I agree with Fr. Martin regarding the overall tone of the Internet. When I first visited the Internet in 1997, it didn't take long to discover the virtual alley fights that occurred within the comment areas of online opinion pieces. It didn't bother me too much, though. Those who only commented to taunt and bait people, I learned, were called "trolls." They were often mocked and newcomers were told to "please don't feed the trolls." In other words, they were to be ignored.
I've ignored my share of trolls and also occasionally responded to their complete lack of intellectual honesty. But something is happening now within the Catholic blogosphere that I think is disingenuous. Which leads me to the article from America Magazine.
I was half-tempted to register with them just to leave a comment before saying, why bother? The slant of the article was offensive enough for a conservative Catholic and I'm not yet ready to accept the premise of it -- which is: Conservative Catholic bloggers are unloving and should take the log out of their own eye before judging someone else.
Unloving and Judgmental?
I've seen this argument before. It's usually hauled out when another Christian wants to defend either an erroneous belief or sin. Fr. Martin's position seems to indicate that constructive criticism is only available to those with a bunch of letters behind their names:
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.
This line of reasoning is at complete odds with the belief that examination of the Church is for everyone -- not just those with a theological background. If I remember correctly, Jesus didn't hang out with the "theological" gurus of His day, He hung out with those who would receive Him, the simple as well as the wise. In fact, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, although this does not mean easy. Centuries ago, it was an accepted belief by many Catholics that "only the priest" could read the Bible and tell them what it meant. I'll never forget when I attended a "Christ Renews His Parish" retreat with my mother; we were given our own Bibles and an elderly woman exclaimed in shock, "Oh, no! I can't read this! Only the priest can and then tell me its meaning!"
She was reassured by the retreat leaders that indeed, the Bible was written for her because God would use it to draw her closer to Him. So in other words, every Catholic has two very important books to help us draw closer to God and receive the graces of the Church: The Bible and the Catechism. As far as I'm concerned, I don't need to be working at the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in order to know what is aligned with Catholic doctrine and what isn't. All of the doctrine is clearly defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was the whole point of having the Catechism. The fact that criticism is coming from "someone barely out of college" who uses the Catechism for direction (in which case I say "hoorah!" for that devoted young person), doesn't matter. What matters is upholding the truth of Catholicism.
And, it goes without saying but I'll say it anyway, to speak that truth in love.
Narrow-minded? Or Committed to Fidelity to the Church?
Fr. Martin continues:
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?
Again, a disingenuous argument. It assumes that speaking of hot-button social issues is "narrow" and by implication, unloving. And, unfortunately, it is hypocritical. Who in the Church is championing the cause of active homosexuality? Who has been on an unerring track to pursue women's ordination? Who has said one can be Catholic and pro-choice at the same time? And who has been the biggest instigators of liturgical abuses? Certainly not conservative Catholics. In every one of those areas, it has been liberal Catholics who have rejected Church teaching, tradition, and Biblical instruction, in order to embrace worldly (and often sinful) philosophies that bring division and confusion to the Church.
Criticizing cultural issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion is a moral cause, and one I thought as Catholics we were called to challenge. When we see Catholic high schools not only accepting practicing homosexuality by their students but actively promoting it; you bet conservative Catholics are going to speak up. And we don't need a degree from a pontifical college to know it's wrong.
When those criticized respond by saying such challenges are "unloving" and "judgmental," I can only refer them to the Bible. Jesus Christ said many hard things during His time on earth. Was it loving to cast out the money-changers from the temple? Shouldn't He instead have said, "Gentlemen, this isn't the place for such activity, for it is a holy place. Please, kindly take your tables and merchandise elsewhere. Thanks." Would that have made an impact?
Jesus was angry and there was no mistaking it. He took the road of unleashing His righteous anger because of His love for His Father and a desire to see Him glorified outweighed His concern for offending people. He was upset that an area which was to be a place for worship and meditation was instead transformed into the equivalent of a busy mall.
I see conservative Catholic bloggers in the same light. They have endured many, many years of seeing the Mother Church maligned by those who would not defend her against the world. Yes, there is anger and frustration. I've already seen attempts by faithful Catholics to appeal to their bishop, often to no avail. There have been efforts by many to first write to their priest, and then write to their bishop if they didn't receive a response. There have been times when these same conservative Catholics tried to meet with the proper authorities to share their concerns. And the responses? They've varied from being ignored to condescension to at times, outright hostility toward those who refuse to march in lockstep with the "culturally-correct" view.
There have been orthodox seminarians who have been kicked out of their training because they didn't believe in women's ordination or recited the Rosary. There have been radical, feminist, lesbian nuns who seem to find more meaning in New Age practices than Catholic devotions. There have been faithful young Catholic graduates who can't find a job teaching in a Catholic high school because they're "too conservative" and thus, "narrow-minded."
The list goes on. In most of those cases, Catholics have looked to their priests and bishops to defend the Church and Catholic doctrine only to be dismissed and at times, mocked. One only needs to read The National Catholic Reporter to see the depth of the problem. Thankfully, not all priests and bishops respond in such manner. Many of them are faithful and understand the dilemma, often counseling their flock to love, to forgive, and to continue to uphold the truth.
The truth of the matter is that the Internet has finally given a voice to conservative Catholics and they're using it. No longer content to wait for a response from either a priest or bishop, Catholics have taken to the blogosphere to vent their frustration and question certain Catholic leaders' allegiance to the Magisterium. In fact, these Catholics (and I'm one of them) are exercising their "judgment of moral conscience" which, according to the Catechism, encourages a Catholic to do good and avoid evil.
From the CCC on The Judgement of Conscience:
1777 Moral conscience, 48 present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil. 49 It bears witness to the authority of truth in reference to the supreme Good to which the human person is drawn, and it welcomes the commandments. When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.
1778 Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:
Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise. . . . [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. 50
Finally, a Call for Action
What I believe conservative Catholic bloggers desire is for their church leaders to stand strong against a world that is increasingly hostile to the faith. If the Church looks like the world, and acts like the world, is it still the Church? We indeed are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, and yes, this involves sacrificial living and compassionately caring for the sick and wounded in our culture. But it also includes setting the captive free.
I loved my re-entry into Catholicism. I had finally made the decision to formally return to the Catholic Church after wrestling with it for a year. I made an appointment with a parish priest (who would end up being my parish priest) to discuss the issue. From my investigative efforts online, I realized that my husband's prior marriage could end up as a sticking point regarding my return and obtaining the Church's convalidation of our marriage. After confirming that I would need an annulment, this dear priest leaned across the table to look me directly in the eye and say, "I know it's difficult. But aren't you glad the Catholic Church cares about you enough to tell you the hard truth?"
I said, "Absolutely. And you know what I feel? Loved. Because I know the Catholic Church cares about my soul."
The priest smiled compassionately. The truth had been told to me in a loving manner, but it was uncompromising.
And that, ultimately, is what we as Catholics should all desire. That in a world full of darkness, the Church would shine the light and be steadfast in her mission -- to bring the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the needy, the lonely, and yes -- those entrapped in sin. Part of that mission includes confrontation. I pray that we continue to have meaningful dialogue, but make no mistake. That dialogue needs to be recognized and respected by all, no matter which side of the pew you occupy.