Bishop Demands Obedience of Catholic Blogger

And other fantastical thoughts.

Reflecting on the recent brouhaha regarding public Catholic personalities and the growing tribalism within the Church, I had an idea about what is lacking in our current tumultuous situation.

Accountability and obedience from rightful Church authorities.

Now now, before you run screaming away in shock and dread, humor me for a moment.

The Wild West of Catholic New Media

Some years back when blogs exploded in popularity and self-publishing in general grew exponentially, a new world was opened up for all people, including Catholics, to be able to have an instant, publicly available podium for teaching.

medi2Prior to this, writing options were more limited: print media primarily; hence the importance of the nihil obstat and imprimatur from the Church’s bishops. The gatekeepers were more important as they controlled who and what got published. Now, that didn’t stop some heterodox publications from seeing the light of day, but it was (and is) pretty clear which ones those were and where they stood.

Fast forward to this time of new media, and everyone is writing blog posts and books, as well as building platforms on social media sites like facebook, which also act as microphones to spread one’s thoughts widely across the world.

The problem with this is that we public Catholic personalities have very little accountability in terms of what we write. Is it orthodox? Is it prudent? Are we authorized to teach such-and-such topic?

While gatekeepers at Catholic media organizations still exist and can control what flows onto their online properties from Catholic writers and speakers, these media outlets are no longer the dominant and exclusive force they once were.

A Lesson From Eastern Orthodoxy

I recently finished Rod Dreher’s book on life lessons from Dante’s Divine Comedy, and one fascinating part of his story was his interaction with his Eastern Orthodox priest.

Dreher left Catholicism and became Orthodox in response to the priestly sexual abuse scandal. His local priest at their small Orthodox church is also a convert to Orthodoxy, and this priest became Dreher’s spiritual director, confessor, and pastor.

Well, we have that in the Catholic Church, too, but what’s different is the level of pastoral care that his priest could give him. Dreher’s priest put him under obedience to pray 500 Jesus prayers each day.

Now think about that: has a Catholic priest ever put you under obedience to do any spiritual discipline, beyond a few Hail Marys for a penance after Confession? I’ve never experienced that, nor even heard of it happening.

One Catholic friend of mine has actually begged his priest to put him under obedience! “Please, as pastor of my soul, demand I do something!”

Sounds medieval, doesn’t it? And I would say, medieval times were pretty good! Let’s bring this practice back.

No one thinks twice of following a sports coach’s directives to train: eat this, work out in that way, X times per week. If a coach didn’t do that, we would think he was doing a poor job!

Priests and bishops are our spiritual coaches: we need them to train us, to push us to go beyond our comfort zones. Yet this rarely happens.

A Blogger Obeys His Bishop

Now imagine if we public Catholic personalities were meeting with our priest and local bishop and receiving spiritual direction from them regularly. Imagine we were as close with them as Dreher is with his priest.

medi3The priest has been reading your facebook posts, your blog posts, your other works and he calls you to account for your behavior and words. What a revelation that would be!

And I don’t just mean this for those Catholics I disagree with; I need this too. We all need it. Left to our own devices–and to the affirming sounds emanating from our own online echo chambers–we will all fall astray into error in one way or another, in big or in small ways.

Imagine a bishop telling me or another public Catholic to “can it”. “Stop writing blog posts or posting on facebook for two months, or until you can demonstrate you’ll act with sense, charity, and prudence for at least two days in a row.”

I submitted my credentials to my bishop some years back, along with a copy of my book. I told him I was under his direction, to send me where I needed to go, to call upon me if ever he had a need, to correct me if I went wrong. Bishop Vasquez sent me a kind letter back, appreciating my message. But I have not received a call from him in praise or in censure for my public writings and words.

Granted, he is too busy. He has hundreds of thousands of Catholics under his care and cannot spend hours reading through my blog posts. And even my local priest is too busy: he has ten thousand souls under his care. Dreher’s situation works because Orthodoxy in Louisiana is a tiny minority and they have a good priest to lay person ratio.

So requiring such obedience of every Catholic is too much, but a good start would be focusing on the most well known public Catholics in the area. Start with the big Catholic politicians then move to the notable speakers and writers. If they are posting problematic content, correct them!

Under obedience, require us to pray a Rosary before writing anything on facebook or a blog each day. Under obedience, require us to send any potentially inflammatory post to our priest or bishop ahead of time for vetting. Imagine how different things would be.

As it is now, we public Catholics are renegades in the wild west, posting whatever we want with impunity. Most bishops and priests I wager have no idea who the prominent Catholic personalities in their area are and what they are writing.

The only time I have been asked for credentials by anyone is with my video course on conquering pornography. For some reason that topic brings out the demands for a nihil obstat when few others do. I am happy to answer that I have the endorsement of my local priest on the subject of helping Catholic men grow in purity, and the endorsement of my bishop for defending the Catholic Faith in general.

Obedience! Demands! Humble submission to rightful authority! Sounds great to me, let’s get medieval.

Mark Shea and Catholic Tribalism

Mark Shea was let go from the National Catholic Register, and it has made big waves in the Catholic blogosphere.

I’m friends with a broad spectrum of Catholics, so I saw responses ranging from campaigns to help Mark Shea and get him reinstated, to neutral calls to prayer, to gleeful posts from his enemies happy he got sacked.

My Friend, Mark Shea

Some might think it odd that I consider Mark a friend. I have recently written some blog posts that are more traditional-leaning, and Shea has written critically of Catholic traditionalists. I also own guns and can see how someone could vote for Trump, and am ardently pro-life, so I fall within several groups that Shea has lambasted in the past few years.

Hanging out with Mark!
Hanging out with Mark!

Nonetheless, I have a long enough memory to recall reading By What Authority sixteen years ago as an Evangelical Protestant and it being a key piece in my decision to become Catholic. One does not easily forget such pivotal books in one’s life, and Mark Shea wrote it.

Over the years I got to know Mark in the blogosphere. While he always had a more cutting or acerbic style, I also found him thoughtful and his writings good. He even made a few posts over the years mentioning me or some book I was working on.

Happily, we got to meet in person with our families several years back. He was giving a series of talks in New Mexico not far from where I was living. I drove with my wife and children to the town and we all had a nice picnic together. He signed my original copy of By What Authority, and we got to get to know each other better.

I was struck by the obvious frugality of the Shea family. A small thing, perhaps, but important. During that time he would do a tin cup rattle, asking for donations via his blog to pay for basic stuff like antibiotics or needed car repairs. He was not getting rich off the Catholic gigs, that was certain.

So Now We Disagree

I watched as the past few years went by, and his tone became more caustic. Being a member of several of the groups that were in his cross-hairs, many times I read something he wrote on facebook and shook my head. He was painting with a broad brush. I didn’t consider myself a “gun cultist” even though I had, after much thought some years back, decided to buy a gun.

The same went with the other categories. Pro-lifers I knew and was close with were the most caring people around: they took care of women and babies before, during, and after the baby was born. So his criticisms of pro-lifers fell flat for me, even though I could see the validity of his criticisms against a small subset of the group.

she1So Mark and I disagree about some things. We see them differently. We’re both Catholic converts, both apologists, both seeking to follow the Church’s teachings. In a sense I feel like we were rain drops that fell on the continental divide and through a small chaotic difference he went west toward the Pacific and I went east to the Atlantic.

But while we disagree, I can see how he believes what he does. I can see how he internally squares them with Church teaching, even if I don’t find the case persuasive. Being in the public eye and needing to publish or perish to make a living, I can see how he was stretched and frazzled and became more brittle over the years and endless facebook battles.

I do not rejoice that he was fired from the Register. I don’t begrudge them their decision–it was theirs to make–but for the simple fact that I have benefited from Mark’s work over the years, especially as a Protestant, I wish no man to lose a chunk of his livelihood, and I know the fear that comes from that possibility.

All the Myriad Ways

I find myself in a unique place in that I can see the viewpoints of Catholics on this matter across the spectrum. I am more traditional now and so I can see how the traditionalists are happy that something bad has happened to one of their enemies.

I can see how many ordinary Catholics were repulsed by Shea’s painting with broad strokes and caustic tone. And I can see how, for lack of a better word, more “liberal” but still-within-the-orthodox-boundaries Catholics feel a great injustice has been done.

Mark Shea has become a lightning rod highlighting the tribalism that divides Catholics in our country (and beyond). I don’t think he desired that or is happy about it, but he was caught in the center of the vortex (no pun intended) and got torn apart by it.

What do I hope? I hope that Mark can provide for his family, one way or another. I hope that he is able to find the peace of Christ and a good balance of writing on various subjects in a way that is not inflammatory. I do not wish him ill–how could I, when I am Catholic in no small part because of him?–but hope for his good.

Learn Like a Dominican

My friend TJ Burdick, a lay Dominican, coordinates the Dominican Institute, an online school where you can learn Catholic theology and philosophy from top-notch teachers for a bargain price.

Here’s a Q&A with TJ about the Institute and how you can benefit from it.

Q. Why did you create the Dominican Institute?

TJ Burdick: First, having been a blogger for several years now, I noticed that blogging can only reach so far. Teaching online courses can help sustain a potential servant of Christ much more than a blog post. Courses keep people more engaged, informed and closer in relationship than a brief 2 second view of a blog post could.

TJ Burdick

Second, I always wanted to study theology, but never had the funds to do so until Holy Apostles gave me a scholarship. Now, I have a ton of MA level theology friends that are all either working at low paying Catholic school jobs or stay at home dads who are the most brilliant people I know, I thought it a shame not to have them be able to share their knowledge with the rest of the world and, at the same time, receive a side income to boot. On top of that, there are many folks out there who want to study their faith seriously, but cannot afford to do so. Dominican Institute solves both of these problems.

Third, as a Lay Dominican, I believe there is a serious lack of solidarity in our formation programs around the U.S. I wanted to use the Dominican Institute as a platform for the laity, Lay Dominicans especially, to learn their faith in order to live it more fully. I also wanted to have a central location for a solid Lay Dominican formation program, hence the Dominican Studies courses being offered will satisfy that need. The other courses will help solidify a varied spectrum of Catholic teaching.

One of the cool things that this site will also offer that other Universities can’t are niche courses that are specific to student interest. Courses that would never make it past a University board or committee can be taught here. So, courses on Chesterton, Theology of the Body, Online Evangelization, Graphic Design can be offered, making our reach extend much farther.

Q: What is the Dominican Institute?

TJ: The Dominican Institute is an online Catholic learning platform that offers university level instruction to those who seek to learn about the Catholic faith. Students have the ability to study under instructors who have earned their M.A. and/or Ph.D. in their subject discipline. Course credits can be used for continuing education, catechetical certification, lay religious formation, professional development and a host of other purposes.

  • Philosophy
  • Theology
  • Apologetics
  • Evangelization
  • Education
  • Dominican Studies
  • Catholicity

Q: How do students receive credits?

TJ: Students receive credits based on the length of each course in the following manner:

5 week course = 1 credit

15 week course = 3 credits

Q: What do online courses look like?

TJ: Each course is created in one of two formats:

Instructor-led: in which the professor has consistent interaction with the students via forums, essay feedback, google hangout lectures, webinars, etc.)

Automated: in which the student goes at their own pace learning from a finely designed syllabus and concluding with a final, multiple choice, test to ensure proper comprehension of the course material.

Q: What do I get from taking courses with the DI?

domin2TJ: Upon successful completion of each course, students will be given one of three types of certificates:

Individual course completion certificate

This certificate will prove satisfactory completion of the course as deemed by the instructor on behalf of the Dominican Institute (DI). These can be used as proof for their continuing education certification or other necessary certification documentation.

Pillar certification

This certificate will be given to students who have successfully completed 15 credits through the DI. This certificate will allow them to take all future courses with the DI at at 30% discount and will provide them with an honorary award of excellence assuming the following is true:

They have taken at least 1 course in each discipline.
They have successfully passed each course with satisfactory marks
They either are currently involved in or being considered as candidates for some sort of Catholic ministry, be it online or corporal.
Senior scholar certificate-

This certificate will be given to students who have successfully completed 30 credits through the DI. This certificate will allow them to take all future courses with the DI at a 50% discount and will provide them with an honorary award of excellence assuming the same criterion from the Pillar certification is true plus the following additional criterion

They have written a 10-20 page essay on a specific theme that pertains to their primary discipline of interest.
Q: How much does it cost?

TJ: Course prices are as follows:

15 week instructor led- $150

15 week automated- $120

5 week instructor led- $60

5 week automated- $40

Q: Who should take courses?

Our target audiences are people who can’t afford higher education but want to learn more about their faith on their own time; catechists pursuing certification in their diocese, and third order religious who seek organized spiritual/academic formation. We will also be seeking homeschool and college prep students once we develop credibility and any necessary certifications.

The courses being taught this fall are impressive; I’m interested in several:

  • Classical Apologetics in the Modern World, Mr. Doug Beaumont, Ph. D.
  • Fundamentals of Dogmatic Theology, Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P., M.A.
  • Foundational Bioethics, Mr. Ryan Mayer, M.A.
  • Natural Theology, Mr. Joseph Wetterling, M.A.
  • Church History, The Early Church, Matthew Vander Vennet, M.A.
  • The Great Heresies, Matthew Vander Vennet, M.A.
  • Philosophical Foundations, Mr. Russel Crawford, M.A.
  • Logic, Mr. Russel Crawford, M.A.
  • Philosophy of Religion, Mr. Russel Crawford, M.A.
  • Introduction to Dominican Spirituality, Mr. T.J. Burdick, O.P., M.A.
  • Teach Like Jesus, Philosophy, Pedagogy, Management, Mr. T.J. Burdick, O.P., M.A.

Please do check out the Dominican Institute to grow in your understanding of the Faith!