Pope’s message to Catholic bloggers

Pope’s message to Catholic bloggers January 24, 2011

This is interesting. The pope is actually tackling the thorny subject of incivility in the Catholic blogosphere! He asked bloggers to adapt a “Christian-style presence” online, and said that “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”. This is a message that all of us who blog need to take to heart.

The follow-up comments from Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, are also noteworthy. He “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”. This is uncharacteristically blunt, which tells you that the Vatican sees this online parallel magisterium as a growing problem. I’m not going to name names either, but I think we all know the blogs he is talking about!

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  • I don’t.

    Which blogs?

    • brettsalkeld

      There are going to be blogs et al. that border on being implicated and blogs that will be discussed and who will reject the implication that they were intended. There will be those that lash out at Archbishop Celli, the way neocons lashed out after Caritas in Veritate.

      No matter how this all shakes down, I think it would be really hard to make the case that Celli, and according to Celli, Benedict, did not have RealCatholicTV in mind here, esp. with the reference to YouTube channels.

      Of course, it is common enough to believe that such an indictment is just proof that you’ve been doing your job. I’d be interested to hear of Voris’ response if anyone has it yet.

      • brett what do you mean by “the way neocons lashed out after Caritas in Veritate”? Who are the “neocons” and where did they “lash out”?

        • George Weigel. Arch neocon. Arch lash-outer.

        • brettsalkeld

          The parallel I am expecting is that some (i.e., those implicated) will say, “This wasn’t Benedict’s own views, but rather that of some Vatican bureaucrat.”

          That’s what Weigel said about CV.

      • Yes, Michael Voris and Thomas Peters must top any list of “problem” Catholic social media.

        • brettsalkeld

          I’m no fan of Peters but to me Voris is in a class all by himself.

          • Julian Barkin

            Really? What class may I ask? Whistlebower? Right-wing extremist (He can’t be ultra trad or at least RealCatholicTV can’t because they understand the issue with SSPX and actually disencourage people from going I’ve seen it in a couple of youtube responses)

            Also how can you guess that Voris is implied but non-specifically being mentioned here? Are there any indications he’s raised a big enough stink to merit being called out by the Vatican? Some article I haven’t caught?

          • brettsalkeld

            Yes, right-wing extremist. Also, radically ill-informed and unbalanced person who presents himself as an authority to the unsuspecting Catholics who follow him into radically unCatholic ideas about hell, sin, grace, mercy, justice, the Jews etc. etc.

            His YouTube channel is the most popular “Catholic” Youtube channel there is, outdistancing Father Barron by a factor of 4, last time I checked. This should worry anyone at all who is concerned that Catholics get decent catechesis.

            Now, as later comments in this thread show, it is not clear what exchange between Archbishop Celli and a certain reporter took place, so it is not clear that Archibishop Celli had anyone specific in mind. It may have been the reporter. In any case, Voris’ popularity does concern the hierarchy, and not just because he’s a whistleblower. He is a parallel magisterium with a much bigger audience than that other scary parallel magisterium of Catholic theologians.

            I’m afraid I can’t offer you anything beyond conversations I’ve had with bishops and people who know bishops. I know that is unsatisfactory. On the other hand, I think any Catholic with the slightest grasp of the tradition should be able to watch Voris and know the bishops would be nervous. Proof should be superfluous.

  • brettsalkeld

    I’m delighted with this message. And, though I know from personal experience that the Church is increasingly concerned with the parallel magisterium of self-appointed internet inquisitors, we all need to take this opportunity to evaluate our way of conducting ourselves online.

    I just got burned last week for using sarcasm after my lengthy pontifications about better blogging practices.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  • brettsalkeld

    Also, I think Benedict is starting to shadow me. First purgatory, then this. Sheesh. Guy needs a better role model.

    • Do also speak in a German accent with soft Italian undertones? 🙂

      • brettsalkeld

        I speak German with an English accent that has soft Italian undertones. 😉

  • Julian Barkin

    LoL! Well Brett who better than the average hard working family man for the pope to shadow. St. Joseph was exactly that and look who’s wife gave birth to our Saviour.

    • brettsalkeld

      Ok, easy now.

  • Liam

    The issue is more general, not just blogs with a certain point of view (the specific reference is simply to mean that no point of view is exempt from the critique).

    In sum: pay attention to you spiritual and cognitive blindspots. They are usually marked by rationalizations for a vice that thus appears to be a virtue. For example, unnecessary overargument and uncharitable tone that is rationalized by a perceived self-anointing to play the prophetic role in service of the truth. Real prophets are not self-anointed, and work to reduce the scope of self-serving rationalizations.

  • The Pope is right. We should respect our elders for Christ chose them to be our shepherds. If they commit mistake, it’s their sole responsibility to God. But let us keep praying for them and hope to have more holy priests and bishops.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    I read the pope’s message as well and thought of all those other folks on the ‘net to whom he must be directing his comments.

    Then again, there’s 2 Samuel 12:7.

  • I can’t help wondering if this is a bit like the pope condemning Harry Potter — someone came up to him and gave him a document saying it was a problem and he signed off on it with some agreeing generalities.

    But then, that’s no so much because I think that whatever these shadowy and dangerous blogs are, they are right and the Vatican is wrong — it’s more that I find it really hard to imagine that the tiny percentage of world Catholics who are English-language Catholic bloggers are actually getting enough attention at the Vatican to even merit a response. (And if they are, that seems like a problem.)

    • Brett’s prediction here is fulfilled.

      (And if they are, that seems like a problem.)

      Why? Because the Vatican is supposed to be otherworldly? “Above” all that?

      • Well, people keep telling me that the US represents only a tiny portion of world Catholicism. And of course people who frequent the Catholic blogsphere are only a very tiny percentage of US Catholics. And even to the extent that they are titans in this tiny pond, the folks MM thinks are being chastened here are far from being all of the blogsphere.

        I would just tend to think that there must be much more important things for the Vatican to deal with than squabbles between Catholic bloggers in the US who don’t like each other.

        Or is the US suddenly the center of the world when it becomes one’s particular issue?

  • Matt Bowman

    Do MM and Vox Nova REALLY think that *conservatives* are vehement whereas they themselves are paragons of civility? That Henry and MM and MZ would never ever engage in personal attacks, bitter smears, and knee-jerk attribution of manevolent motivations? That basically it’s only the conservatives out there who are the evil transgressors? Do you own any mirrors? Butter battle indeed. Play it again, Sam.

    • You can argue “civility” both ways, but it is only one side that accuses the other of being fake Catholics on a consistent basis.

      • MM writes, “You can argue “civility” both ways, but it is only one side that accuses the other of being fake Catholics on a consistent basis.”

        Since I have started following this blog, I have been accused more than once (by those who lean left) of holding political and economic views that are not authentically Catholic. So you’re referring to people on the left, right? ; )

      • Brett writes, “[Voris is a] radically ill-informed and unbalanced person who presents himself as an authority to the unsuspecting Catholics who follow him into radically unCatholic ideas about hell, sin, grace, mercy, justice, the Jews etc. etc.”

        Another example of someone on the left calling someone on the right unCatholic.

        • Ryan Klassen

          One, Brett is not “on the left.”

          Two, he said Voris’ ideas were unCatholic, not that Voris was not Catholic. The fact that Voris dissents from Catholic teaching does not make him a non-Catholic. Or does it… 😉

        • Ryan Klassen

          It was probably presumptuous for me to speak so categorically regarding Brett’s political leanings. But I think it is clear from his writings here that he is not “on the left” in the way you mean.

        • brettsalkeld

          First off, I’m nowhere near the left.
          Nor have I called anyone unCatholic.
          Furthermore, I don’t know what a “right-wing” position on hell, sin grace, mercy, justice or the Jews would look like. I wasn’t talking about tax policy or social programs.
          My comment had nothing to do with politics. It was about theology.
          And Voris’ theology is simply indefensible.

          If you want to defend Voris’ theology, that’s your (unenviable) business, but don’t pretend this has a thing to do with my presumed political affiliations.

          • Bruce in Kansas

            I don’t think US political labels of “left” and “right” or even “liberal” and “conservative” are very accurate when discussing various positions regarding the Church. They are sometimes even misleading. The Church resembles a big extended family more than it resembles the US government.

          • brettsalkeld

            Amen, Bruce.

  • MM writes, ‘He “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”.’

    Caeli was not quoted as saying this. He was only quoted as saying, “The risk is there, there’s no doubt,” which was in response to a question. Which sounds to me as though a reporter asked if the Pope’s admonition applied to conservative blogs, etc., and Caeli said basically, “Sure, why not.”

    Which I agree with. I have no doubt it applies to certain conservative Catholic blogs. And I know we would all agree that it applies to certain liberal Catholic blogs (or at least, bloggers). But there’s no evidence in this article that the Pope was intending to single out conservatives.

    • brettsalkeld

      The article did say what MM quoted, though Celli did not say it. Are you saying that the article is misrepresenting Celli’s thought? Because, unless they drastically misinterpreted his words, Celli believes the Pope had these folks in mind.

      The way I read the article, it seemed to me that someone must have put a question to Celli about these particular bloggers to which he responded, essentially, “Yes, that’s an accurate interpretation.”

      It certainly does look like Celli meant this, even if the quote isn’t his words.

      If not, there is some serious explaining to do, either by people who don’t think the article singles out conservatives, or the author who doctored it so that it would single out conservatives. Which is it?

      • XPO4us

        “The article did say what MM quoted, though Celli did not say it. Are you saying that the article is misrepresenting Celli’s thought?”

        I can’t speak for Agellius, but yes, the Washington Post article misrepresented Celli’s statement. Don’t you find it odd that they used the vague wording “in response to a question”?

        More information about that question can be found here:


        Key paragraph:

        “During the press conference, Archbishop Celli was questioned about the Pope’s calls for “respectful and sensitive” communication on the internet. Was this a reference to the often acerbic tone of many blogs, he was asked? “The risk is there, no doubt,” the archbishop replied. An AP report took that mild and general response as evidence that the papal statement was intended as a reproach to conservative Catholic bloggers– disregarding the obvious fact that the Pope’s words apply with equal force to dissident Catholic liberals, and to non-Catholics as well. ”

        That last sentence is unfortunate in its decision to pull the old “you guys do it too” card. But the point is that Celli was asked in a very general way about the often disrespectful tone of weblogs, and replied that it could be problematic. All the stuff about conservative blogs’ criticism of the bishops seems to have been inferred (invented) by the AP.

        • XP write, “I can’t speak for Agellius…”

          I could not have answered any better. So I won’t. : )

      • I suppose it depends on the extent to which one thinks that emphasis or mention provides a message.

        If Celli specificially said, “We are in particular concerned about some conservative blogs and YouTube channels who question the catholicity of their bishops and Church actions,” that would suggest that Celli himself and perhaps the pope for whom he speaks on these issues are actively worried enough specifically about conservative voices on the internet to call it out.

        If, on the other had, Celli delivers an address on charitable behavior online and a reporter asks, “Do you think this might be something which should be taken as applying to certain conservative bloggers who question the Church and accuse bishops of unfaithfullness,” and Celli simply responds, “Yes, that would certainly apply,” that suggests it’s something that worries the reporter, but not necessarily something that worries Celli beyond that if there is a problem with such people, he thinks they should take it to heart.

        This matters to the extent that a different reporter could just as well have asked, “Do you think this applies to progressive Catholic writers who accuse their opponents of being ‘Catholic Taliban’ or ‘christofascists’?”, Celli would have again said, “Oh, sure,” and that reporter could have got on YouTube and proclaimed, “Vatican says liberal Catholics should STFU online!!!”

        And goodness knows we have seen Vatican statements taken in whacky ways by reporters looking for a story — as the Harry Potter controversy (which I believe Henry wrote a good post about) shows.

        This isn’t to say that conservative bloggers shouldn’t take this to heart. Rather, it seems to me that:

        – Although the prominance of some conservative Catholic bloggers may be highly annoying to some here in the US, they’re probably just not on the Vatican radar screen. (Just as, although some of the voices as Commonweal, America and National Catholic Reporter are highly annoying — there pope is unlikely to personally notice that Michael Sean Winters exists, much less tell him to tone it down.)

        – This isn’t necessarily a sign that conservative bloggers are doing something egregious which progressive bloggers aren’t, but rather just a reflection of the reporters’ interests. As such, I think we’d do better to take the pope’s words to heart outselves than to assume that he detests the same people we detest.

  • Following on Agellius’s post, I do remember some liberal bloggers, who, “with some vehemence,” criticized the Bishop in Arizona who exercised his authority in removing the “Catholic” label from a hospital in his diocese.

    We should all follow the gracious example of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, who would say that the Austrian prelates who did not resist the Nazi Anschluß as he did simply “were not given the grace” he had received.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      There are two graces that need to be balance here. As Dorothy Day said of herself, her mission (and the mission of the Catholic Worker movement) was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” One could make the argument that the Austrian bishops had grown too comfortable to respond to grace and make the hard choice Blessed Jaggerstatter did. But it is a hard question, one that gets to the heart of (Catholic) blogging from the left and the right: How do we uphold both? I don’t claim to know the answer. There are times when I just walk away; there are and will be other times when I press a point home, at the risk of making the other party: uncomfortable, embarrassed, defensive and angry. Jesus never promised it would be easy! 🙂

  • Look, FWIW, I certainly agree that there is some hyperventilating in the conservative Catholic blosphere and that there are some people who simply or misunderstand Catholic doctrine to the point of distortion, as Brett rightly points out. I would agree that this is something that is not good and should be improved on. Simply because someone’s political or religious leanings are to the right does not mean that one should not be criticized when one strays beyond the legitimate bounds of polite discourse or Catholic orthodoxy.

    However, I do object to the claim that this is an area in which the right is unique in needing to be reigned in. The left leaning Catholic blogsphere routinely attacks and mocks the hierarchy (they tend to attack Rome more while conservatives tend to attack the USCCB more, but both spread their fire around) when it suits their purposes.

    More generally, it’s all very well to complain about how the conservatives dominate the Catholic online presence in the US, but that’s in part because they’ve fled there after being so thoroughly trounced in mainstream publications and most parishes and diocese. To the extent that it’s a loud community, it’s in part because it’s a community of outcasts. Now, that doesn’t justify actually distorting Catholic teaching or defying ecclesiastical authority, but at the same time a lot of Catholic online sites which I would imagine many of you would classify as of the right provide a huge amount of useful information, especially for those who can’t get good information from their parish libraries, catechesis, RCIA, etc.

    I get that the perception that conservative Catholics are being told to shut up would be gratifying if you think that one of the main problems with the Catholic blogsphere is that it isn’t supportive enough of Obama — but if we can leave politics aside for a moment I think that with the exception of a few people who are just ill informed (though enthusiastic) a lot of these folks are more a benefit than a problem.

    • brettsalkeld

      I am not of the opinion that the right in general needs to be reigned in, but I do think Voris needs to be. I can’t think of another person, left or right or whatever, as far out as him. Really. He scares me a lot. That some people continue to defend him after the things he has said about Judaism and restricting the vote (to pick two things almost at random) also scares me. That he has a significant following is a sign of serious problems in the Church.

  • SB

    Where is his significant following? I’ve never heard of him other than the occasions when I happen to read Vox Nova.

    • brettsalkeld

      Youtube. He is the largest Catholic presence (well over 5 million views) on one of the most popular websites in the world.

      I hope to God that most people are watching him to be amused, but even that makes the rest of us look bad. I.e., he isn’t just misleading his followers about what the Church teaches, he’s misleading many non-Catholics as well.

      • Bruce in Kansas

        I think if one is determined to be exempt from criticism such as the Holy Father has given, then one might take pains to avoid using terms such as “parallel magisterium” and “ill-informed”, “unbalanced” “radically un-Catholic” when describing someone else.

        If, on the other hand, one does not mind getting down in the mud, then one might just drive on. Just recognize the pope’s warning applies.

        • brettsalkeld

          “Radically unCatholic” was meant to refer to ideas, rather than to a person, though I can see how some might still be bothered.

          I actually thought “ill-informed” and “unbalanced” were the nice ways of saying what I believe to be true about Voris. Really. I consciously chose them over “ignorant” and “crazy.”

          That said, I must admit to having difficulty expressing my ideas about Voris in less vehement ways. I was trying. I’ll take your comment as an invitation to try harder.

          • Bruce in Kansas

            When we observe something that on its surface does not make sense (like a blogger positing that the pope’s criticism of a lack of online civility is directed at others, but not at them) we are tempted to attribute this to evil in other men’s hearts.

            Knowing my own heart, I try (and aften fail) to resist doing this. It’s not easy.

            B16’s a pretty smart guy.

    • brettsalkeld

      Also, if the stats in the backroom here at VN are any indication, his popularity is growing. Both “michael voris” and “michael voris wikipedia” are among the top 7 search terms people used to find Vox Nova in the last quarter. If you discount “vox nova” itself as a search term (which has 5x more hits than the the #2 term because it’s easier to type “vox nova” into google than to type the whole url in your browser) and note that the #2 term (“st. olga”) is only up there because MSN used it as their BING search on all saints day, Voris has 2 in the top 5 (along with “peace,” “ashoka,” and “manhattan declaration”.) “realcatholictv” comes in at a respectable #15 after 5 different variants of vox nova, and our aforementioned St. Olga. Without those it’d be top 10 as well.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Another thought came to me as I was reading this: there is one reason why the “right” is more likely to come to the attention of the bishops and the Vatican than the “left”. It has been common for many years for those on the right to complain to the bishop about various priests and to go to the nuncio or to some congregation in Rome to complain about some bishop. The left does not (it seems to me) make the same kinds of complaints. (I am not saying it does not complain, but it complains in different forums.) Thus there could well be a differential in recognition by the bishops which may then affect their understanding of the Pope’s comments.

    I explored this question in detail with a priest friend because it is, I think, going to be a real issue for me if I do become a deacon: what will happen the first time someone calls the bishop to complain about one of my “heretical” or “liberal” sermons? (I don’t think I am either heretical or liberal, but that is a subject for its own thread.)

  • Brett writes, “First off, I’m nowhere near the left.”

    Sorry. I realized soon after posting my comment that I should not have referred to you as “someone on the left” since I didn’t know that much about your leanings. The point of my comment was to respond to MM’s assertion that “only one side” accuses people on the other side of being “fake Catholics”, since Voris is clearly on the right.

    You may not have called anyone “unCatholic”, but in my view, accusing someone of believing and teaching unCatholic ideas and doctrines amounts to the same thing, since to the extent that he does so, he is acting in an unCatholic manner.

    As to the appropriateness of the “left” and “right” tags, I think they are appropriate in that they communicate what they are intended to communicate. When someone refers to someone on the Catholic left or the right, it is immediately understood by most people (most people on VN at least) what is meant and what types of ideas are referred to. Therefore the words serve their function as signs expressing a specific idea.

    Further, I suspect it’s no mere coincidence that those on the “left” theologically tend also to be left politically, and similarly those on the right.