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.

15 thoughts on “Bishop Demands Obedience of Catholic Blogger”

  1. I would add that “freedom of speech and press” is not a Catholic teaching, much less a virtue. The Church has repeatedly condemned the notion we are naturally free to speak our minds in such forums that are directed towards ‘mass consumption’ (not a Eucharist pun). This is the heresy of Liberalism-Conservatism, which I wrote about (and you enjoyed) a while back that even the Traditionalists succumb to:

    I guess it’s good that these things are happening in the sense it allows the true teachings to get discussed. Too often, it seems the biggest culprits have financial stakes in what they’re publishing, so feeding off drama becomes a tendency, especially when an otherwise good author is told/forced to keep publishing when they simply are out of original ideas. Think of your favorite bands that keep putting out albums: eventually the quality of their work goes down, but they keep publishing garbage (making themselves look worse and worse) for the meager money they can squeeze out. Good authors/artists need to know when to stop/retire, even just for their own reputation.

  2. Dreher was not under obedience to his pastor, but to his spiritual director. Moreover, in the East the relationship between the disciple and his spiritual director, or rather, his staretz, has different parameters, in harmony with their customs and traditions, not ours. Furthermore, thanks to this close relationship, his staretz knew him well enough to discern the spiritual exercise that he needed for the wellbeing of his soul.

    Having said this, I hope that it’s clear that extending this example to the general population of a parish, much less of a diocese, is impossible. Some things just do not scale, especially when justice is to be preserved.

    Certainly prominent Catholics would benefit from having a spiritual director, but even this couldn’t be commanded even by the pope, for no one can be compelled to a private relationship.

  3. Rod Dreher has a spiritual director. You don’t seem to have one. You assume your parish priest has the training, time, inclination, temperament,—whatever to be one. Not so. Not every priest is trained in spiritual direction. My parish priests aren’t computer users. How could they ever know what a blogger was talking about? As a blogger, maybe you should find a Paulist as a spiritual director. Their apostolate is the media and maybe you can find one trained for spiritual direction, too.

  4. Very good, Devin….here’s one for you: what if the local diocese does not accept books for Imprimatur /Nihil Obstat?

    We are nearly done, & hit that snafu….

  5. A couple of thoughts, which will be, I confess, perhaps contrary to each other:

    “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?”

    I actually suspect, and therefore propose, that all Catholics are now more accountable than they have been since the 1960s.

    How can I say that? Well, I think the evidence is flat out there.

    I’m 53 years old. I don’t recall much of the pre Vatican Two Church, but I do recall the 1970s and the 1980s. I’ve sat through teen life Masses. I’ve been fortunate to have great orthodox Priests for the most part, but I’m not unfamiliar with the “liberal” Priests and I’m certainly not unfamiliar with liberal Catholics. And, watching the long trend, I think that average Catholics are held more accountable now for their daily conduct, including writers, than they have been at any time in that entire period. And the clergy too.

    Why, well, in the poorly catechized poor church information period of the 1970s it was pretty easy for any one Catholic and even a Priest to depart from orthodoxy and maintain “the Church said it was okay” or “The Priest said it was okay”. Not now. Too much information out there. As somebody who has been pretty close to the daily ins and outs of things, I think at this period it really tends to be those who came of age in the 1960s who still think that they can depart from orthodoxy and not be off the mark. Some do, of course, but they generally are well aware of it or simply not in the realm of people who will get educated.

    Okay, my second thought.

    A lot of this has come from below, not from above. Indeed, we are in an interesting period when the laity is often a lot more vocal about orthodoxy than the clergy sometimes is, particularly the higher up you go. I think Catholics in the pews really do want to hear Bishops say “this isn’t square with the church” on all sorts of things, but we rarely do. If we have a Justice Kennedy, for example, who can’t tell the difference between men and women, we don’t seem to have a Bishop who will go to his Parish the next weekend and say, “Anthony. . . stop by the confessional and visit with me and we’ll discuss biology as well as the concept of repentance. . . and skip the line to communion this week”, from the ambo. Nor do we have one who will say “Tim. . . .you can’t run for VP while backing a group that supports killing at both ends of life and still think you are square with us.” All that sort of information comes from the laity, or tends to.

    As for Bishops actually giving bloggers directions or nil obstats, they’re not going to. If they won’t say anything about the politicians by name, they aren’t going to get involved in daily writing. Some Priests might, however. And you’ve probably noted how much that offends some.

  6. I would basically agee if we had bishops in the model of Fulton Sheen. But just think…bloggers would need to SEARCH for a good bishop. Can you imagine being under obedience to Mahony or Hunthausen or Adamec? No orthodox bloggers would be able to write anything.

    Can you imagine Ezekiel and Jeremiah being allowed to write “Woe to the false shepherds!” in Cupich’s diocese? I’d rather be under obedience to G.K. Chesterton than most of our modern bishops.

  7. My scripture-writing namesake puts it well, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1)” I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Catholic personality, but I think we all have a responsibility to be careful out here in the blogosphere. If I may make a shameless plug, I have a mostly lighthearted, observational blog I like to think is a pleasant place for any Catholic to visit. I’d appreciate it if you would stop by and let me know what you think of it.

    1. A writer or a blogger is not quite the same league as a teacher.

      A blogger especially not so, since he can be booed “out of class” in ways in which a teacher can’t, if he writes nonsense (OK, he can avoid it by using comment validation).

  8. What exact amount of obedience was involved in a Nihil Obstat?

    150 Hail Mary’s before writing the day’s pensum?

    50 Hail Mary’s?

    No, only ONE thing : keeping Orthodox and sensible.

    Any way you do that, including living a sinful life and hoping to make penance to save your soul just before you die, if it doesn’t interfere with writing in an Orthodox and sensible way, is FINE, as far as the Nihil Obstat is concerned.

    If Dreher is profiting from 500 Jesus Prayers a day, let him do so.

    But that is not a credential like having a nihil obstat.

    And a Nihil obstat required the bishop (or his censor deputatus) to take a look at the wri-TING, not the wri-TER.

  9. Having no idea whatsoever what you meant by “recent brouhaha”… and finding comments on that article closed… I will comment here.

    I am a life-long Catholic and have only very recently become aware of the “Catholic blogosphere”. Ask the crowd coming out of a typical Sunday mass, and I bet 5% or less will have any clue that it exists. I found within mere days that very little of these web sites – practically none – are worth reading. The Latin Mass is the only way. Oh wait, no it isn’t. Forget all that, support my “apostolate” instead.

    Imagine what great things could be done if all the energy channeled into the unregulated so-called “Catholic media” – all the time of the writers, and of the readers, and of the fundraisers, etc. – was channeled into useful charity work under the Church’s auspices.

    Again, only 5% of all Catholics would have any clue that this was going on, but it would be so much more productive than this stuff.

  10. I can’t tell if that’s sarcastic or what.

    But I mean it. Suppose the bishops decreed that all the blogs should be shut down. All they do is promote bickering and wasting of time. Shut it all down under pain of … well I don’t know exactly what, but suppose they said to shut down all this stuff, that they’re cracking down and taking charge.

    Would any of you listen? After all, that’s the premise of this article, isn’t it?

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