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.
Prior 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.
The 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.