Saturday, 19 April 2014

PtP: What is the real question? - UPDATED

I have come late to the story of the "silencing" of Protect the Pope/Deacon Donnelly. The clearest reporting on it that I can find is here, at the Catholic Herald website: Bishops shouldn’t try to censor the blogosphere, says priest blogger. [UPDATE: Caroline's observations are also worth reading: Catholic blogging.]

I am not able to comment on the "politics" - that is, about the speculation about who might, or might not, have put pressure on who to bring about the intervention of Bishop Campbell. Since that intervention, there has been a reaction that brings out a "political" dimension to the intervention itself - but I am not at all sure that that really captures the essence of what took place.

I have had my own encounter with Protect the Pope: Protect the Pope: the publican or the Pharisee? (and see the approach of some of the comments received from PtP's supporters), and in commenting on his post with regard to the film Philomena: Steve Coogan mendaciously blackens the name of Sr Hildegard McNulty in his film Philomena. I have since, somewhat by accident, come to recognise some of the networking among the commenters on the PtP, and that does shed some not inconsiderable light on the content of posts and comments.

But what is the real question that is raised by Bishop Campbell's intervention?

Is it really the silencing of a heroic defender of the faith? According to the Catholic Herald report linked above, Deacon Donnelly identifies the aim of the blog as being:
“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.”
At the very least, I think it is possible to look at the content of posts on PtP and examine the extent to which they do and do not meet this aim. My own encounter with the blog indicated that there is more to PtP than this aim. At the time, I suggested that those who viewed the blog in these terms should think about it a bit more carefully.

Is it really "censoring" the Catholic blogosphere? Or the action of a bishop who "doesn't get blogging"? The discussion along these lines, which appears to have been extensive, seems to me to miss the point. There is an aspect of this discussion that does not appear to be attracting comment. What would a lay person do, approached by their bishop with the same request to take a period of prayer and reflection whilst desisting from blogging? It is not just a question of "jurisdiction" but one  of "communion".

I am not convinced by the line of discussion that suggests that the internet has a "self-correction" mechanism whereby errors are raised and corrected without need of "censorship"; and that a bishop can correct a view by making his own use of the modern means of social communication. I have a distinct impression that a whole range of Catholic blogs just "talk to each other" without reaching outside their own circle, like talking to like in a closed circle.

I do happen to think that the statement from Lancaster Diocese, as reported by the Catholic Herald, very accurately identifies the questions pertaining to the PtP blog (my italics added):
“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.”
My own encounter with PtP clearly manifested the need to consider questions of truth and charity in terms of the content of blog posts and comments. The question of considering the unity of the Church seems to me more subtle - the question here is not about posting to criticise dissent but more about the spinning of such posting against bishops. And as I imply above, exactly these same duties oblige the lay Catholic who blogs on matters Catholic.

More than anything else, I would suggest that Bishop Campbell's intervention calls each and every one of us to an examination of conscience with regard to how we conduct ourselves in cyberspace.

No comments: