Crux ran a commentary recently by a frequent Catholic priest blogger from Patheos, entitled “Radical Catholic blogs may be a cesspool, but saying so won’t help.” The blogger laments aspects of the “traditionalist” Catholic blogosphere, but at the same time, maintains that the problem is not the traditionalists themselves, but rather the weakness of mainstream Catholicism:

It doesn’t take a radical traditionalist to admit that Catholic catechesis over the last fifty years has been weak and often non-existent.

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, too much preaching and catechesis focused only on peace and justice issues, or presented a subjective and sentimental understanding of the Catholic faith. Pastors and catechists are not the only ones at fault. The Catholic faithful themselves have too often preferred a fuzzy, feel-good message.

Indifference, and indifferentism, have produced a notoriously lax and ineffectual form of American Catholicism. Catholics who are looking for a faith with rigor, discipline and a tough line are invariably drawn to the traditionalist message. It is possible to find a strong, joyful traditional Catholic witness that combines clarity and charity, and those who relish Catholicism with grit should search out such communities.

Unfortunately, such teachers and parishes are hard to find, and too often the “Church of the Internet” takes over.

To me, Fr. Longenecker’s response seems oversimplified at best. Is it really true that “a notoriously lax and ineffectual Catholicism,” a “subjective and sentimental understanding,” a “fuzzy and feel-good message” is that pervasive? And what precisely is the causal connection between hearing weak homilies on Sunday and falling into the arms of those who deny the legitimacy of the Holy Father? What exactly is “Catholic” about accepting “the Church of the Internet,” as opposed to the Church as constituted by the sacraments administered by the local bishop and his priests and deacon in communion with the bishop of Rome?!

But more importantly, Fr. Longenecker’s piece is part of a larger exchange, starting from Fr. Thomas Rosica’s critique of the traditionalist blogosphere:

Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we ‘Catholics’ have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!… Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people.

When I discovered this exchange, I found myself asking: OK, what good is this doing? We have competing diagnoses – by clergy, no less – each of which makes broad claims which, if applied to any particular person or group, may not be particularly fair or enlightening. And all this in the name of charity.

Anyway, this exchange made me think about certain issues. In anticipation of the Friday afternoon panel on blogging and Catholic theology at the upcoming College Theology Society convention, I pose three questions for Catholic blogging that are worth considering moving forward:

  1. Why not ask all Catholic bloggers to acknowledge guidelines for charity and civility in their conversation? We knew from the start at CMT that these guidelines were absolutely essential, and we have tried very hard to abide by them. Perhaps this could be particularly applied to clergy who blog, because (after all) they are under a vow of obedience anyway! But of course I think it should merely be a requirement of public conversation in the Church.
  2. What is the role of groups in blogging? At CMT, we have tried our best to develop a group that represents a fairly wide range of views, but perhaps not the absolute extremes. It seems to me good blogs have such groups, in part to be intentional about creating an interesting conversation, but also because being part of a wider group (I think) means that we all exercise a bit more care and self-control when we blog. We have had a couple experiences where we have had “behind-the scenes” conversations go on, due to a posting by a given blogger which another blogger found extreme. Mostly, these have been constructive and helpful – a kind of group accountability.
  3. Finally, who gets to blog? I understand that this is more or less a forbidden question. By definition, anyone is supposed to be able to blog, right? Well, count me a fan of editorial oversight. For myself, I have found the greatest barrier to more frequent blogging is the challenge of scheduling it into my other responsibilities – and normally, blogging isn’t perceived with any importance at all compared to those responsibilities. Hence, I don’t do it as much as… well, a lot of other people who have more time and are self-appointed experts. I’m tempted to wish for a new Ex Corde, in which blogger must receive mandatum from their local ordinary – simply in the sense that they do not represent as Catholic teaching that which is not Catholic teaching. Not really a serious proposal, of course… but some kind of reasonably attentive oversight would be helpful. After all, the bishops review movies. Many oversee who gets invited to speak at parishes. There is absolutely no reason why they could not review blogs.

I offer these questions, not because I think I have the answers, but because I’m looking forward to a stimulating conversation in Kansas City with others who are thinking about these things, too, and have better answers than I!