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James Martin, S.J.October 25, 2010

"Taliban Catholicism" is John Allen's description of web-based McCarthyism on the rise in the Catholic blogosphere.  Rachel Zoll has this fine piece about the self-appointed Inquisitors who flourish on the Internet.  (H/T to Margaret Steinfels at Dotcommonweal.)  Zoll's piece is called "Catholic Bloggers Aim to Purge."  It starts off:

Pressure is on to change the Roman Catholic Church in America, but it's not coming from the usual liberal suspects. A new breed of theological conservatives has taken to blogs and YouTube to say the church isn't Catholic enough. Enraged by dissent that they believe has gone unchecked for decades, and unafraid to say so in the starkest language, these activists are naming names and unsettling the church.

-In the Archdiocese of Boston, parishioners are dissecting the work of a top adviser to the cardinal for any hint of Marxist influence.

-Bloggers are combing through campaign finance records to expose staff of Catholic agencies who donate to politicians who support abortion rights.

-RealCatholicTV.com, working from studios in suburban Detroit, is hunting for "traitorous" nuns, priests or bishops throughout the American church.

"We're no more engaged in a witch hunt than a doctor excising a cancer is engaged in a witch hunt," said Michael Voris [pictured above] of RealCatholicTV.com and St. Michael's Media. "We're just shining a spotlight on people who are Catholics who do not live the faith." John Allen, Vatican analyst for the National Catholic Reporter, has dubbed this trend "Taliban Catholicism." But he says it's not a strictly conservative phenomenon - liberals can fit the mindset, too, Allen says.  Some left-leaning Catholics are outraged by any exercise of church authority. Yet on the Internet and in the church, conservatives are having the bigger impact.

Among Voris' many media ventures is the CIA - the Catholic Investigative Agency - a program from RealCatholicTV to "bring to light the dark deeds of evil Catholics-in-name-only, who are hijacking the Church for their own ends, not the ends of Christ."  In an episode called "Catholic Tea Party," Voris said: "Catholics need to be aware and studied and knowledgeable enough about the faith to recognize a heretical nun or a traitorous priest or bishop when they see one - not so they can vote them out of office, but so they can pray for them, one, and alert as many other Catholics as possible to their treachery, two."

The blog "Bryan Hehir Exposed" is aimed at a top adviser to Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, who is the former head of national Catholic Charities and a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Among the bloggers' claims is that Hehir is a Marxist sympathizer who undermines Catholic teaching on abortion and marriage.

Hehir, who has advised church leaders for four decades, hasn't responded to any accusations and neither has O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar known for his humility. However, O'Malley said in April on his own blog that Hehir "inspires us with his compassion, vision and fidelity to the work of the Church." In August, O'Malley blocked access from archdiocesan headquarters to one of the critical blogs, the anonymously penned Boston Catholic Insider. "The lack of civility is very disturbing," said Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman.  --AP

This is a disastrous trend for the Catholic church, for several reasons.   (And, by the way, what I say applies to both the left and the right.  And the middle, for that matter.)

First of all, too many inquisitorial bloggers attack anonymously, which makes it next to impossible to hold them to any real accountability.  Likewise, some commenters on such blogs also hide their real identities when carrying out their attacks, which are linked to and repeated by other bloggers.  This seems both craven and cowardly: If you are sure of your fidelity to the Catholic church, sure of the veracity of your opinions, and sure of your mission, why hide behind a pseudonym?  Those who are attacked by those bearing fake names have real names, real reputations and real jobs at stake. 

Second, many of these attack-bloggers betray little theological knowledge.  It is one thing to be informed by a theological scholar with years of relevant experience working at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example, that your article or book or lecture is not in keeping with the tenets of the Catholic faith.  Or to have your work critiqued by someone who has carefully considered your arguments and, after weighing what you say regarding the tradition, responds in charity.  It is quite another to be attacked with snide comments by someone barely out of college who spends his days cherry-picking quotes and thumbing through the Catechism in an endless game of Catholic gotcha. 

Third, the focus of their blogs is almost risibly narrow.  Here are the sole topics of interest, in the order in which they cause foaming at the mouth (or on the keyboard): homosexuality, abortion, women's ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority.  Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?   

Fourth, anonymous attacks drummed up by these bloggers often make their way, slowly but surely, to the offices of church leaders, where they can do real damage to real people with real jobs in Catholic schools and universities, parishes and chanceries.  Church officials, often unsure of the veracity of the attacks, may try to play it safe by disciplining or even firing the target of the attack.  But the target often doesn't know what hit him, or her.  This is McCarthyism at its worst.

Fifth, there seems is little apparent desire on the part of some of these watchdogs to speak to their targets.  Rarely are the targets of ad hominem attacks contacted for any comment or explanation.  And, in my experience, when you respond to some of these bloggers, while at times you will receive a thoughtful apology, or a revision on a blog, or you will agree to disagree in charity, most often than not you are met with even more invective and further hateful comments.  After a while, you just find yourself give up. 

Finally, many in the "Catholic Taliban," as John Allen so bluntly puts it, seem devoid of any sense of Christian charity.  Calling someone a "cancer"?  Does that sound like Christian charity?  Of course the common defense is that real charity is pointing out a "heresy," which will damage the faithful.  (As in, "It's a good thing we burned Joan of Arc at the stake!")   Or they say that calls for charity just mask dissent.  But fidelity and charity are not competing values.  Or they argue that they're just doing what Jesus did when he called Herod a "fox."  What they seem to forget is that they are not Jesus.  Overall, while many of these bloggers certainly seem Catholic, they don't seem particularly Christian.

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robert johnson
13 years 5 months ago
I hope somebody lets this guy know that McCarthy was right. That sort of defeats his entire argument.

I suppose it's no big deal to some when the vast majority of American Catholics don't believe in or practice the core essentials of the faith.
robert johnson
13 years 5 months ago
I'm tired of all these liberal anti-Catholics(within and without) who spew their venom all over the place. eeeeeewwwww, icky liberal venom spew. God forbid faithful Catholics defend themselves and the Church! Heavens no!
Rafiqur Rahman
13 years 8 months ago
Dear Father,

Great article ... I concur with many of your sentiments ... I guess what bothers me the most about us (the laity) attacking priests is the fact that as the laity we know you to be the personal representatives of Christ here on earth ... what gives us, the laity, any authority / jurisdiction / divine knowledge to second guess the Catholic hierarchy on matters of faith, doctrine, ecclesiastical matters, etc.? ... as you correctly point out, you have your chain-of-command + the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to ensure your compliance with the tenets of the Catholic faith ... I dislike these Catholic zealots because of their lack of respect shown towards the Magisterium, His Holiness, and the Church through their criticisms ... thank you again Father for your thoughts & have a Blessed (impending) Solemnity of All Saints Day!

Bene Vale
13 years 9 months ago
Yeah, I'm with they guy who says "Thank God for internet anonymity."  It's about the only way a layman can have an opinion in this Church, without being bashed all over the place by the arrogant, brainless, degenerate, hippified clergy.  I've noticed that bloggers fresh out of high school typically know about five times as much about the Catholic faith than a typical twenty-first century Jesuit. 
13 years 9 months ago
Why do I cringe when I see the use of the word, "Taliban"? Is it because in the context used it reinforces a position that insinuates such evil that it is okay to bomb and drone these guys and their families? Despite this, we all know what you (and John Allen) mean - and- it is always disconcerting when the,"ignorant" too proudly proclaim their limited ideas in the face of the learned and knowledgable. Yet, even a brief reading of Catholic Church history will show that from the beginning such struggles and conflicts were always present. Not a blog reader, I haven't been exposed to much of this, but sort of sounds like the, "Wanderer" newspaper of the recent past. Some things of which they were right about, if not charitable. Most they were not right about which hardly justifies the lack of charity in general. However, I have been exposed through Catholic magazines to what is similar, if slightly more constrained from both the left and the right; said magazines I have cancelled or not renewed as in my old age I need not put up with too much that is disturbing from fellow Catholics when the world is itself filled with disturbance. So, in my educated opinions I too am guilty of some resistance to someone.
Maybe read some more history, history of riots that deposed archbishops, militias that attacked popes, sects that killed one another or religious orders, countries that destroyed other countries and worse, all in the name of some Christian principle of doctrine or other religious matter. Somehow people feel that some things are worth fighting and dying and killing for, even if they seem non-matters to others. Thankfully the blogs are easily ignored - or in the case sited above- blocked. The thoughts behind them, I'm not so sure. When one is convinced of one's rightness, then one can project evil on the other quite easily and this principle works both ways. I suppose the next step is then to blame the Catholic Church for all of this fuss because it holds certain positions that inflame others. Positions that are sometimes misunderstood - by both sides!
ed gleason
13 years 9 months ago
Commonweal just recently posts 'subscriber' after the posters name. This give me/us a clue if the poster is willing to pay a buck to vent. Some of the righty blogs only donors can post. e.g Catholic World News..[America editor please note] let's not subsidize the taliban ...  (:   they are not prone to 'evangelization' anyway.
Jason Welle
13 years 9 months ago
1 Corinthians 13.  To emphasize Fr. Martin's final point, let's review.
13 years 9 months ago
''Taliban'' is the 21st century's ''Nazi.''  It's a tired old tactic with a new twist, and, frankly, for the enlightened, educated, intellectual perspective that Fr. Martin prefers, it's cheap and as reprehensible as the commentary that he so vehemently opposes.

What's hilarious is this post's use of the term ''McCarthyism'' referring to rooting out problems within the Church, while simultaneously suggesting that whomever the whistleblowers are should be forced to reveal their names or shut up.  Silencing dissent, however misguided it might seem to be, is never the right answer.  Liberals are all for free speech as long as it is the speech that they agree with.  But cross the line and they will demand silence and play victim.

Thank God for the anonymity of the internet.  Finally the voices of those who once feared retribution for their unpopular, politically incorrect remarks can be heard. 
13 years 9 months ago
I certainly agree that the blogosphere needs greater civility & some of those blogs are well beyond the pale.  But, what might help is greater diversity of opinion by CATHOLIC blogs/publications.  The word does, after all, mean universal.  But it sometimes frustratingly appears that America believes one cannot be a good Catholic and a registered Republican, or a good Catholic yet believe that Pres. Obama's policies are not the right fixes, just as it sometimes seems that right wing blogs think that abortion is the extent of Catholic social teaching and that one cannot be a good Catholic and validly argue for higher marginal tax rates.  The degree of polarization WITHIN the church is alarming, and frankly I think the Catholic publications, America included, shoulder some fault for this.
13 years 9 months ago
This is a bit rich considering the nature of the personal and political attacks by liberals on Commonweal etc. on any varitey of traditionalists that dare to question the dominance they have held on the church for a number of years.

Want to see "mean girls" and "catholic taliban" in action?  Just look at the attacks by David Gibson and Cathleen Kaveny against Amy Welborn in the comments section of the of the post on this topic at Commonweal. 


The liberal establishment and publications of the church dislike the the fact that the villagers have decided to revolt agaist the old guard!  "How dare they question us!" is the general tone of this topic both here and on commonweal.
Jack Barry
13 years 9 months ago
There is more to the story than recognized by Zoll or you.  Church authorities speak out through many one-way channels and get to pick their two-way channels.  Others cannot.  Some distinction is warranted - while there are blogs that justify all of your objections, there are also some that aim to be well-informed, constructive, and illuminating.
You note the real jobs of some targets.  These are subject to direct oversight by superiors, which should certainly outweigh snipes from unknowns.  You ignore the real jobs of some well-informed commenters, who know from observation that they are subject to retaliation if they are identified.   Church officials who discipline or ban while ''unsure of the veracity of the attacks'' should be removed since they are demonstrably untrustworthy.  Culpable ignorance is not justification.  ''Sole topics of interest'' neglect at least one notable blog focussed solely on management, operations, and use of lay donations (with no attention whatsoever to sex or theological arcana).
The trend may fade in time from irony.  Michael Voris, inferring virtue from comparison to a doctor, is apparently unaware that a cancer surgeon inflicts noteworthy collateral damage on the body while slashing and burning to remove a cancer. ''Lack of civility'' is lamented by the spokesman of an archdiocese grown notorious for lacking the common courtesy of answering signed US mail.  
Zoll credited conservatives with ''the bigger impact'' but notably didn't characterize it. A more nuanced assessment of today's bloggery might be very useful to friends and foe.
13 years 9 months ago
Well, I agree with you Father Jim, but the comments of your collegues at Commonweal do not reflect such a call for civility.  Rather, they reflect the very phenomenon they say they abhor.

The fact of the matter is that decentralization of power in the media (ie blogs and other methods of communication) has not be a good thing for the liberal media institutions such as the NYTs on the secular side or America on the liberal religious. 

An interesting trend that decentralized bloggers and young laity are more in tune with the Church hierarchy that old media publications such as Commonweal... we are cutting out the middle men, so to speak.

While civility is called for, reporting on adherence (or lack there of) to Catholic morals and doctrine is not "incivil" - it is mere truth telling and accountability - something both conservatives and liberals should value in the Church these days.
13 years 9 months ago
Father -

You're talking about civility and I'm talking about anonymity; two different things. 

Many people are unable to speak because their opinions are unpopular or prohibited.  Consider, e.g., the opportunity for priests to anonymously post about controversial matters without fear of retribution by the Church.  Or, e.g., the opportunity for pro-life women to express their opinion without fear of jeopardizing relationships with friends and family.

When we have free speech, we must take the bad with the good.  

13 years 9 months ago
A couple of commenters have beat me to it.
The use of the word ''Taliban'' is an example of pejoratives thrown at those you do not like. 
Michael Winters, the most frequent blogger at this site till a few months ago was a serial flame thrower.  You could fill pages with his negative aspersions.
A candidate for senator has had her name associated with ''Nazi'' and ''witch'' in headlines by authors on this site and one had the initials SJ after his name.
Let's clean up this website too as part of the process for demanding civility of others.  There are many outstanding posts but the many of the authors here drift from that all too often with a political agenda in mind.   Too often the authors here are one sided, shallow and are not adverse to the ad hominem or a more ''nuanced'' negative approach.

Pearce Shea
13 years 9 months ago
I get the sentiment of the commonweal piece (and agree with Brett and John Allen on the fact that this isn't a ''partisan'' issue), but I do wonder if there is much merit to the piece. After all, Jefferson hired someone to print out and out slander about a professed friend (but political rival). The word ''fasces'' (origin of the word ''Fascist'') refers to the bundle of sticks carried by middling politician in ancient Rome, as a sign of their power. There is some historical evidence that these sticks symbolized the sticks once used to beat your political opponent, should you meet him in precession.

We've historically been pretty terrible to our neighbor. The new testament is replete with examples of a special instance of this: using one's own virtues to put oneself above your neighbor (see last Sunday's gospel, even). I agree that we can probably always discuss things civilly, and that we should probably aim for that (at least most of the time). But anyone who has raised a kid will tell you, civil discourse isn't always the best course. Jesus didn't ask the moneychangers to please leave the temple, thank you very much. So I don't know where that leaves us.

Anonymity was, frankly, easier before the internet, not otherwise. It doesn't take much technical know-how to hack into most forums and news sites and extract personal information. There is a reason that our credit card information wholesales for about a buck fifty. After all, the really vocal, negative voices aren't anonymous at all. We all know exactly what Vorys looks like, etc. Now tell me if the common man could pick Tom Paine out of a crowd. Or Sam Adams. None of which is to say we should all roll around in the general nastiness that gets spouted on commonweal or the vortex, just that we shouldn't act as if it's endemic of something other than the fact that human being tend to be pretty terrible to one another. We got the bible for a reason.
13 years 9 months ago
I, too, have been annoyed and upset with the incivility and ad hominem arguments put forth by many Catholic bloggers.  A year ago I posted my concerns here: http://fromthepulpitofmylife.blogspot.com/2009/09/why-are-catholics-so-negative.html.

I am glad the WP article and your post, Fr. Martin, are focusing on this topic.  I hope civility will begin to prevail.  We cannot all agree, but we can show respect and listen before responding thoughtfully.  More on civility here: http://www.civilityproject.org/the-project/the-project.
Nora McKenna
13 years 9 months ago
This is all just so ugly..

Where is God in all this?  How does this serve God?

How did we get from a hospital for sinners to an elitist club from which the "cancer has been cut out"?

It's all just ugly and Godless and exactly what Satan wants.

After these folks get their smaller, more "perfect" Church, then what? 

Do these people even believe in God anymore, or does their faith, their belief, begin and end with their own egos?

I don't want any part of this.  You used to be able to go to Church quietly without worrying about who was blogging about what you were wearing, or whether or not you were on the Confession line the afternoon before, or how many children you do or do not have, and so forth.  Now we're all going to get background checks and spies will report us to the self-appointed arbiters of all things Catholic enough.

This makes me sick to my stomach.  It also makes me think the Church is a cold, empty place in which God is no longer present.
Kay Satterfield
13 years 9 months ago
According to the linked articles mentioned above, a recent U.S. Bishops conference called for Christian Charity online.  Like Jesus in John 15:17, the Bishops are commanding us to love one another even online. That doesn't mean that we are the same and think the same but that we , the Church, should strive for understanding and common ground.  These blogs should encourage sincere discussion and be in the right spirit to encourage faith and understanding  In the wrong spirit it comes across as divisive and just mean.  That's not from God.  You have to stand up to the bullying.   
ed gleason
13 years 9 months ago
We are not alone. MSNBC business channel just aired a piece on whether blogging was good or bad for the economy. Same ole, same ole complaints. Also that it gives more people access and info.But no fact checking... mentioned Federalist Papers were anonymous too... but let's remember they had dueling back then.. Say hello to the dead Alexander Hamilton..
Ashley Green
13 years 9 months ago
I agree with Father Martin that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we should always be civil and charitable in how we express our disagreements. And I also agree that the prevailing idea that such charity and civility can be dispensed with so long as one believes that he is proclaiming the truth is an alarming and disheartening trend.  No matter how strongly we belive in the correctness of our position, whe should never put idealolgy ahead of our Christian discipleship, which, abolve all else, means loving God and loving our fellow human beings.  Charity has to come first if we have truly taken to heart the message of the Gospels.  The expression of a disagreement in a spirit of charity can be a holy thing.  But let us not be so foolish as to attribute our rancor and self-justified animosity to the Holy Spirit.
13 years 9 months ago
Nora, you seem to be confused - this is not a thread about critiquing laity, but leadership.  This is about blogs calling out bishops or priests, politicians etc. who are teaching or acting against Catholic norms and morals. 

As Fr. Martin states, it should be civil (although, I can see the need for occassional anger of reform - such as during the abuse crisis or during promotion of anti-life policies such as abortion or war)

No one is contesting the truth that the Church is a hospital for sinners - we are contesting the idea that there is no objective moral truth or standard that apply to all Catholics and the modern liberal idea that certain sins are not longer sins at all.

To be Catholic is to believe in positive freedom (i.e. "freedom for") rather than the negative freedom of modernity (i.e. "freedom from"...such as freedom from judgement or limits etc.)

Nora McKenna
13 years 9 months ago
And once these people have "purged" the leadership, you think it will stop there?

Again, it's all just ugly.  Ugly-hearted, ugly-spirited, ugly, ugly, ugly...

And it has nothing to do with God.  Nothing.  Doesn't serve God, doesn't acknowledge God, no God in it all, nada...

I'm sick to death of hearing about this smaller, purer, better, whatever Church.  Let 'em have it.  Let's hope they can pay for it, too. 
13 years 9 months ago
Didn't the pharisees promote a false civility based on human rather than divine considerations?  And, should we accept falsehood in the name of civility?

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it."  Mathew 10:24
Alan Yost
13 years 9 months ago
Thanks, James, for another well written piece. On the money, as usual.

And...  ''silliest comment of the week'' award goes to: (wait for it)
    Anthony Portillo, for his submission. ''bloggers fresh out of high school typically know about five times as much about the Catholic faith than a typical twenty-first century Jesuit.'' Tell him what he's won/lost, Johnny. 
13 years 9 months ago
Perhaps this is more "civil":

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26)
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
13 years 9 months ago
There is no excuse for vicious, deceitful, dismembering of the Body of Christ and certainly not for it to be done anonymously, by any so-called ''side'' allegedly ''protecting'' the faith. The vitriol and secrecy of these acts is so disturbing and antithetical to the faith we profess as Roman Catholics.

We are called in unity, redeemed by Christ and we must as different members come together in some way. This is not some kumbayah cry for togetherness but the imperative of Jesus himself!

As for anonymity, please - fear of retaliation? Saints and martyrs, known and unknown, have died terrible deaths for us all and we express an online fear of retaliation?  God has called each one of us by name, God has written our very name on the palm of his hand. How can we hide? And why would we?
Vince Killoran
13 years 9 months ago
The chances of this changing are nil.  Even as this particular contribution was posted on "In All Things" conservative blogs were buzzing with plans for a counter attack.  The most some of the people can muster is a "I will if you will."

The irony is that the loudest voices for a call to a conservative, hierarchal Church are suggesting a kind of web-based Church democracy in which the bishops read the blogs as a way to gauge their leadership and teachings.
Gail Grazie
13 years 9 months ago
I think the pharisees promoted a false sense of righteousness based on a literal following of the law. Jesus broke the rules when he healed on the Sabbath. I guess He too would have been called out by this blogger.  I know I can be both a pharisee and a sinner - that is why I wont judge. But I am uncomfortable when I see someone posing with a sword in front of Our Lord.
13 years 9 months ago
The law is not the problem, it was the twisting and gradual forgetting of God's commandments in order to live by the whims and power structures of human society/popular opinion rather than divine providence (i.e. the political correctness and relativism - maybe "civility" - of today).  Jesus rebuked this decay and willful ignorance of God's law as well as the killing of the prophets:

"You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." 

Not very "civil"...

Philip Rieff:  "Prophecy arose to defend precisely the old order, to recall its historic meaningfulness; prophecy was a foretelling of a return, however primative, of authority; interdicts already established but threatened were supported by "prophecy." 

Again, I will simply quote the words of Christ according to Holy Scripture:  I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism* to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division.

Jack Barry
13 years 9 months ago
It begins to look as if one of the distinctive marks of some 21st-century Jesuits may be smarmy, snide, or sarcastic ejaculations.  What next on the road to civility?
William Lindsey
13 years 9 months ago
Nora, I sometimes feel words are poor vehicles of anything healing and graceful in some discussions on Catholic blogs.

And so I often read and say nothing.  And I fear that when I do speak, I often fall short of the mark of charity - which reminds me to measure my words and choose silence sometimes.

But I do want to log in now, for what it's worth, and say that I very much appreciate your heartfelt and wise comments.  I share that sense of being sick in my depths, when I sometimes read the ugly rhetoric about purging this or that brother or sister Catholic, on Catholic blogs today.  It disturbs deeply.  It drives me away and makes me want to find God someplace else.

I also think your point about where the purge will end is a very significant one.  No purge ever ends with those it initially targets.  Once those who are certain that God blesses their purge of one group have completed that purge, they inevitably go on to another group and then another.

And eventually the purgers become the purged, since those who take the sword die by the sword.

Augustine had so much wisdom about these matters in his City of God, when he remnids us that no one except God knows who will be in the city of God at the end of history, and that it's God's work to do the winnowing - not ours.  Thanks for your insightful comments, and please know they fell on listening ears, when I read them.
Adrienne Krock
13 years 9 months ago
Thank you, once again, Fr. Jim for your thoughtful analysis. I remember about 20 years ago when a certain commentator called for my mother-in-law to be excommunicated. He had read something, took it out of context, and, of course, blew it out of proportion. The difference then from now is that people had to pay for a subscription to his newspaper. Today anyone can post online and spread nonsense. (No matter which "side" the nonsense comes from.)
Stephen SCHEWE
13 years 9 months ago
Thanks, Willam!  This debate, as well as those currently underway in other spheres (e.g., the Juan Williams rhubarb), is not just about civility or political correctness, but about the purposes of our communication.  James Fallows, for example, has an insightful post up about the differences in mission between an organization like NPR, which gathers and analyzes the news with an underlying goal of accuracy, vs. organizations like Fox News, which use events as a springboard for opinions that frame a specific, ongoing political narrative.


To transfer this analogy to matters of faith and Church, some of the commenters here and “Taliban Catholic” bloggers elsewhere are defending a specific ecclesial or theological narrative instead of reviewing the events of the day and having a discussion about them.  Are we willing to seek the unanimity that is historically one sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit?  Seeking this common ground calls for careful deliberation, the willingness to hear opposing points of view, and to speedily admit error, vs. being verbally bludgeoned, intimidated, or purged by others.  The history of the Church suggests we must be very careful about claiming that God is on our side, particularly when we believe God’s will calls for disruption and division.  It would be interesting to know if Jesus was having a really bad day when he let loose with some of his harshest sayings!
I encourage America’s editors to continue their work, reminding commenters to follow your code of conduct, and removing comments or blocking the contributions of those who don’t play well with others.  After all, this blog is your house, and we are your guests.
William Lindsey
13 years 9 months ago
Steve, I agree with (and like) your insistence on the fact that our conversations at blogs like this are "not just about civility or political correctness, but about the purposes of our communication."

For me, that purpose seems integrally related to the question recently raised on this and some other Catholic blogs about grievous attrition rates in U.S. Catholicism.  One of the questions those rates raise for me is a question about how we become a welcoming and hospitable community.

I've been thinking about that issue a lot lately, and it strikes me that, inbuilt in our theology of Eucharist and communion, there are norms that strongly call us to become a welcoming and hospitable community.  I'm not sure how it is possible for us to believe that, in the Eucharist, we receive the body of Christ into ourselves, and then imagine we're called to drive others out of the church.

Or make it less welcoming and hospitable.  For me, questions about welcome and hospitality norm these discussions, and are central to what I see as the purpose of our communication process.  And I'm happy you point us to a focus on the purpose.
13 years 9 months ago
David Brooks has pointed out the brain research showing that we all seek information that primarily reinforces our own previously-held opinion: left, right, 21st century & 20th century Jesuit, or whatnot.  So of course where we "fair, unbiased, opinion" versus mere "springboards" for attack are highly relative.  The great thing about the "levelling" of information sources is that we are free, if we choose, to intentionally see the "other" side of things.  We are also free, however, to hunker in our camps and lob verbal volleys.  Both, it seems to me, have some value, especially given the inherently interactive nature of the new media.  This is why I don't think overly-censoring commentators (anonymous or otherwise) is wise.  What would be great is to see some intentional "crossing the lines" by publications, i.e. intentionally seeking out contrary opinions.  This has happened, for example, with John Allen on NCR, who is respected even by some far-right commentators such as Fr. Zuhlsdorf.  But when one repeated opinon gets hammered over and over and over, and commentators critical of the opinion get criticized or censored, you can't blame some for feeling like the rules of the game are "stacked". This creates some of the "us versus them" we all lament.
Stephen SCHEWE
13 years 9 months ago
John Allen is a great example of a crossover journalist, Jeff.  Sometimes I think he spent a little too much time in the trattorias being romanced by the Roman point of view, but I have to respect his encyclopedic knowledge, his energy, his access, and his broad perspective.  I particularly appreciate his ability to humanize people in church leadership in his profiles and interviews, and his insistence on considering the needs and viewpoints of the worldwide church.  He's also been willing to be critical of the Church in his area of expertise, specifically how the Church presents itself through its public relations.
13 years 9 months ago
This reminds me of two quotes, both attributed to a 16th century Jesuit

Rule 26

''All should speak in a low tone of voice, as is proper to religious men, and no one should dispute with another. If there is a difference of opinion and it seems worth discussing, they should propose their views modestly and with kindness. Their sole purpose should be to declare the truth and not to make their own view prevail.'' 

Source Unknown


''First, bring focus to your life by taking the time to listen to others and to see what lies before you. Bring yourself to a self-possession before reality. Then give your attention (maybe attentiveness is a better word) to what is really there. For example, let that person or that poem or that social injustice or that scientific experiment become as genuinely itself as it can be. Then reverence what you see before you.

Reverence is giving acceptance to, cherishing the differences of, holding in awe the uniqueness of another reality. So, before you judge or assess or respond, give yourself time to esteem and accept what is there in the other. And if you learn to do this then you will gradually discover devotion, the singularly moving way in which God works in that situation, revealing goodness and fragility, beauty and truth, pain and anguish, wisdom and ingenuity.''

 As quoted by Howard Gray, S.J.
Maybe he knew something? Not bad rules of engagement regardless of one's perspective.
13 years 9 months ago
Mr. Reidy said,
''JR, I think we work hard to avoid ad hominem attacks on this blog-at least among our contributors.''
Did anyone monitor Sean Winter's contributions?  When someone implies that to hold a certain political position is hateful, is that an ad hominem?
Then he added.
''The post you refer to about Christine O'Donnell was calling attention to a campaign video that has since received a lot of air time. Our blogger was certainly not calling her a witch. You may not agree with all of our bloggers, but that does not mean they are guilty of incivility.''
Why point to this particular video?  There are thousands of videos on the internet and why put the word ''witch'' in a headline for the post.  I could have written 50 other headlines for that post that didn't use that word, why the one actually used.  I am sorry, there seemed intent there when so many other neutral or even moderately critical choices were available.
Marie Rehbein
13 years 9 months ago
I, personally, enjoy responding to the more outrageous comments with what I hope is a thoughtful response.  Were it not for them, a lot of what I think would not become formed into something that I can express.  I only hope that those who spur me into commenting myself are open to thinking about what I address to them.  I always welcome a well-thought out response and usually find that it is often only a matter of how an idea is expressed that causes the dispute.  If we look past the rhetoric and focus on the idea, we can often understand the topic in a more complex and detailed way, which might be the first step to finding solutions to many of our problems.
13 years 9 months ago
I seldom comment on the religious topics presented here but more on the ones that represent political points of view.  I however, often see that the two are mixed or that some of the contributions on religion are not really on religion but on the person doing the commenting or writing a certain point of view.  We often get in a tit for tat without realizing that this is going on.

Certain bloggers have apparently gone way over the line in describing certain Catholics and the response is the use of other terms that should not be used.  For example, we have McCarthyism, Taliban and Inquisitor, risibly narrow, foaming at the mouth, craven all which should not be used.  

I find the use of McCarthyism amusing since it often meant to demean certain behavior one does not like.  McCarthy was a progressive Democrat who switched parties so he could get elected in Wisconsin.  He was also a close personal friend of the Kennedy's who also were virulent anti communists and essentially approved his approach. 
Sean Lilly
13 years 9 months ago
Father Jim,

I had only gotten through a handful of the responses here when I was moved to this inspiration:

I think we need to take a page out of Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's book.  If I could get enough people to come to it, would you be willing to celebrate  a special Mass for us at St. Patrick's Cathedral?  We'll call it "The Liturgy to Restore Sanity: Take It Down a Notch for Christ".  I will personally make banners to hang on the altar with inspirational slogans like "I disagree with you but because I'm a Christian I love you and I'm pretty sure you're not a cancer". 

Come on, who's with me?  If Stewart and Colbert can slap their thing together, surely we can pull this off!
And by the way:  don't be so sure I'm kidding.  Not completely anyway.
Katie Diller
13 years 9 months ago
Thank you for this article.

As a college campus minister, I can assure you of the real damage these blogs/websites do to young adult Catholics.  Frequently, college is a time when students begin either questioning or growing in their faith.  Either way, our students turn to the internet for quick answers.  The angry Catholic blogosphere isn't helping them...

First, if they are questioning their faith (perhaps unsure about Church teachings, or resisting authority like many young people do), they encounter pharisaical rants, distrust of Catholic theologians, and just generally more anger than faith, hope, love, and least of all- joy!  Perhaps they wonder how they ought to feel about their gay lab partner and discover blogs condemning homosexuals- and it just doesn't sit right.  These students shed their faith, not wanting to be part of an angry, dark religion.

Second- these blogs damage those who are growing in their faith, too!  Students who are pumped up about new experiences on college retreats or Masses filled with peers turn to the internet to learn more about this beautiful Church.  Far from conveying obedience to authority, the angry Catholic blogosphere teaches them to distrust their pastors and campus ministers.  Students become closed to learning and growing in their faith- suddenly fellow students, leaders, pastoral ministers aren't "Catholic enough"... These students cease to be healthy student leaders and become separatists, pushing away from the community and rejecting new students who don't pray like they do. 

For those commentators who seem eager for a fight, please don't think that I judge the second group of students for their prayer preferences... As a campus minister, I am eager to support all types- rosary groups, Adoration, labyrinth prayer, Bible Studies... whatever gets the kids talking to Jesus.  No, I love those good kids for their desire to grow in their faith, even when it is expressed in unhealthy ways- but I hate the angry blogosphere for warping them and teaching them to reject authority.

PS- sorry for the empty post above- iPhone fail :)
13 years 9 months ago
Father Keane, perhaps - but He is more likely speaking to well placed and well read clergy like yourself.

To steal a phrase from Benedict, we need "Caritias in Veritate."  I agree that traditionalists sometimes focus primarily on truth (myself incuded), while liberals many times only focus on charity without truth.  Benedict is right to remind us of the need for both.

However, as for the idea of an angry Catholic blogosphere, correcting anti-life or pro-relativistic views is not being "angry" - neither is quoting from the scriptures.  The fact is that Catholic truth according to Christ is shocking and very difficult - it is not a campfire singalong or an inclusive mantra to accept all human actions. 

Students respond much better to truth and are much more motivated by being a part of the "counter-culture" that is real Catholic witness against the falsehoods of modern world than they do to moral theraputic deism or Catholic light.  Good for the kids that question the deviations made from the faith and morals by their campus leaders and ministers. 

It should be remembered that men are especially are drawn to the militant Church and this is exactly what we need to restore after years of atrophy.

We can pray and preach in a variety of ways; however, the essentials of faith and morals need to be unified. 
William Lindsey
13 years 8 months ago
Brett, here's the voice of one male church member for you - Mark Osler, professor of law at St. Thomas University.  He's talking about how he grew up convinced of his own righteousness and of the sinfulness of his gay brothers and sisters, and how the Holy Spirit has changed his mind and heart (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-osler/repentance-of-an-antigay-_b_772891.html):

"It was these friendships that shook my religious beliefs not only about homosexuality, but my own relationship with God. I had been taught to judge, reject and condemn these friends, but found myself unable to do so. In time, I replaced those teachings with beliefs that reflect the gospels I came to embrace. In those gospels, Christ directs us to harshly judge our own sins, but does not command us to go out into the world and judge those we think are sinners, to change people or to push people away. His command was to love. Are gays and lesbians sinners? It doesn't seem that way to me (other than the way in which we are all sinners), but at some level I really don't care. If it is a sin, it is not my sin. The sin that I need to discern, root out and identify is my own. One of those sins has been bigotry and senseless cruelty. I atone for and seek forgiveness for that now and here."

I'm struck by his line, "The sin that I need to discern, root out and identify is my own. One of those sins has been bigotry and senseless cruelty."  Sound Catholic moral insight here, isn't it?
Kay Satterfield
13 years 8 months ago
Saint Teresa of Avilia's feast day was last week. She taught that it's not real prayer unless it's fruit is the increase of faith, hope and love.  The traditional Catholic prayers and practices of the rosary, adoration, etc are great but the whole intention is not to make us more traditional Catholic but more like Christ. I love all the bells and whistles.  It doesn't speak to everyone.
As a mother of college age children, I found the campus minister's statement frustrating.  I can see that happening.  That age goes right to the computer for information.  My kids would find the angry blogging  a real turn off.  
I think the bishops need to make a strong statement against it.  It's obviously affecting people's spiritual health and lives and needs to be addressed.  What we need is a call for more balance.
Kay Satterfield
13 years 8 months ago
St. Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the church,  said after she had been introduced to a group of pious ladies involved in church work:

"They are saints in their own opinion, but when I got to know them better they frightened me more than all the sinners I had ever met." 
Jason Welle
13 years 8 months ago
It would be amusing if it weren't so sad.  In comment #3, I posted simply 1 Cor 13.  Everyone needs to consider it.  it teaches us a lot about this subject.

It may be that Jesus came to cause division, but none of us are Jesus Christ.  And though we are called to be like him, we can only be and act like him in an an analogous way as long as we walk this earth.

Paul gives us wisdom in how we as disciples ought to evangelize in 1 Cor 13.  If you'll allow some paraphrasing, he instructs as a disciple speaking to disciples, a believer to believers.  If you're going to prophesy, which is for the believers (1 Cor 14:22)-that is, if you're going to call the drifters back to righteousness as the prophets of old did (and you can debate whether these bloggers and the commentariat are being truly prophetic or not)-but you don't have love, then it's empty prophecy.  It doesn't matter how faithful you are to the Church and magisterium, if you haven't love, then it's nothing.

Love (agape) is kind and patient, it's not boastful or rude, it doesn't insist on its own way, it's not resentful.  "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Too much in the blogosphere and commentariat misses this-I've been guilty of it too.  There's a lot of self-righteous faithfulness, but too little love.  There's a lot of unkindness, rudeness, and boastfulness.  There's some redefining of what it is to love, but 1 Cor 13 has a pretty good description of what it really means.

Learn love first, then see about being prophets and evangelists.  Otherwise, words and actions mean nothing.
Peter Lakeonovich
13 years 8 months ago

Very true.  But look at the content of the origianl blog and the article linked.  What did you expect?

By the way, your statement that "It doesn't matter how faithful you are to the Church and magisterium, if you haven't love, then it's nothing," while it seems correct is inherently flawed.  Loyalty to the Church is loyalty to Christ, Who is its Founder, which is loyalty and faithfulness and devotion to and a relationship with Him Who is Love.  So, as for your statement, it would be meaningless to say you are loyal and faithful to the Church if you do not have Love in Christ, Love in Truth.

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