Anna Arco on blogs and their contribution

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JulieC says:

    Anna Arco said: “People have turned to blogs because they have not been heard, because their concerns are not being listened to or even taken seriously.”

    So very true. I’ve been there, done that myself.

  2. chonak says:

    Fine comments by Ms. Arco. Censorious bishops would do well to deal with real issues instead of blaming the messenger.

    Here, by the way, a well-written “Boston Catholic Insider” blog is carefully but openly discussing problems of mismanagement and conflict of interest in church administration. So far curial officials seem more interested in identifying the anonymous writers and their “inside” sources than in correcting problems.

  3. howarda says:

    Thank you Father Z. for your blog because it has increased my awareness of the importance of good liturgy. Most of us who attend Mass don’t think critically how it’s done. We’re used to female alter servers, the kind of music we here, the generic homilys that don’t challenge anybody and thinking what we are going to have for lunch. We lack passion in our faith and simply content to the way things are. It is tradition with a little t and we continue our lukewarmness until the hour of death. Continue the good work. This is a very important apostalate.

  4. Caro_c says:

    The Catholic Blogsphere is a blessing. The liberal agenda can not silence, control, or sack the hundreds of thousands of catholic bloggers throughout the world.

  5. irishgirl says:

    Double Amen to that!

  6. Supertradmum says:

    Catholic blogs, especially trad ones, have provided a platform for teaching and reaching out to those who are perplexed, and need guidance. What great advice we have received here from Father Z and our blog community. In areas where there is not a trad community, this blog has provided a much needed format for exchange of ideas and events, as well as the “rants”.

    And, no offense to the bishops, but why pick on blogs? If someone wants to see division, go to a local deanery meeting, where I was invited once to give a presentation, and see the divisions and rudeness among the “priestly fraternities”, and also, look at the local papers, such as The Catholic Messenger, which still carries Father McBrien’s column after many years of complaints. The so-called diocesan media can also be divisive, as some witnessed in the 2008 election here. Pro-life groups were literally “shut down” and not allowed to pass out pamphlets by diocesan chancery employees.

    This complaint by one or more bishops is obviously one-sided, and reveals a false idea of “uniformity” within the Church, which those of us who frequent this blog, knows has not existed for a long time.

  7. People don’t even have to have been “shut down” on purpose. A lot of Catholics were taught not to say anything, either because they didn’t want to bother Father, because they should just offer it up, or because the parish was big and one person’s concerns were obviously unimportant.

    Also, a lot of problems have been swept under the rug by referring people to outside stuff. (I know an older lady who left the Church because, when she asked for help to feed her kid and find a job, all her priest friends from the old neighborhood and all the social justice people in her parish told her to go sign up with Catholic Charities downtown, whereas the Protestant church came to her house with groceries unprompted and didn’t ask for any paperwork at all. Nowadays, she’d probably start complaining about it on the Web and get some Catholic help from her neighbors, but back then it was all swept under the rug.

  8. dominic1955 says:

    The unity of the Church is not effected by the blogosphere, its already damaged when nuts like Kung and McBrien carry on with their foul errors without so much as a slap on the wrist and folks like the SSPX (though rightfully punished for the bishop consecration thing) are treated like lepers. Its damaged when religious orders gone mad operate with impunity in dioceses and the diocesan bishop doesn’t do a thing about it or even encourages them.

    While the good Archbishop has a point, if the bishops want to do something about Church unity and the like, they need to stop acting like bureaucrats and start acting like successors to the Apostles.

  9. lmgilbert says:

    To me the blogshere, like a religious order, is a school for virtue. One can vent, criticize, rant, but back comes an exhortation to be more charitable, patient, understanding. That very thing happened in the comments on priestly dress today.

    Or one is simply shamed and chastised by the sheer reasonableness and deeper scholarship of someone holding another view. Or, after while, sometimes a long while, one discovers that he has been a johnny-one- note on a given topic.

    Then, too, there is the occasional self-affirming satisfaction of having made a real difference in the sphere, with the attendant renewed confidence to try the same sort of thing “in the world.”

    Perhaps it is a place where we can become well-formed and well-informed Catholic apostles.

    On balance, it is a positive- very positive- phenomenon.

  10. shane says:

    The Tablet has been criticising blogs lately. The liberal establishment greatly fear the Catholic blogosphere. And rightly so.

  11. robtbrown says:

    If Archbishop Claudio Celli is concerned about the unity of the Church, I suggest he consider the following:

    1. The 40 year long liturgical disaster that, acc to BXVI, has little to do with Vat II.

    2. Persecution of those who favored Latin while coddling, and even sometimes encouraging, those who oppose Church doctrine.

    3. The sexual scandals.

    4. P-poor formation that produced priests who are confused about Catholic teaching as well as those involved in #3.

    5. Bishops who did zip about 1-4.

  12. albizzi says:

    Sorry to say that if the bishops are afraid of the catholic blogs, the reason is that a lot among them have taken too much freedoms with respect to the traditional bimillenary teachings of the Church mainly in the name of the so called “spirit of the Council” (a hollow and meaningless word IMHO), sometimes bordering to heresy or even proudly claiming it.
    Many catholic faithfuls who felt concerned by these abuses and said it aloud were silenced.
    If the Vatican hierarchy had properly done its job in rebuking or taking disciplinary actions against these bishops, priests and nuns, certainly the blogs wouldn’t have such a success.

    Instead of saying that these blogs are heinous and lack Christian charity (which they are sometimes, I acknowledge), one would be well advised to check if the questions they raise are not so unjustified.
    The Catholic blogs bring good occasions to confront opinions in matters of faith and morals (that are not so often addressed at the pulpits) and find the forever Truth, not that of the times being.

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    “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.”

    For instance, some say, by apology for the abuse of millions of Catholics by the Church, through destruction of the churches our fathers built, destruction of the authentic liturgy that is our right, destruction of the faith of our children in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs.

    But I myself would think apology meaningless without forthright admission of guilt–in true Catholic fashion–and restoration of what has been taken from us.

  14. AJP says:

    One of the great things about blogs – and also a reason why they drive certain factions in the Church crazy – is the whistle-blowing effect blogs have. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. Outrageous liturgical abuses, heretical priests, parishes in de facto schism, etc can no longer be hidden from everyone else besides the people immediately involved. Here I am in New Jersey, but because of blogs (primarily wdtprs) I know about off the rails parishes in California, Minnesota, even Australia. This kind of stuff would have gone unnoticed and before blogs and the internet.

    For example, I recall some terrible liturgical abuses involving dancing that happened at my school’s Mass 15 yrs ago. Nobody got called out on it, instead all the folks involved – students, teachers, and the elderly church ladies who always attended the school Mass (part of the daily Mass schedule) – just smiled and thought it was the bee’s knees. Nowadays someone would probably have recorded it and put it on YouTube, and soon enough Fr Z et al would know about it. Orthodox Catholics all over the country and world could speak out about it, criticize the abuses, and defend Tradition. More importantly, because of blogs people would have had access to information to understand why such liturigcal abuses is even wrong in the first place. At the time we students didn’t know any better, and I imagine a lot of teachers and church ladies also didn’t know better. That fault lies on the priests and bishops especially. Bloggers shouldn’t have to do their jobs for them, but that is what is happening. Nature abhors a vacuum. Probably also explains why so many of the powers that be are angry about bloggers.

  15. New Sister says:

    Bull’s eye – by Ms. Arco and WDTPRS bloggers, who have informed and strengthened my faith.

  16. Kardinal says:

    There is an element of this discussion which is not being addressed in the comments that is potentially the most dangerous result of the Internet revolution; a split in the community of the Church due to the filters of news, information, and discussion we put on ourselves as Catholics. Specifically, as his Excellency pointed out, our tendency to get our news from sources that agree with our agenda, to read blogs that comment on such sources according to our agenda, and discuss such matters only with other Catholics who agree with our agenda. Now certainly absorbing media that is good and holy and orthodox, and strengthens our faith is a virtue. But like Bishop Celli, I wonder if such a narrow view leads to discussions “where they tend also to attack the arguments, and even the person, of those who disagree with them.” Such an echo chamber of self-reinforcement tempts one to conclude that those who disagree are uninformed, foolish, or deceptive, which does not conduce to rational dialogoue that “draw the curious and the seekers to a desire to learn about the Church and its message.” I’m not advocating that we should all read heterodox blogs for balance! ME GENOITO! But when orthodox Catholics disagree on matters, the discussion seems to get…very intense…and I wonder if spending a little time in others’ shoes might be in order. For instance, as much as we might be convinced that the Extraordinary Form is in every way superior to the Ordinary Form, let us perhaps consider that there ARE celebrations of the Ordinary Form that are reverent and in keeping with the TRUE “Spirit of Vatican II”.

  17. THREEHEARTS says:

    Well! Well!
    the laity takes Vatican 2 to heart and start getting involved and those prelates and priests start getting apprehensive about loosing control. Why does the Archbishop want control so badly. If 50% of the these blogs are true about the divisions in the Church, who are to blame for these divisions? Get the maverick Priests (O’Brian) the theologians (Kung etc, the archbishops (Mahoney, Mccarrick, Gumbleton) the Magisterium sisterhood, under control or excommunicate them, then you may find us the laity stop criticizing. As for using our blogs for conversion, why should we bring people in the the heresies taught by the different catechesises made available by sycopantic liberals with their own agendas. Get real folks and use any intelligence you have to use the knowledge you may have.

  18. Magpie says:

    Sorry if this seems oof topic, but I am reminded of a line from the Bond film ‘A View to a Kill’. Zorin is watching the mine complex and makes the comment that ‘Nothing can stop it now!’ (With regard to the imminent bomb explosion. Similarly, the bomb is going to go off – the Tradition bomb – and nothing can stop it. Nothing. The Holy Spirit is driving the bomb. Yeah so anyway I find the thought hopeful, even if the timescale is not to my liking.

  19. I disagree with Archbishop Celli when he indicates the blogosphere may (and I’m paraphrasing) increase polarization in Catholic media by encouraging more people to engage only with sources that they agree with. When has that NOT been true? With a few exceptions, most people regularly check sources of information they can tolerate; whether that’s news shows, talk radio programs, TV programs, podcasts, newspapers, books. That’s not to say people may not periodically check the opposing media but if I read America every month cover to cover I’d go insane. That’s not to say I don’t think there are not fine individual writers in that publication that I may read periodically as a stand alone (not the whole magazine).

    I tend to gravitate towards individual writers anyway; John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter is a fine writer often called out on this blog but his newspaper as a whole is intolerable. This gravitation toward individual writers that I already have is affirmed in the blogosphere where it’s often a single voice writing the blog. I tend to read bloggers whose voice I enjoy, who have something interesting to share.

    Bloggers, by and large, would never get jobs at major newspapers. Why? The medium breaks the 3rd wall-it’s too personal. Major media still can’t get it and never will. They use the old journalistic model-not that it’s bad but it’s their reality.

  20. my kidz mom says:

    Thank you Lord for faithful bloggers like Fr. Z . I’ve learned more from him (especially with his red/black fisking!) about the beauty and truth of our Catholic faith than I have my entire life. And it has a ripple effect – also strengthening my kids in their love of the faith, and extending to our family, friends and co-workers.

  21. Kat says:

    Actually, I have to say I agree with Archbishop Celli more than I do the commenters here. The blogosphere — particularly the comment portion — thrives on knee-jerk response: read, respond, rarely return. That’s hardly a place in which true debate can occur. Abp. Celli says no more than that the blogosphere could lead to greater polarization. Not that there has been no polarization, nor that every blog will do this, nor that it will definitely happen. And yet that same reaction he worries about is exactly what happened here. We feel threatened, we defend, we lash out at extraneous details — yes, even at the archbishop. Read the comments: there are several logical fallacies even here, people who reacted without fully reading.

    Yes, blogs can be good. They can provide an outlet and they can gather people and then drive them to engage their passion and use it for a purpose. But blogs can also bring out the worst in people. They can be insular and give people the illusion that everyone agrees with them — and if they don’t, they can snap off a quick, anonymous comment that gives them “the last word.” Unlike writing a letter to the editor, there’s very little thought and reflection necessary.

    But just as both Arco and the archbishop said, this is a challenge — one that the Church can deal with by encouraging reflection and civil debate.

  22. speaking as the kind of blogger the Archbishop probably had in mind, I have learned much from mistakes I have made on my blog. I feel blogging is my duty, yet it can be dangerous when I succumb to the temptation to detract ( a sin). Yet these dangers are not absent in regular conversations when you try to explain your Faith…..We are at enmity with the world. Sometimes arguments must take place. Woe to us if we say ‘everything is fine’ when it just ain’t. (the Germans have a term for this…’laecheln mit alle vier baecken’ ! it’s hard to do, but we’ve been doing it for over 40 years and we are tired!)

    Clerics, like the Cardinal of Vienna, will complain about bloggers when they get caught doing something scandalous, e.g. the balloon mass, as if blogs cause scandal. Your Emminence, your Excellency, your Fathership! Want to know how to shut down scandal and 95% of conservative Catholic blogs, mine included ? Don’t do scandalous things!

    There is such a thing as the Sensus Fidelium. There are none so ‘clerical’ as the those prelates who whine Catholics trying to save their own souls…..

  23. jlmorrell says:

    I live in a Catholic wasteland. My diocese has been destroyed by liberals over the past 50 years. Our churches are ugly and our liturgy is uglier. A group has been trying to organize support (and find a priest) for the TLM for almost two years. We just recently have begun working with a priest who is willing to learn the TLM. The Bishop, having found out, requested a meeting with him; during the meeting, the Bishop proceeded to (according to the priest): 1) say that the theology of the TLM is not compatible with the theology of Vat II (hermeneutic of discontinuity, anyone) and 2) expressly forbid the priest from publicly saying the TLM.

    Even with the entire local heirarchy working against us, I am still convinced that we will get the TLM sooner rather than later. Ultimately, I believe it will happen because it is the will of God, but the Catholic blogosphere (specifically, wdtprs, NLM, rorate caeli, et al.) has been instrumental in providing the knowldege and support to win this battle. Without the blogosphere I would be isolated on an island. Instead, I am able to communicate with other traditional catholics, learn from them, and continue to fight here locally.

    Thank you, Fr. Z, for all your hard work in helping to renew the Church.

Comments are closed.