Sunday, 13 July 2008

Mac, bishops and bloggers

Mac has come up with quite a story; as you probably already know, she has received a tip-off that the bishops' conference is concerned about priest bloggers, and may move to 'rein in' our writing.
To be perfectly honest, I am not very surprised; at least, only surprised that it has taken them so long. For many years, the conference has been accustomed to control information distribution, through ownership (either real or moral) of the Catholic press. It is very easy to marginalize or discredit opinions of which one disapproves when access to a readership is in the hands of people of pronounced views of one sort or another. It is, I suppose, not very different to the thoroughgoing censorship that was customary in the first half of the twentieth century, following on the modernist crisis. Only in the other direction.
The internet has produced a new phenomenon. It is no longer necessary to submit to an official or editorial position in order to get into print; Anyone at all can reach any reader simply by starting a blog whether one is into steam trains, courgette cultivation or religion. And, for whatever reason, the large majority of those who write Catholic blogs are those who have opinions that might be called determinedly orthodox or traditional.
If it is true that the powers that be want to control the clerical blogosphere, it suggests that they dislike what is being written. In the first case, if the instinct is to extinguish possible sources of criticism, this can only be interpreted as papering over the cracks. If the overwhelming majority of those who have the energy and stomach to express their opinions in this way are critical of the 'official' position, then this should suggest that there is something that at least needs addressing, rather than suppressing. It is a bit like throwing the temperature gauge out of your car window because it is pointing to red. Censorship is, of course, an option, but it is not one to serve the censors well these days. The opinions in the blogosphere are too firmly held and the mood now too bullish. Suppressing priestly blogs, or severely controlling their content will not suddenly make everyone in the Church liberal, but it might well create a great deal more sympathy for the determinedly orthodox position.
As we all know, the official organs of the Church in England and Wales have been stridently criticized in Damian Thompson's writings again and again. On the other hand, the priests' blogs have, genuinely, been a lot more respectful of the bishops spiritual authority. We know that, genuinely, things aren't as simple as some of Damian's readers may think. If the priests' blogs are submitted to censorship (and really, I cannot think why the bishops might want to suppress something that could serve them as a useful barometer), do people really think that this would pacify or cow Damian and others like him? I rather suspect it would be pressing all the nuclear buttons of not just him, but many more like him. Censorship would prove, I think, a severe own goal. And anyway, what is to prevent priests setting up blogs under pseudonyms?
There are also free speech implications. Once again, I think that it shows liberalism (as experienced in the Catholic Church) in its true colours as being at root profoundly authoritarian. It is not the opinions of the Church that are being enforced, to which all alike, authorities included, must submit, but the opinions of a small and self-selecting elite who wish to impose their own, somewhat individual, version of truth on all, and strive simply to suppress, rather than engage, contrary opinion—even when that opinion is that of the Church down through the ages—other than engaging in debate, which is surely the adult, not to say Christian, way to proceed. We are 'freed' from centuries-old dogma and practice, to be made to bend under the yoke of an authority far more arbitrary and subjective.

Which is to say, instead of suppressing contrary opinion, why do not those who would suppress us start blogs of their own, and see what sort of a readership they get. That might give them a true assessment of what the feeling really is on the ground, and not what they are told by those paid to keep them happy.


Jackie Parkes said...

Great post Fr..

gemoftheocean said...

These guys are such control freaks. Why don't they mind their own beeswax.

Hey, how about this? They mind their own business, and not try and force "the thrust" in agreement with their every controlling thought.