The lovely and persistent Anna Arco, feature writer for The Catholic Herald, the UK’s best Catholic weekly, recently gave an intervention at a conference in Rome concerning tools of social communication.
Here are a few salient points from her talk:
This year, at a talk given at New Orleans, Archbishop Claudio Celli expressed his concerns about the challenges facing the Catholic blogosphere. Drawing from examples in politics, he said that blogs could lead to increasing polarisation within the Church, in which people only engage with those media which reflect their already entrenched views.
He said: “I would be worried that a similar phenomenon could be emerging in the world of Catholic media, especially in the blogosphere, where often it seems not enough for protagonists to propose their own views and beliefs but where they tend also to attack the arguments, and even the person, of those who disagree with them. It is natural that debates about faith and morals should be full of conviction and passion but there is a growing risk that some forms of expression are damaging the unity of the Church and, moreover, are unlikely to draw the curious and the seekers to a desire to learn about the Church and its message.”
It is true that the tone in the blogosphere is often angry-and sometimes not without cause. People have turned to blogs because they have not been heard, because their concerns are not being listened to or even taken seriously.
If their criticism of local bishops is uncharitable, it is possibly because is a real rupture in the communion of the Church that needs to be addressed.
I know of more than one case where Church authorities have attempted to shut down blogs that are critical, using arguably the same sort of aggressive tactics they accuse the bloggers of using.
Isolation and polarisation are not problems which affect only the new media.
One need but look at the United States, where the National Catholic Reporter and the National Catholic Register show the deep fault-lines of a polarised Church, to see that old media is similarly affected. The blogosphere merely amplifies and speeds up human communication. Because of the speed there is sometimes a disconnect, between pressing the button to publish a post or a comment and the reality that such a comment could be hurtful or even irresponsible.
At a time when trust in institutions from the big newspapers to the Church is seriously undermined, blogs and micro-blogs like Twitter give people a sense of a personal connection with the source of their news and opinions.
The blogosphere has vibrancy and gives a sense of what people believe, something that has perhaps been lost a bit in the traditional media.
If the Church can find a way of harnessing the power of non-journalist bloggers, who write about the Church and the faith because they are compelled to, through love or passion, then it will be in possession of a very strong tool for evangelisation, namely the witness of the lay faithful.
In an age when people are cynical about the messages they receive from both the hierarchical Church and the traditional media and are used to spin the Catholic blogosphere can offer a refreshing antidote. Genuine discussion and genuine witness, by real people.
Blogs offer a unique opportunity to reach out to others, to put the Catholic case, but it is important to remember that the blogosphere will only ever be as good as the Christians the Church shapes.