Much has been said in the last week about Pope Blessed John Paul II and how he steadied the Church at a time when it seemed to be almost in free-fall, and how he turned the tide to the best of his ability, and kept us from going the way of, say, the Anglican Communion.
Similarly, at least to a certain extent, I credit the Internet and the personal blogs of some Catholics with the resurgence of liturgical tradition, since it helped like-minded people to find each other, as well as fostering a sense of the need to continue to reinforce authentic Catholic identity. Sure, there are blogs “on the other side” (like some of those associated with National Catholic Reporter – though not John Allen, of course) which complain loudly about the new Beato and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, as having undermined what they think the last Ecumenical Council was supposed to do and what was supposed to happen as a result of it. I’ve not done a headcount, but this latter sort of blogger seems to be in a minority and the more “conservative” (a word I dislike intensely) bloggers seem to have a more notable online presence.
I think one of the reasons the Pontifical Council for Social Communications is hosting this Rome bloggers’ meeting is precisely because some such “Catholic blogs” might being doing more harm than good in some ways, in the sense of all the backbiting comments and name-calling of bishops, etc. I think there is a genuine concern on the part of some Vatican functionaries and bishops in various places (I’d guess mostly in the English-speaking world) that a fair number of bloggers who self-identify as Catholic, or whose blogs after a cursory read can lead one to believe they are Catholic, have very little formal education in Catholic theology or catechetics or associated disciplines and that there seems to be a certain level of misinformation and an inaccurate portrait of the Catholic Church being (perhaps unwittingly) spread by them. When bloggers have solid formation and training -- Fr. Z. and other learned priests come to mind -- I think the results can be good. When people who say they are Catholic rant and rave and use bad language on their blogs and perpetuate misunderstandings of doctrine or points of Church history or related matters, then I don't see what good they do.
The twin factors of not having adequate training (or permission to engage in such debates, since many give at least the appearance of “speaking for the Church" to some degree) plus the overall lack of accountability are major problems. Two additional problematical elements are those of advertising* and asking for donations from people one has never met (one's regular readers for the most part).
For me, the Catholic blogosphere has come to feel rather small over the last five or six years, and among the blogs I check in on there are several which belong to bloggers I've shared apartments with, traveled with, attended conferences with, studied with in Rome or elsewhere, those who are or were my fellow-parishioners, plus people who have helped me in many ways, plus those I have found jobs for or people I've worked for, or socialized with on a number of occasions, or who at the very least are friends of friends, etc. -- they make up, in short, a segment of the blogosphere inhabited by Catholics I know somewhat well. Below is a partial list of blogs (or websites which have blogs) for which I can claim some personal acquaintance with the authors or bloggers (several of whom below will be at the Rome bloggers' meeting):
Le Suisse Romain
New Liturgical Movement
Fr. Gabriel Burke
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Inside the Vatican
The Hermeneutic of Continuity
Catholic News Agency
Madrid11 (World Youth Day site)
The Chant Cafe
What I can tell you is this: while I am not necessarily referring to anyone on the list above, merely making an observation based upon my own experience with "Catholic bloggers" in general, few bloggers who are Catholic have any relevant qualifications to be blogging about Catholicism in the manner which they do. Indeed a fair number of bloggers who blog about Catholic matters appear to be chronically unemployed or underemployed and, assessing their overall writing ability, seem to have limited formal education or at least not much beyond the secondary level. According to their own blogs, several of the US bloggers invited to Rome lacked passports and/or enough money for a round trip airline ticket. Most of all, a not insignificant number of them would appear to have a great deal of time on their hands, or seem to want to make a "career" out of blogging about Church affairs. Some have an incomplete grasp on their own faith at best: one need only recall the unfortunate example of Gerald Augustinus and what was once a very popular “Catholic blog.”
A friend of several worthy Irish bloggers told me I was being "judgmental" by pointing this out (which in itself I found somewhat judgmental!). But persons who put themselves and their opinions and (perhaps the proverbial too much) information about their circumstances out there in the blogosphere have to expect occasional remarks or criticism, some positive and some negative.
Yes, on rare occasions, I too chime in. I started this blog four years ago to let friends know I was still alive, since due to my travels and spending my time shuttling back and forth from Italy and France to various places in the United States, even those closest to me sometimes wondered where I might be and if I was all right. I like to share some of my photos and good news, along with articles I find interesting and things to mark the change of liturgical season and the like. Otherwise, I try to confine myself to areas where I can claim at least some verifiable expertise. I do not feel it is appropriate to comment upon many events or every event in the Church, especially if something happens which I perceive as negative, much less on political matters in various places in the world. I know some history (lifelong study plus a bachelor's degree) and a fair amount of canon law (again, a great deal of personal study plus a Licentiate in canon law from a pontifical university in Rome, and now doctoral studies at Louvain), and I try to stick to those things.
However, I also have a great love for traditional liturgical forms, and after belonging for five years as a most active member (and volunteer sacristan) to a parish in Rome which celebrated the classical Roman Rite, in addition to have been a research assistant to one of the world's finest liturgy scholars, and having studied liturgical law along with canon law, I feel I have some modest competence to make the odd comment here and there on liturgical matters, from the perspective of an ordinary member of the laity in the pews. Additionally, thanks to having been a research assistant to"one of the 20th century's greatest thinkers" I also feel I can make the occasional observation on faith and science issues.
What I hope the bloggers hear at the Rome meeting is that they should remember they are Catholic and to conduct themselves accordingly online. I also hope that they will be encouraged to seek out better training and more education regarding the matters they feel “called” to comment upon, and to be vigilant about the tone of their posts as well as their comboxes. I do not want to see censorship, but I would hope that bloggers would realize that there is the possibility that such blogs might be a non-believer’s first contact with the Catholic Church and with our faith and that dissention, complaints, rudeness, calling this person (or Cardinal!) or that university bad names online and in public are in no way helpful.
*Yes, I have an Amazon widget on my blog: I receive no benefit from having it there, and have only recently included it since I keep getting asked where some of the featured books can be found, especially the ones on liturgy and liturgical ceremonies and rubrics.
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
"The Catholic Church needs active members who blog, but Catholic bloggers also need the church, especially to remind them of the virtue of charity needed in their writing, said participants at a Vatican meeting."
"But he [Fr. Lombardi] also said that the whole question of bloggers' self-centeredness and 'ego' is 'one of the problems which is worth reflecting on,' because while it is a danger for all communicators, a communicator who calls him- or herself Catholic must focus first on serving others."