Did Pope Francis really say that there is no place in the Church for Catholic bloggers?
Um…. No. Apparently, though, Britain’s Archbishop Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, has tried to make it seem as though the pontiff doesn’t want us Catholic bloggers around.
According to British writer William Oddie, the archbishop quoted Pope Francis, then skillfully manipulated the Pope’s remarks to make it seem that Pope Francis didn’t much appreciate the Catholic bloggers, suggesting that they are nothing more than complainers and gossipers.
I’m not British, and I’m afraid I don’t know all the backstory here. I do know that William Oddie is a highly respected English Catholic writer and broadcaster, former editor of The Catholic Herald and author of two books about Catholicism, The Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy.
In his blog in The Catholic Herald, Oddie alleges that Archbishop Vincent Nichols apparently manipulated Pope Francis’ words to lend credence to his own criticism of Catholic blogs. The Archbishop, in his homily at a Mass following the election of Pope Francis, quoted Pope Francis, who had talked about the disciples complaining among themselves on the road to Emmaus.
Oddie explains how Archbishop Nichols reworked the Pope’s remarks to make it seem he doesn’t like the work of the bloggers who report on the Church. Oddie writes:
“Pope Francis,” he said, “has already identified two kinds of behaviour that destroy love in the Church. They are complaining and gossiping. He is a practical man. He knows that we live in a society in which complaining and gossip is a standard fare. They sell newspapers and attract us to blogs because we love hear complaints and to read gossip. But Pope Francis is clear: they should have no place in the Church.”
What, blogs? Pope Francis was saying that blogs should have no place in the Church? But he doesn’t say anything at all about blogs. “We, as Catholics,” concluded the archbishop, “are always ready to profess our love for the Lord. But now Pope Francis is calling us to show that love in down-to-earth ways. How wonderful it would be if our Church was known to be a place that was free of the sound of complaining and the whisper of gossip! Then the light of Christ would indeed shine brightly.”
Free of the sound of complaining, eh? No blogs, eh? But as Deacon Nick points out, Pope Francis’s reflection on complaining was actually about difficulties in our life of faith, and not about complaints about the Church and the way it is conducted. The Holy Father said this: “I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints… They were afraid. All of the disciples were afraid,” he said. As they walked toward Emmaus and discussed everything that had happened, they were sad and complaining. “And the more they complained, the more they were closed in on themselves: they did not have a horizon before them, only a wall,” the Pope explained.
Actually, most of the Catholic bloggers I know are doing their best to help the Church—encouraging the New Evangelization, helping to spread the good news of the Gospel through social media. True, bloggers are sometimes critical or contentious; but then again, that may be exactly the right response in a given situation. And bloggers provide another service: They reach a wide audience, some of whom may never visit a church or listen to a homily.
In May 2011, the Vatican—in a departure from business as usual—held the first-ever Vatican Blogfest. The event, co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and the Pontifical Council for Culture, drew together 150 Catholic bloggers from around the world. I was one of the bloggers invited to participate, as was our illustrious editor at the Catholic Portal of Patheos, Elizabeth Scalia. Fr. Federico Lombardi explained that the Church wanted to work with the Catholic bloggers—in fact, depended on bloggers to help spread information. The Blogfest was the start of a two-way communication that continues to the present day.
So I’d have to say no, Archbishop Nichols, you got it wrong.
You really need to read all of William Oddie’s report, available here.