Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pope Benedict Has Some Words For Bloggers

Pope to Catholics online: It's not just about hits
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic bloggers and Facebook and YouTube users Monday to be respectful of others when spreading the Gospel online and not to see their ultimate goal as getting as many online hits as possible. (Thank God it's not about the hits. Now I can stop comparing EC to Huffpo.)

Echoing concerns in the U.S. about the need to root out online vitriol, Benedict called for the faithful to adopt a "Christian style presence" online that is responsible, honest and discreet. (Someone asked me the other day what I liked best about this blog and blogging. I said the fact the community keeps the conversation on a much higher plane than average and that I learn a lot from the comments.)

"We must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its 'popularity' or from the amount of attention it receives," Benedict wrote in his annual message for the church's World Day of Social Communications.

"The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive."

Benedict didn't name names, but the head of the Vatican's social communications office, Archbishop Claudio Celli, said it was certainly correct to direct the pope's exhortation to some conservative Catholic blogs, YouTube channels and sites which, with some vehemence, criticize bishops, public officials and policies they consider not Catholic enough. (Hmm, this is interesting.  I guess it's still OK to criticize these officials for not being honest, not being Christian, and for being secretive, deceitful, and self promoting. Oh and too often criminal.)

"The risk is there, there's no doubt," Celli said in response to a question. He confirmed that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was working on a set of guidelines with recommendations for appropriate style and behavior for Catholics online. (Oh goody, a whole new category of sin.)

"I don't love such things, but I think we can define some points of reference for behavior," he said, adding that he hoped such a document would come out as soon as possible.

The Vatican's concern comes at a time when incendiary rhetoric — in the media and online — has come under increasing fire; even U.S. President Barack Obama has urged greater civility in political discourse following the attempted assassination of a U.S. congresswoman.

In his message, Benedict echoed many of the same themes he has voiced in years past about the benefits and dangers of the digital age, saying social networks are a wonderful way to build relationships and community. But he warned against replacing real friendships with virtual ones and warned against the temptation to create artificial public profiles rather than authentic ones. (I'm all on board with Benedict on this one.)

"There exists a Christian way of communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others," he wrote. "To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one's own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preference and judgments that are fully consistent with the Gospel."

The 83-year-old Benedict is no techno wizard: He writes longhand and has admitted to a certain lack of Internet savvy within the Vatican. (I bet the brouhaha over SSPX resulted in a whole lot more Internet savvy--like learning how to do a basic Google search.).....

........Celli acknowledged that the pope's annual message — which is full of technical jargon — is not his alone. Celli's office prepares a draft and the pope then makes changes. Celli said he didn't know if Benedict had ever been on Facebook, but said he expected one of his aides had probably shown him around. (I hope Benedict gets with it on Facebook because I might even ask him to be a Zoomate.)


Off hand I can think of more than a few conservative websites who should take heed of this message from our infallible Pope. Even on a progressive publication like the National Catholic Reporter, the frequent onslaughts from Fr. Z'z brigade against certain writers makes my blood boil.  Mostly because the comments are utterly predictable and almost always adhominem.  Since many of them give the advice to find an Episcopalian Church down the road, I find it all most impossible to refrain from suggesting they find another website further down the Internet.

I had to chuckle with Archbishop Celli's assessment of the current Vatican website.  It is relatively primitive. It certainly doesn't have the eye candy or interactive opportunities of some other religious websites, say like EWTN. Maybe Celli should give them a call. I'm sure they could give the Vatican tons of advice--and on more than modern communication opportunities.

Speaking Facebook and avatars and invented Internet personalities, my daughter got me interested in playing Zooworld.  It's become our long distance sharing experience.  We chat on the phone and the chat program at the same time. Redundancy is also a modern communication trait. To get anywhere in Zooworld you really do need zoomates, but I didn't want to evangelize to get any, so we made up Facebook pages for all our pets and gave them their own zoos.  So if you go to my Facebook page all you see is Zooworld stuff and half my friends are really personal pets.  I can't wait for Archbishop Celli's guidelines to see if this would be considered a sin.  It is for Facebook, who deleted one our pet's zoos for having been created with an email account registered to my daughter.  That is being remedied courtesy of Yahoo not being so picky.

In many respects the Internet is kind of fantasy world, but it's also an amazing vehicle for creating communities which transcend boundaries.  It is possible to create a different consensus reality through Internet communication and other social networks, and that is really it's power. I think back to the recent Iranian elections and how quickly information passed into the global community via cell phones and the Internet.  Lives were saved because of it. Secretive governments and institutions can no longer control the real time information flow and that is a reality that calls for a major fine tuning in relating with one's constituency.  In the long run these institutions will have to come to the conclusion it's better to tell the truth and let the truth go viral, rather than a never ending series of disinformation, out right lies, and hypocritical platitudes directed at others. 

It really is a new and evolving world out here in the blogosphere.  So far the Vatican has been using it poorly, in a one way direction that lacks the give and take and information flow of comm boxes.  It's a method that denies the real creativeness of this medium, one of the very thing that takes it beyond newspapers, tracts, and sermons--and it's global.  It's still mind boggling to me that this blog gets comments from people across the globe, and not just predominately English speaking countries.

I guess I can afford to be in awe of all of this because it doesn't threaten me on any fundamental level.  For institutions like the Vatican, which brook no real dialogue or discussion of issues, and desperately wants to maintain total control of the information flow and dialogue, I bet there are times the Vatican is tempted to see the Internet as a diabolical invention. I on the other hand, see the hand of the Holy Spirit.


  1. He confirmed that the Pontifical Council for Social Communications was working on a set of guidelines with recommendations for appropriate style and behavior for Catholics online.

    No doubt, this will be a handwritten, 40+ page document penned entirely in Latin. Copies with an appropriate imprimatur will be available in hardcopy only sometime in MMXII.

  2. It's not a new sin, but certainly a new medium for an old sin, when you consider the casual personal attacks that appear so often in blogs and comments. I'm not talking about a specific complaint say, about a bishop who moved a known pedophile around from parish to parish. I'm talking about the bullying attack that would never be made in person, but that is seen so often on the Net. How many people have been hurt deeply by someone's offhand hatred?

  3. So much energy to spread hate, diss your critics, and tell them they are bad Catholics and should leave the church. I have seen the ad hominem (and ad feminam) attacks on one's faith, morals and general worthiness, but with this sort of bile being unleashed on TV and radio, why should we expect the web to be any different?

    Also, Tim, as a cat mommy, I have to say I love your picture of the cat in chain mail!

  4. "(Oh goody, a whole new category of sin.)"

    LMAO!! (That's probably a sin)

    A typical Vatican response is to turn everything into a list of do's and don't's for all the children of the faith, from the guys who don't do much of anything truly righteous or positive it seems, and they are behind the times. Maybe that's a good thing the Pope's not internet savvy. I'm sure they'll spend a fortune on getting their document out. It's their specialty.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Colleen. I see in the internet the hand of the Holy Spirit too. I'm too tired to comment any further. I've been on the internet too long today!!! For me it is mostly just about sharing my music. Yet, every time I hit the "Like" button in Facebook, it posts it and then I am connected with others who also like the same things or persons or causes or share certain political views. I now get newsfeeds to MSNBC at Facebook since I hit the like button for Rachel Maddow and others.

    khughes, I got so tired of being angry at the right wing hate group commenters at NCR that I rarely even go to NCR anymore. At least for now I am taking a break from it all together. Call it fasting maybe.....

  5. Even the Vatican has noticed how nasty the right wing traditionalists are and how they treat all that is "not Catholic enough"

    I've been online for a very long time, belonged to many different bulletin boards, forums, blogs, communities, interest groups etc. I've witnessed bad behavior and confess I've participated a bit myself.

    Nothing I've witnessed is as despicable as the so called conservative Catholic. My motivation in visiting some of these sites was to research the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. I thought everyone would want to be rid of the evil of Marcial Maciel. I couldn't have been more wrong.


    "adperv" !

  6. In the spirit of this post, I would like to encourage you to post articles and commentary where your response is more positive than negative on a regular basis.
    I happened upon your blog a few months ago. It was good to see some open commentary as a lot of the Catholic media (especially radio, which I listen to a fair amount), never allows a dissenting opinion.
    I often feel a sense of strong frustration in your blogs which I sometimes share. Please give the good things that are happening in the Church and the true treasures of our faith more real estate on your blog.

  7. Dear anonymous,
    There are good things in the Church, but we live in a church that fails to update itself in so many ways and has suffered many serious scandals that call the very integrity of the leadership into question. Good people can and must question the church when there is a lack of integrity. If the Church wishes us to speak more of the good things, I suggest the leadership attempts to help more the spiritual lives of the People of God and not attempt to defend and maintain their own positions of economic comfort. There are 2 very particular flaws in Church leadership that lead to the lack of integrity. First is structure. It is so structured to bring only a very narrow point of view into leadership. It is more of an old boys (and I do mean boys) , self perpetuating scheme than it truly is leadership. Second, the people themselves that are thus promoted have shown such a lack of integrity. For a person to write about and pretend that the good outweighs the bad things that are happening in our faulty leadership and leadership structure would be nothing less than calumny.

    All- There is a Catholic physician on NPR that simply says to the ad hominem attackers, "Remember that calumny is also a mortal sin." dennis

  8. Dear anonymous,

    Here is a recent list of articles from the press that show why we can not just speak about "the good things" in the Church. They clarify that we have a poor leadership with that is truly lacking in integrity.

















    Most of the above are from Newspapers the past month and concern abuse in Ireland. The news has been bombarded by all this news now for several years. The Catholic Church culture has found itself in a defensive posture for at least a century and this has decreased clerical accountability. There is a Church cultural issue that shows denial as a psychodynamic mechanism that will not allow the church to come clean and actually attempt to heal. The idea of obedience of the faithful feeds into this culture of not rocking the boat and keeps the church from admitting the problem and moving on. So it would be a mistake at this point in time to focus on what is “good” in the church. dennis

  9. In short, it is a bad idea to focus on the good, when there is a proven history of evil committed by an entity for which that entity is not being held accountable. It matters not whether that entity is a person, a government, an institution, a corporation, or a Church hierarchy.

    You can't just wave a little perfume around and expect that people won't notice the manure you are trying to cover up.

  10. Right on sister. The over riding issue for the future of humanity rests on integrity not obedience. That's as true for institutions as it is for individuals.

  11. @rdp46: I did not suggest that people should not question the Church, nor did I suggest changing the blog to positive commentary only. I suggested more real estate for positive reviews. I am quite aware of a lot of awful things that have happened in the Church, and there are a lot of victims. No need to provide me with a list of URLs.
    @Veronica: I didn't suggest focusing on the good only, but attention to the good needs to be an important part of the dialogue. It will take time, prayer, and other actions to improve the bad, including attention to and discussion around the bad. However, the people of the Church also need to encourage one another in their faith, or the Church will disintegrate. This can be done through positive commentary and highlighting the good things. If I were to wait until all problems were solved to celebrate the good, the good would never be celebrated because the Church is made up of humans.
    I can tell you that despite the struggles I face with Church teachings in some areas or my anger about sex abuse scandals that are costing the faithful a lot of pain (and millions of $$), I look forward to going to mass on Sunday. I look forward to sharing the Eucharist with my Church community. I respect my humble and faithful pastor whose homilies inspire me. I enjoy seeing my friends who share their faith in positive ways and help me grow in faith to serve.

  12. @anonymous

    Sometimes I feel the same way. My personal experience in my own parish is much the same as yours. It is way better than dealing with the problems of the church at the macro level.

    However, we the laity, have been excluded from the decision making processes. Here we argue that it is wrong to exclude us from full participation in the church.

    What other choice do we have when we want to be involved? Commentary from outside is always considered criticism.


  13. Anonymous, I can appreciate your desire to hear something more positive, however, the good that is happening in the Church by the People of God is being either ignored or thrown out of the Church, and the spirit of division and spiritual immaturity is oppressing many.

    It is a sad time to witness the leadership and official authorities of the RCC giving in to fear-driven politics that is narcissistically driven by a hierarchy that should know better by now, but consistently show they are still infants in their spirituality, yet they are designated 'teachers of the faith.' If they were driven by the Holy Spirit, to the St. Francis prayer or the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps then we might see progressive blogs mirror that positive image back at us and reporting on good in the Church.

    Until then, from the fringe and the shadows of a broken Church gone mad with protecting its own priestly false self-image even if it means harboring pedophile priests & having no accountability morally, people will be moved to move the truth into the light, which is not a joyous truth, but truth nevertheless as they know it, mirroring the spirit of the times to the pages of their blogs.

    I wish that I could tell a different story of the Church that was good and healthy, but I do own a copy of Hans Kung's History of the Catholic Church that tells a history that the hierarchy do not want to accept as truth and they close their eyes and ears from that truth. But we have to deal with reality, not with what we would prefer in fantasy. We haven't seen a lot of good or healthiness conveyed lately from the Vatican so I am not surprised as to what is reflected from some blogs to us.

    There really is too much dirt in the Church that has been swept under the carpet for too many years & too many people being falsely led into theologies that do not reflect the Gospel teachings. Some of us are not welcome in the Church for one reason or another that is mostly from ignorance or hatred & a bent to control people instead of minister as Jesus taught. It's really too sad for many of us the direction this Papacy is taking the Church. It is forcing a lot of People of God to not look forward to Mass on Sunday and skip it all together and that is the sad truth.

    An Example of the sad truth: A Cathedral in Newark, NJ is closing and taking out all of the stained glass windows to place in mausoleums. The RCC instead of building up the body of Christ, is tearing it down and this dismantling of the Cathedral is its sign and symbol of the Church tending to the things that are dead and not living.

  14. Dear anonymous,

    i did agree that there are good things to be thankful about in the Church. I enjoy more the daily masses rather than the Sunday mass because there is less preaching of magisterial beliefs and less to be annoyed about in hearing some rather unpleasant requests and even demands by Bishops. The general quality of elocution has not been high in my parish. I am not certain of the new mass translations, I have read them and some are most disturbing. I usually attend a Protestant Church on Sundays if I go since, the ones that I select are a lot less disturbing and stimulate more in the way in spirituality than my Catholic Pastor. I have a lot to be thankful for in my life, I could only wish that there were more things coming out of my church.

    The lack of integrity is a sour note for so many things. I used to enjoy several of our fund raisers and work with good friends on them. NO MORE as the Bishop TAKES HIS CUT right of the top! I used to enjoy giving to the St. Vincent De Paul Society, but some disturbing evidence pushes me to give now to other organizations. I used to enjoy sending my Children to Catholic Summer Camps, but my children will not send my grandchildren because of some abuse and other doctrinal instruction that has occurred at these camps. I used to enjoy helping on the Archdiocese committee for education as I am a life long educator. The last two Bishops have not believed that laity belong on this committee!

    I think we are in a Church with failed integrity of leadership and it tends to spoil so much and cause way too many problems. So I am sorry if I can give very little real estate to good things about the current church. I really wish I could. I think that so many who ask that we talk about the good things are putting on the perfume and pretending that they don’t smell the dung. It was precisely the instruction of our Bishop to talk about the “good things” while he was hiding sexual abuse and financial scandal. I think it is further hard for women not to hear the misogyny so loud and clear that so many of the good things are spoiled. I think it is hard for gay, and transgendered individuals to focus on the good things. I think so many of us are working to change the Church so that the leadership will have enough integrity to bring good things again back to the church. dennis

  15. @dennis--agreed there is not much to celebrate in the church these days. Our Sunday sermon was about how "blessed are the clean of heart..." meant we needed to go to confession to cleanse us of our sins, and of course that our most important task was to get to heaven! Ministries such as RCIA and religious ed for children that lay people have run for years are being replaced by paid employees hired by the pastor, paid for from collections because our work was "inadequate".
    butterfly, I agree that it is hard to look forward to going to Mass on Sundays when one is given stones instead of bread.

  16. @ Anonymous - The bishops do a fine enough job of talking up the good they've done so far as I'm concerned. And while I'm happy for you that you can still attend and participate in Mass, I absolutely cannot. The Eucharist is being held hostage to political diatribes and the preaching of looking down on those (all women and anyone not 'Catholic enough) marginalized by the Church hierarchy. The local diocese went through a period with a temporary bishop appointed during which all parishes were required to pray a petition that God would send us a new bishop - poor lost sheep that we were without our shepherd. I've gotten to the point where despite logistics I was wondering if the time frame was artificially prolonged just to rub that point in harder to the laity. I wondered if we were there to worship God or the bishops. That was pretty much the last straw for me.


  17. Maybe the Pope should tell some of his own attack dogs to be "respectful" - for a less than orthodox parcel of untruths about Biblical criticism, see this attack on "modernists":


    The author misdescribes the Resurrection of Christ, by mistaking it for nothing more significant than the re-animation of a corpse. That is heretical - the "modernists" whom he attacks are, amusingly, more orthodox than he is.

    He does not understand why Biblical critics don't include the miraculous as a category in their method - it's because the miraculous:

    (a) is dependent for its definition on on the non-miraculous, and this is variable;
    (b) if the miraculous is supernatural, Biblical criticism, which is historical in character, can have no access to it;
    (c) so the miraculous cannot be "controlled" in the way that the historical can be;
    (d) for God is not an historical person, unlike men - God is "supra-historical", "other than" all creatures: IOW, God is the Holy One.

    It is truly sad - & I mean that - that what is called, and put forward as, "orthodoxy", is often less than orthodoxy.

    And this not the first time - some Catholics are so keen to insist that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ, that they ignore its sacramental character. They're so afraid of saying it is a sign (in case that should be understood as meaning "*only* a sign"), that they ignore its sign-value entirely :(

    STM a lot of zealous, conservative, orthodox theologically-untrained Catholics are in fact not orthodox

  18. @Tim:

    "No doubt, this will be a handwritten, 40+ page document penned entirely in Latin. Copies with an appropriate imprimatur will be available in hardcopy only sometime in MMXII."

    ## Soft-back is more likely - cost: £10.49 to £13.99, probably. It will probably have a smooth burgundy cover, and maybe even a book-mark, and be printed by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

  19. Rat, I too have seen and read a great deal of technical heresy passed off as orthodox catholicism.

    The Resurrection was hardly just re animating a corpse. It was a monster of a quantum event.

    coolmom, how do you refrain from not dropping stones in the collection basket?

    ATTN readers: Sometimes I forget to check for comments in the moderation category. I seriously am not trying to out do the NCR for delay on posting comments. I promise to do better in the future.

  20. This story ain't right. The Pope did not slap down the Conservative bloggers. It's all spin: http://opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com/2011/01/did-vatican-slap-down-just-conservative.html

  21. Martin, even your link to Opinionated Catholic doesn't absolutely state Archbishop Celli didn't single out conservative bloggers. The AP translated his remarks one way, and other sites didn't even consider them worth citing. Without video I guess we'll never know for sure.