UK Bishops considering priest bloggers?

First things first.  Click here.  Spike those stats!

What is this about?   A friend of mine in the UK who has the blog Mulier Fortis posted an interesting piece which deserves some thought.

My emphases and comments.

Bishops Contemplate A Bit Of Blogger…

Finally, I get to post something original… and I haven’t caught even a smidgeon of this in the blogosphere, so this could even be a Mulier Fortis exclusive. Please remember this little fact when you see it later on more famous (and more interesting) blogs… it would be nice to have a busy com-box for a change…
;-)

I have heard a rumour or two (no names, no pack-drill) that the Bishops of England and Wales discussed the blogging phenomenon during their Low Week meeting this year. [If they didn't, they are even farther behind the curve than one might have imagined.]

Nothing too surprising (or noteworthy) in that, you might think. Practically everything on the planet, if it possesses a pulse, has heard of blogging. It’s even been mentioned on BBC Radio 4[LOL!]

The interest arises from the further rumour that their Lordships discussed the "reining in" of several priestly bloggers in their dioceses… allegedly. I think there may even have been mention of some sort of "imprimatur" being required…  [Yah... that'll work.]

This is hugely entertaining, in view of the fact that almost no publications bother with the imprimatur these days, not even RE textbooks produced for use in Catholic schools… and, in reality, it is possible to be promoted in Catholic Cathedrals while publicly dissenting from Catholic teaching…  [Exactly.]

For some strange reason, the phrase "Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough!"  [Or, in American: "Go ahead!  Make my day!"] keeps flitting through my consciousness… I have a sneaking suspicion that one or two priestly bloggers of my acquaintance would smile seraphically at whoever attempted to deliver the gagging order and boot the whole issue straight "upstairs" ! I don’t know which Vatican Department deals with such appeals, but I have little doubt that the priests in question would get a favourable hearing. [About that I am not so sure.  But... it would simply drive the bloggers to anonymity, increase their traffic, and no bishop would benefit in the long run.]

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30 Responses to UK Bishops considering priest bloggers?

  1. RBrown says:

    This reminds me of Cardinal Mahoney trying to ride herd on Mother Angelica and EWTN because she criticized his letter on the Eucharist. Is there anything more pathetic than Liberal Clericalism?

    Some of the bishops are painfully out of touch.

  2. Mark says:

    This is a question for the priest and his Bishop. I don’t see how we, the laity, should have any say in this, since this is the area of Church discipline for the ordained. If a Bishop wanted to exercise some authority over a blog run by one of his priests (such a blog is, after all, a form of public ministry), I think he would be well within his rights. Regardless of how we, the laity, might feel about a particular Bishop and his exercise of legitimate authority.

  3. JPG says:

    whether or not there is some sort of crackdown is in one sense immaterial. I would like the to bring to the attention the comments made by the cousin Fr Paul Murphy-O’Connor of the Archbishop of Westminster( See the Hermeneutic of Continuity Monday, June 23) about the Apostle Paul. If anyone ought to be brought under scrutiny it is that gentleman. The great Irony is such a suggestion being raised by those who shelter and encourage Liberal dissent and would be the first to howl about any actions by the CDF.
    The only reason they would have is to silence criticism of their own poor
    poor teaching.

  4. RBrown says:

    This is a question for the priest and his Bishop. I don’t see how we, the laity, should have any say in this, since this is the area of Church discipline for the ordained. If a Bishop wanted to exercise some authority over a blog run by one of his priests (such a blog is, after all, a form of public ministry), I think he would be well within his rights. Regardless of how we, the laity, might feel about a particular Bishop and his exercise of legitimate authority.
    Comment by Mark

    I think you’ve missed the point.

    There is no way a bishop can control blogging. As Fr Z pointed out, the priest could simply do it anonymously. Or he could pass the info on to a layman or someone in another diocese, even nation.

    Here’s an example: Some days ago I sent some info to Fr Z that a friend in Germany had given me. Fr Z posted it on his site, and later the German friend let me me know he had read it. This all happened within a couple of hours. And–needless to say–it could be read by people all over the world, including England.

    The English bishops can have all the meetings they want, but it will make no difference.

    Bonum sui diffusivum est.

  5. LCB says:

    “it is possible to be promoted in Catholic Cathedrals while publicly dissenting from Catholic teaching…”

    It’s possible to be promoted TO Catholic Cathedrals while publicly dissenting from Catholic teaching! In England and Wales, if you are a dissenting priest, you might as well have your mitre measurements handy for when the day inevitably comes.

    This is all a moot point. When the Cure d’Blackfen (already a pillar of orthodoxy) is made Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster his (future-Emminence’s) blogging ministry will prove a fine example to both the priests and the laity as to how blogging ought to be done. Perhaps Cdl. Sean and he could start a group blog, or somesuch.

    Beyond that, the irony of this whole situation is pretty much indescribable.

    As for the phrase, “Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough!” Well, any bishop attempting such a crackdown would (likely) soon discover the meaning of Scripture when Our Lord says, “I came to set the world aflame, and how I wish it were already burning” and elsewhere, “I did not come to bring peace, but the sword.” It wouldn’t be pretty.

  6. LCB says:

    The proper solution for a Bishop would not be to try and suppress Orthodox blogs, but to start his own blog where he clearly lays out his views, opinions, etc.

    In the marketplace of ideas, a liberal Bishop will soon discover his ideas are about as solvent as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

  7. Mark says:

    Dear RBrown:

    The point is, in my estimate, the obedience every priest pledges to his Bishop. If a Bishop requests, for example, that his priest refrain from blogging altogether (that includes passing on information to second parties), or accept some form of control, then the priest should obey his Bishop and shut down his blog or allow such control.

    The point here is not how to technically evade a discipline every Bishop is entitled to impose on his priests. We all know how efficiently Internet servers, switches, and IP work.

    I would not visit a blog run by a priest if I knew that his Bishop ordered him to shut it down, even if I disagreed with the Bishop’s decision. We the laity should stay out of this.

  8. John Enright says:

    “Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough!” [Or, in American: "Go ahead! Make my day!"] Sorry, Father, your “American translation” is too tame. Here’s what I think is a more appropriate translation (slightly edited):”You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the **** do you think you’re talking to?” – Taxi Driver (1976).

  9. Tzard says:

    That’s a good point, Mark, and it’s a part frankly I do not fully understand or appreciate. Just how far does does obedience go? What are the limits to what a Bishop can command a priest? Certainly if it goes against his rights as a priest – but what if it was for their own spiritual good?

    What if an imaginary priest was neglecting his spiritual life and pastoral duties by spending too much time on the Internet (in general) – would it be proper for a bishop to tell the priest to not go on the Internet for a while? They can certainly send them to retreats and such.

    I’ve seen times when seemingly unjust actions were taken upon priests I knew – and the holiest of them followed the letter of the command and obeyed. Most of them were visibly vindicated in the end.

    Now the laity – our job is to complain about such things to the bishop and to Rome, when our priests cannot. We are not restrained by obedience in the same way they are.

    Or so it seems to me.

  10. mpm says:

    “This is a question for the priest and his Bishop. I don’t see how we, the laity, should have any say in this, since this is the area of Church discipline for the ordained. If a Bishop wanted to exercise some authority over a blog run by one of his priests (such a blog is, after all, a form of public ministry), I think he would be well within his rights. Regardless of how we, the laity, might feel about a particular Bishop and his exercise of legitimate authority.

    Comment by Mark — 12 July 2008 @ 12:13 pm”

    Is there not, according to Canon Law, a right to express one’s opinion freely
    in the Church, whether one is lay or clerical? Regardless of the impossibility
    of “suppressing” a priest-blogger or a lay-blogger, as Catholics, and within
    the usual bounds of truth and charity, we have a right to express our views,
    and perhaps even a duty to do so, if one is particularly formed or trained in
    some area of expertise.

  11. John Enright says:

    mpm said “Is there not, according to Canon Law, a right to express one’s opinion freely in the Church, whether one is lay or clerical?”

    I think you’re right, within certain limits. Canon 212 §3 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states:

    [Christ’s faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

    Canon 212 covers all of us, clergy, religious and laity. To the extent that a complete ban on blogs operated by priests would interfere with their mission to teach and their right to express their views openly, it could violate Canon 212. The laity also have rights under Canon 212 since a blog is a forum for anyone to express his or view. That being said, a bishop would be correct in shutting down a particular blog for cause such as heresy, etc.

  12. Matthew Robinson says:

    I wouldn’t worry, I bet a lot of these Bishops couldn’t even figure out how to get on the internet to read these “dissenting” views…dissenting in this case meaning Catholic.

  13. Deusdonat says:

    LCB – In the marketplace of ideas, a liberal Bishop will soon discover his ideas are about as solvent as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    LOL! That’s HILARIOUS! Makes one think twice on “taking stock” in what our bishiops say… : )

    MARK – I agree with your sentiment, and you obviously did not “miss the point” (what a perfectly rude thing to say to you for simply expressing your opinion). Priests need to obey theri bishops. This means that even if they are saddled with a Mahoney, it is their cross to bear. And it is not like they need to remain silent if their bishops are in error. They have recourse and should know how to take it. In fact, I think if more priests would legitimately call out the Mahoney-esque errors of their bishops to the appropriate authorities in the magesterium, we would see more action on the subject. But I digress…

    If the priest’s bishop says to stop blogging, then the priest should obey the decision and take it to the next level if he disagrees. Let’s not forget: this runs BOTH ways. A good traditional bishop could ask a wayward priest to stop blogging just as easily as the opposite. Simply stating, “Well, um…they’re gonna do it anyway!” is both childish and appeasement mentality. The same argument can be made for every form of sin and disobedience (i.e. well, women are going to get abortions anyway, so why not let them do it in the open?”). Rubbish!

    Father Z’s point is also well-taken. If the bishop were to forbid a priest from blogging, it may drive said priest to do so anonymously. But then again, that would certainly show the callibre and character of said priest, wouldn’t it? My guess is that it wouldn’t be too difficult to track down a priest, even one posting anonymously in our internet age. I can give some pretty bizzare and down-right scandalous examples of this, but in the spirit of charity I will refrain as it doesn’t really serve any purpose. Suffice it to say, no one is really as anonymous as they think on the internet.

  14. Mac McLernon says:

    My point is that any priest who was ordered to stop blogging would immediately appeal to Rome because his ability to preach and teach via the Internet was being interfered with – which, unless he was preaching and teaching heresy, would be an injustice, to those being taught as well as to the priest himself.

    I think we need to get a few Canon lawyers onto this…

  15. Deusdonat says:

    Mac – that’s precisely what I (and Mark before me) said above. Absolutely agreed.

  16. It is my understanding that obedience isn’t in every little detail, but in matters of Faith and in the Magisterium (and in matters) Insofar as the local Ordinary has control over.

    For example: If the Bishop was to ask a priest to move parishes, the priest out of obedience should obey such a request.

    Eg 2: If a priest was to be censored, he would be bound to obey if and only if he the priest was dissenting from the Faith. (ie: heresy). However, if the priest was teaching solid Catholic doctrine and reflections, he would not be bound to such a request.

    It would be uncharitible if a Bishop was in error to let him continue in such a matter.

    My approach to the situation is the same thing I tell my students…You are always welcome to question anything I teach you, however be prepared with logical arguments against what I’m teaching.

    In this regard, the Bishops’ are able question, but as long as they have good reasoning behind it.

  17. Deusdonat says:

    Joe – obedience to one’s bishop goes beyond what you outlined. Witness the recent fiascos surrounding the whole Father Pfleger/ Father Lisante fiasco. Neither was saying anything against Catholic faith and/or morals. Yet both were in essence endorsing political candidates nad straddling the line between their personal endorsements and insinuating that the church (or at least faithful adherents to the church) should follow their lead. And in both cases the priests were told to refrain from making any further public endorsements as such (and to date, I belive both have obeyed).

  18. Jack Regan says:

    As somebody who has worked for the Church in the UK for quite a while, I think I know exactly what spurned this. A Diocese I used to work for (which will remain nameless – but, if you know who I am, remember that I have worked in quite a few, so don’t try to guess!) had a particular problem with a priest blogger. The blog is now shut down, but not before it raised CONSIDERABLE problems. The blogger in question (if anyone’s interested) was a bit of a lefty rather than a traditionalist.

    Anyhow, I totally agree that banning it is utterly futile. In my last job one of our mantras was ‘if you ban it, you just push it underground!’ Not that I am a big fan of blogs, but nonetheless…

  19. Jack Regan says:

    I should add to the above that I am generally a big supporter of our E&W bishops. In contrast to views that many express here, I am very much in their corner, so to speak.

  20. John Enright says:

    Deusdonat referred to \”the recent fiascos surrounding the whole Father Pfleger/ Father Lisante fiasco. Neither was saying anything against Catholic faith and/or morals. Yet both were in essence endorsing political candidates nad straddling the line between their personal endorsements and insinuating that the church (or at least faithful adherents to the church) should follow their lead. And in both cases the priests were told to refrain from making any further public endorsements as such (and to date, I belive both have obeyed).\” Political positions publicly advocated by priests, regardless of whether they\’re conservative, liberal or other, are frowned upon. Take a look at Canon 287 §2 which states:

    [Clerics] are not to play an active role in political parties or in directing trade unions unless, in the judgment of the competent ecclesiastical authority, this is required for the defense of the rights of the Church or to promote the common good.

  21. Deusdonat says:

    John – correct. And in the minds of each priest, from their later statements they thought what they were doing was for the promotion of common good. And they were both duly corrected.

  22. Albert says:

    The English and Welsh bishops hate conservative blogs with a passion. Top of their Index Blogorum is Damian Thompson’s Holy Smoke, which provoked the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, no less, to march into the office of the Editor of the Daily Telegraph to demand that it be censored.

  23. John Enright says:

    Deusdonat said “And in the minds of each priest, from their later statements they thought what they were doing was for the promotion of common good.” Yeah, I agree that they thought they were doing the right thing, but it is clear that it is the Ordinary’s judgment which counts. I don’t have a problem with either priest, but I think political advocacy of any candidate is problematic, not only from a Canon Law perspective, but also from the point of the IRS Code. Overtly campaigning from the pulpit can jeopardize the Church’s tax exempt status. That said, I appreciate that they are obedient. (At least so far.)

    It is apparent that the bishops do have a right to regulate clerics’ speech where it is necessary, i.e. cases of heresy, disrespect of the Magisterium, political advocacy, etc. So, while the Church doesn’t recognize absolute freedom of speech, there are sufficient canonical checks and balances to stop a bishop from an arbitrary and capricious interference with a priest’s right to speak publicly. After all, the penumbra of Book II of the 1983 Code of Canon Law recognizes substantive rights of the clergy to speak as well as the rights of the laity to listen. So, while attempting to silence a priest for expressing an otherwise permitted opinion, a bishop could well transgress the rights of his subjects.

  24. C.M. says:

    Remembering that the 1983 CIC was written before the dawn of the Internet, here are some passages I found interesting:

    Can. 823 §1. In order to preserve the integrity of the truths of faith and morals, the pastors of the Church have the duty and right to be watchful so that no harm is done to the faith or morals of the Christian faithful through writings or the use of instruments of social communication. They also have the duty and right to demand that writings to be published by the Christian faithful which touch upon faith or morals be submitted to their judgment and have the duty and right to condemn writings which harm correct faith or good morals.

    Can. 824 §1. Unless it is established otherwise, the local ordinary whose permission or approval to publish books must be sought according to the canons of this title is the proper local ordinary of the author or the ordinary of the place where the books are published.

    §2. Those things established regarding books in the canons of this title must be applied to any writings whatsoever which are destined for public distribution, unless it is otherwise evident.

    Can. 831 §2. It is for the conference of bishops to establish norms concerning the requirements for clerics and members of religious institutes to take part on radio or television in dealing with questions of Catholic doctrine or morals.

  25. Deusdonat says:

    John E – we are absolutely in agreement there. When Pfleger went off on his rant, I just rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust (anyone who is familiar with Saint Sabinas
    Catholic Church faith-based community knows he is clearly off the deep end and isolated from reality, lost as he is in his own cult of personality. But Fr Lisante, for all intents and purposes seemed to be a good priest; charitable, orthodox and absolutely in-step with the church on faith and morality. Which is why it shook me so much to see him smugly use a “prayer” as a forum for his own tirade. While Pfleger’s “apology” was more of a pitty party where he blamed everyone else rather than his own comments, Fr Lisante’s apology did sound sincere and I personally consider the matter closed. But it does underscore our point: priests should publically stay out of politics, full stop. It’s all good and well to give a blessing at a political rally etc, but they should NEVER bless or give any indication of one political view over another. Instead, they should state the CHURCH’s view on specific subjects. The rest will be absolutely clear to anyone listening.

  26. Jack Regan: As somebody who has worked for the Church in the UK for quite a while …

    I trust you do not work on the UK bishops’ public relations, which from this side of the Atlantic appear to be about as bad as it gets.

  27. Mark says:

    Dear Deusdonat:

    You wrote: “priests should publicly stay out of politics…”. I completely agree, but would add that this holds in normal circumstances, when the world of “politics” is understood to be bound by certain limits, as is within the context of this discussion.

    The experience of the Church also is that under some conditions every thought and every action can be defined as “political”. Just with respect to religion, to claim that God exists, to attend Mass, to make a sign of the cross or go to confession, to wear a cassock, to teach children how to pray, to baptize or confirm them, to print religious materials, to attempt to build, expand, or repair a church, to attempt a procession or a pilgrimage, to wear religious symbols, to declare one self a believer in an after life (even one without God), and so on, were all political acts with definite consequences in one’s personal life. Such conditions still persist in some places, one not too far from the USA.

    Thus, in my view, the word “politics” is too fluid to be used as a boundary marker. I lean toward Pope John Paul II, who spoke of human dignity and human rights as the unchanging constants which the world of “politics” must respect. These give our Church a stable field on which She can do the Lord’s work.

  28. Maureen says:

    I’m surprised that people don’t remember; but in the dawning days of blogging, at least one of our most prominent US priest bloggers was told to stop blogging as a matter of obedience. Some US seminarians have been told this, too.

  29. Maureen says:

    I forgot to add that they obeyed, of course.

  30. Jack Regan says:

    *I trust you do not work on the UK bishops’ public relations, which from this side of the Atlantic appear to be about as bad as it gets.*

    No, youth services!

    The E&W Bishops aren’t actually that disliked outside of traditionalist circles. As I said, I am a fan :)