.... do they do so as priests?
If a priest is a Christian before he is a priest - that is his status conferred by the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation - is his first level of activity that proper to a member of the lay faithful?
If the vocation to be a priest conferred in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a specification of that first calling received in Baptism and Confirmation, rather than an abolition of it?
If the vocation of priest therefore "includes" in some sense the original lay vocation given in Baptism and Confirmation, in a kind of analagous way to that in which the office of a Bishop includes that of deacon and priest?
And if blogging is an expression of the lay charism of mediation between the ecclesial life and the life of the secular world?
Then, is the blog of a priest an exercise of their office precisely as priest or is it an exercise of their office as a baptised Christian, distinguishable from an exercise of their office as a priest?
Or, to ask the question in a slightly different way, is the blog of a priest a personal exercise that should be, and can be, separated from their other fields of official activity as a priest?
In one particular situation referred to here, a bishop has asked a blogging priest to name his blog in such a way that it is clearly a personal blog rather than one that represents the parish. And, in principle, it does seem possible to separate the blog as a personal activity from the priest's office as priest.
But does the separation that seems possible in principle actually occur in the life experience of the blogging priest or the life experience of those who read his blog? Can office and person really be separated, or is the point of the Christian life rather the unification of person and office? Is there not still an exercise of pastoral office taking place, albeit through an engagement that perhaps reflects the firstly-lay vocation of the priest which is integrated then into his subsequent ordained vocation?
How we understand this question will affect how we judge the intervention of a bishop with regard to a blogging priest. The more that we recognise a separation of the personal from the official activity of the priest, the more we will expect blogging priests to be allowed the same autonomy in the aether that the typical lay blogger can enjoy. But if we recognise that separation to a lesser degree, we do then admit the legitimacy of an episcopal care for how the priests of his diocese act in the aether. Such a care need not be a disciplinary and restrictive care. It can instead be a generous respect for the charism and gifts of an individual priest, and a guidance of that charism and gifts. If it is reduced to a bureaucratic question of control or its opposite, a complete laissez faire that ignores the priest who blogs altogether, it will be not be a care that is worthy of the name.
I only ask because Pope Benedict's view on a number of things has just been published in a book, and one perspective being offered is that the book contains his personal views on the questions under discussion and is not an exercise of his office as successor of St Peter. This appears quite correct to me, and means that the contents of the book should not be seen as an act of official teaching by the Church. But can we really separate the person and the office as neatly as this? Is there not still, in some degree, an exercise of the pastoral office of the Supreme Pontiff?