please him and keep him interested. This is really the tip of the cultural iceberg, basically women are expected to sexually objectify themselves, there is an admission that sex makes us vulnerable, we put ourselves on the line, not to mention risking pregnancy and STDs and IF we do things right, look great, are not too emotionally clingy and are sexually pleasing and financially independent, then eventually we might find a man who might want to commit to us. Although be careful not to bore him, if he has an affair, it might well be your fault. Women are being sold a paradox of sexual self-objectification in the name of sexual empowerment with an admitted price tag of physical and emotional vulnerability. Getting naked and swapping intimate bodily fluids with someone does not give us license to claim any sort of romantic relationship or emotional attachment to them, until they deem it appropriate. Having sex no longer entails any sort of responsibility towards the other, an attitude underlined by contraception and the wholesale availability of abortion. Wanting a long term relationship as a result of having repeated sexual encounters with one person is perceived as a sign of weakness or dysfunction, unless the other person desires it too. Women who want to get married are an embarrassing anachronism.

At time of writing, I am engaged in a twitter exchange with the political editor of the Daily Mail and the social media editor of the Wall Street Journal, the latter of whom thinks that sexting amongst teens should not be considered shocking as ‘it’s no longer 1998’. Sexting encourages already vulnerable teens to open themselves up to abuse, harassment and coercion. We should not be normalising it as a harmless adult practice. But by speaking out, one risks being written off as a joyless puritan.

We are marinading in a toxic cultural sewer and unless we have an alternative vision to aspire to, a healthy culture of sex and sexuality, a better vision of equality, based on sound moral principles, then it can hardly be a surprise that so many people sink into the squelchy immoral morass that masquerades as healthy adult behaviour and suffer as a result. I should know, I was one of them. if we stop talking about these things then there is nothing to counter the very powerful lobbies that seek to entrench and profit from a culture of sexual libertinism.

Through the grace of God I managed to turn my life around and I can testify to the joy and fulfilment of living out a female Catholic vocation. Those of us who have been hurt and let down as a direct consequence of not having been passed on the beauty of the church’s teaching in all her fullness and glory, feel a duty to continue to speak out in order that no-one else should have to learn the hard way and it’s precisely love for one’s neighbour as propounded by the Gospel, which motivates us to do so.

A kick in the teeth

So whilst ordinary lay Catholics are fighting tooth and nail in order to keep abortion out of Ireland, whilst GPs are finding their jobs and families are on the line for speaking their minds, what is happening to that nominal Catholic Enda Kenny? You know the man who closed Ireland’s embassy in the Holy See, who misled the Irish public with regards to the Cloyne Report, pointing the finger solely at the Vatican in a speech loaded with venom and vitriol?

What’s happening to the man who is trying to force priests to legally be compelled to break the seal of confession? Ah yes, that’s right a Catholic University is awarding him an honorary doctorate.

“Prime Minister Kenny is an internationally respected leader with a well-known reputation for promoting human rights and causes of social justice, two issues that resonate with the Boston College community,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn.

Only if you are born it would seem.

This is the man who pitched up at Knock international airport to unveil a statue of a Catholic Monsignor (Knock being a noted site of holy pilgrimage) on a weekend that saw an influx of Catholic pilgrims praying for the unborn, and responded to threats of excommunication saying ‘I have my own way of speaking to God’.

What in the name of all that’s holy, is this all about? What a kick in the teeth. Disgusted, scandalized, demoralized, doesn’t begin to cover it. Demonic comes somewhere close perhaps.