More about the silencing of a Catholic blogger

As you know, an English Catholic deacon of the Diocese of Lancaster who was a blogger was silenced by his bishop.  HERE

My friend the Dean of Bexley, the P.P of Blackfen, His Hermeneuticalness, Fr. Timothy Finigan, distinguished English blogger whom everyone in Ol’ Blighty monitors on a day basis, has jumped in.  HERE

Having reminded us that the Pope asked priests to use the blogosphere/social media, he has responded, saying:

I do wonder about the practical wisdom of attempting to censor the blogosphere. [Good luck with that, by the way!] Protect the Pope now carries posts by Mrs Donnelly, [the deacon’s wife] and she has offered an invitation to others to contribute material – which several writers have already taken up. Other censored bloggers can also simply start up a new blog under a pseudonym, or use alternative social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter are well-known but the possibilities are endless. As activists on the internet pointed out years ago, censorship is just another bug for which you find a hack or a workaround. [NB:] The danger is that a previously censored commenter will be probably not be inclined to moderation [in the sense of adopting a moderate tone, etc.] in a new social media incarnation.

Bishops also have on their side the great respect of most Catholics for Bishops. Quite often a blog will criticise a Bishop severely, only to find that another blog tells a different side to the story, or the Bishop issues a statement clarifying things – and then receives a lot of support from Catholic bloggers. The discussion will continue, but the Bishop is not exactly powerless to defend himself.

Bloggers work in an environment which is open to everyone. One of the healthy things about such open communication is precisely that you cannot rely on personal standing to squash disagreement. As Fr Zuhlsdorf put it so well, the internet operates a “Reverse Gresham’s Law whereby good information drives out bad. You can say something inaccurate or unfair if you want, but you can be sure that you will be corrected – within minutes if you have any personal standing – and the more you ignore correction, the more you will be attacked, and the lower your reputation will sink.

[NB] The converse is also true. Bloggers who dare to speak honestly and truthfully even when it is risky to do so, especially when they are courteous, even when expressing strong opinions, gain great respect from others. In my opinion, Deacon Nick Donnelly is one such blogger and I was unhappy to hear that he had been silenced. Now that “pastoral solutions” and “imaginative ways forward” are so much in vogue in another context, I hope that this faithful Deacon can be “welcomed and included.

Do I hear an “Amen!”?

Fr. Z Kudos to His Hermeuticalness.

The digital continent, as Benedict called it, needs a strong clerical presence.

Meanwhile, I would remind their Excellencies of all stripes of Hamlet’s advice to Polonius regarding the hospitality to be offered to the travelling players.

Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.

My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

God’s bodykins, man, much better. Use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. The less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty. Take them in.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Panterina says:

    Many saints have had what appeared to be unjust penalties imposed on them by ecclesiastical authorities: St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Padre Pio, and many others. What distinguished the s aints was that they took the humble road and obeyed. I always admired St. Alphonsus’ cry that it was God punishing him for his sins, instead of arguing with the authorities. The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate are also undergoing a similar trial, and their obedience and request to respect their privacy is commendable, and so is Deacon Donnelly’s fidelity to his vow of obedience. Time will show that he’s doing the right thing.

  2. I think this is why I havent become a priest or deacon. I felt it on my heart I could be more effective (and vocal) as a lay person. I also make the point that no one has to read a blog. They can happily “flip to the next channel”.

  3. I concur. St. Padre Pio is our role model. He literally ‘bore wrongs patiently’ as he was falsely accused of heinous immoral acts only to be exonerated and vindicated many years later. Sadly, too manly clerics today who are unjustly censored succumb to pride and seek to defend themselves when humble obedience would be more edifying and salvific.

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    If men were purely islands, they could be sure that taking injustice and offering it up in silence was always a (spiritual) good. But men are not islands, they live in community, and injustice toward one is some injustice to all. Things are more complicated still when what is forbidden constitutes a fundamental good, a fundamental right of the faithful (c. 212.3). Need to think about this one some more, easy answers seem less than helpful.

  5. LeeF says:

    The deacon’s ordinary wanted him to reflect on the obligation to truth, charity and unity. Naturally when opponents on the left cannot rebut the truth, they seek to skew it (the scriptures/church teaching does not really mean that via this sophistic reasoning), to resort to ad hominem attacks, and to characterize the manner in which the truth is delivered as “hateful”, or here, “uncharitable”.

    So perhaps the good deacon can return with the same truth, delivered in the most charitable way possible while focusing on actions and not persons. And then closing with a call to unity whereby the dissenters/disobeyers are called to repent and avoid the scandal of disunity caused by their actions. This type of tack, instead of a more aggressive one that names names/places, would really put the focus on the truth alone. If that can’t fly, then perhaps time for him to look to incardinate elsewhere.

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    “But men are not islands, they live in community, and injustice toward one is some injustice to all.”

    This is really a mess because no one knows why the Deacon was asked not to blog. The language the bishop used is typical punitive language, where one is asked to reflect and pray (and, perhaps, do penance), but it is difficult to see any overt sinfulness attached to the act of blogging, itself (at least anything beyond the venial sins we all commit) and it is rare for things going on with regards to a blog to remain secret sins. Blogs are megaphones. Thus, it seems very strange that a bishop would seek such drastic action against a blog if there is not something more drastic going on with the man and, yet, that does not seem to be the case, since nothing has come to light that would seem to give any cause for such severe action by the bishop, but, then, I do not know all of the facts.

    Outside of heretical leanings, is almost unheard of, although it has happened, I am sure, that someone is subjected to punitive action by a bishop for speaking the truth (Christ, after all, was, if you count the Chief Priest to be comparable to a bishop). Here, unfortunately, is where things go south. What if the bishop is wrong about the truth? Imagine, for a moment, that blogs existed back during the Arian heresy and you were on the side of the Nicene Creed. [Indeed.] Could a bishop tell you to stop blogging? Would you even have the moral responsibility to obey him? Can bishops use their office to suppress the truth? [Can they? They can try. Should they? The answer is obvious.] It would seem to be contrary to their office. Does the cessation of blogging count as the appearance of acceptance of the untruth or merely obedience? Logic says merely obedience, but people are not always logical in how they understand an action by another.

    Then, there is St. Joan of Arc. Imagine if she had had a blog. Let’s call it, “Remove the Burgundians.” If Bishop Cauchon told her to stop blogging, would she be obligated to do so? It is important to know whom to obey. [Indeed.]

    What we are dealing with here is a subtle intersection between obedience and the Law. The Catholic Faithful have a right to the truth, especially about their Faith, but bishops have a right to be obeyed, especially by the clergy and religious, in all matters touching their office, except where overruled by a higher authority. Fundamentally, however, it is the bishop’s office to teach the truth and in an ordered society, blogs would be adjunctive to that purpose. Bloggers are not, actually, the first-line to the truth of the Faith – bishops are. As such, if a bishop has a sufficiently loud megaphone and is teaching truth, blogs would be unnecessary, at least with regards to matters of the faith, but things are not like that in the Fallen World. [Yes.]

    Unlike in civil law (and Dr. Peters can correct me), public outing of behavior is very rare in ecclesiastical law, so there is often little edification for the public. If O.J. Simpson had been a priest, the trial would have been concluded behind closed doors and whatever verdict were reached would have been made a matter of public record, but not the trial, itself. Now, this happens all of the time in the secular world with top secret material and it is very frustrating. For instance, had I been on the jury in the Simpson trial, I would have stopped the proceedings and given the judge a lesson in calculus which he certainly did not understand about allowing the fit of the bloody gloves (hint: wearing latex gloves has profound mathematical implications for the fit of the leather gloves over them). If he would not listen, I would go to jail rather than continue with the farce. In the area of top secret actions, knowledgeable people cannot even point out error if they are not read into the program. It is hard to imagine that every conceivable thought about the top secret material has been made by the people allowed to be in the know. I realize there needs to be state secrets, but, as the NSA fiasco is showing, one can hide behind secrecy to further evil as well as protect the good.

    There is a place for secrecy in the Church and there is a place for openness. If there is something wrong with the Deacon’s blog, then for the sake of other bloggers, this fundamental breach in the Catholic Faith needs to be exposed, if only so that other people do not repeat the error. If there is no such breach, then how are we to know? If all of the facts are known and the bishop simply is in error, we may hope that God corrects this, but sometimes, that really does not happen in this life. Blogging is too public to hide in secrecy. I don’t think the Church has really developed its theology of blogging enough. Never in history has one man’s shout been able to be heard all over the world so quickly. Imagine the Arian heresy spreading at the speed of light. Clearly, there needs to be a synod about this. [Perhaps not a synod. However, we do need a deeper theology of communication. Christ, for starters, is the Perfect Communicator.]

    It was envisioned by Vatican II that the Catholic laity would be called to more positions of responsibility with regards to the promotion of the Faith. It would be ironic, indeed, if those people responsible for implementing the teachings of Vatican II ran from it when it were finally realized. Blogging is a realization of the hopes of Vatican II. [Yes.] We are in a unique moment in history. Outside of Ham radio, it has not been possible for random strangers to interact so quickly as can happen, today. Most of the laity are hardly trained to defend the Faith to this many people, this quickly. It used to be that a word here or a word there to someone you meet on the street could change a life. Now, the word is always here and the place is always now. What will happen when we are all wired together, Borg-like? Vatican II is beginning to look outdated with its talk of the, “Modern World.” That Modern world of the 1960’s is rapidly being left behind in ways the Council Fathers could not have predicted. [Which is why we should all remember that Vatican II wasn’t that important, as Councils go.] What good is a Vatican II if you have to call a Vatican III fifty years later to deal with the New Modern World? The Church has been thinking in linear movements of history since its inception. It will have to get used to thinking in terms of logarithmic movements.

    The Chicken

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  7. LeeF says:

    “There is a place for secrecy in the Church and there is a place for openness. If there is something wrong with the Deacon’s blog, then for the sake of other bloggers, this fundamental breach in the Catholic Faith needs to be exposed, if only so that other people do not repeat the error. ”


    From my limited past dealings with canon law in making a couple complaints (effectively w/the assistance of a canon lawyer), I was lead to understand that secrecy is insisted upon in general. Now supposedly, it is to protect the accused’s good name and canonical rights, as well as not exposing internal disagreements to the general public who has no need to know.

    So whose rights are being protected here? Presumably both the deacon’s and whomever he may have accused of wrongdoing, who in turn accused him of same via lack of charity and unity. While the deacon might perhaps forgo secrecy for his own sake, he probably cannot do so in respect of the other parties. Obviously this provides cover for those in authority who wish to cover up their own misdeeds of either commission or omission in respect to governance.

  8. iPadre says:

    I think we all make mistakes in new media. We say something, and others perceive it to mean something else. As we wander in this digital wasteland, we can learn fromour mistakes, and the mistakes of others. If there is a problem, I would think it could be talked out and both parties will learn from what is or is not a problem.

  9. Ben Kenobi says:

    Well, I see nothing wrong with permitting someone else to speak for you if the bishop has requested that you take time for reflection. If the bishop’s issues stem from the content – then the bishop at some point is either going to confirm this, or he is going to let Deacon Connelly back again at some point.

    In either case, it is within his authority to request that the Deacon step away. I think the Deacon has pursued the correct course of action by obeying the order even if the intent behind it is not understood. Time will tell. In any case, if the intent of the bishop is to suppress the truth, it will not be effectual, and eventually he will come to understand that and restore Deacon Connelly.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us have the obligation to ensure that Deacon Connelly’s words receive their due.

  10. Magash says:

    If the bishop thought that he could prevent further discussion of any items that Deacon Connelly had already published then he obviously is unaware of the Streisand effect. I expect more people have read Protect the Pope during the last week then ever looked at it before. And the subjects it has covered have now been seen the world over, instead of just in one diocese in the UK.
    One can only hope that a wider ecclesiastical audience is also taking notice of it and of some of the actions by “catholic” schools and dioceses that have been documented in it.
    I fear the next bishop to attempt this will be canny enough to order the offending blog be taken down, rather than direct a hiatus from blogging.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [True. When I’m attacked by the rabid-trads and the olympian middle, I get a slight bump. Slight, only because so few read their blogs, and everyone who reads them already reads me. Hey! As we say in Italian, “Tutto fa brodo!”]

  11. Vecchio di Londra says:

    Magash – Fortunately, no bishop has the power, spiritual or temporal (certainly not in Britain) to have a blog removed, any more than a bishop could demand the closure of a newspaper or radio station or the censorship of even a word of their contents.
    It’s the deacon himself who, being ordained, is subject to episcopal discipline.
    Strange how clerics who openly publish frequent articles and letters and give conference addresses that openly flout moral and theological doctrine and liturgical imstruction are all smilingly tolerated, but a lay deacon who politely but firmly draws attention to their doings is silenced at the request of the hierarchy.

    I’m glad this has happened. It shows us clearly how things really stand.

  12. “Outside of heretical leanings, is almost unheard of, although it has happened, I am sure, that someone is subjected to punitive action by a bishop for speaking the truth.”

    Would that it were so! Legion are the cases in which a cleric has been subjected to punitive action by his bishop, precisely for speaking what most readers here would regard as “the truth”. I suspect that many priests fear that speaking certain truths from the pulpit is particularly dangerous.

  13. kiwiinamerica says:

    Maybe he should change the name of the blog to “Don’t protect the Pope” or “Trash the Pope”

    Would that be more to the Bishop’s liking?

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