The question of clerical bloggers
The Catholic blogosphere sometimes reminds me of the early Church – all sorts of people are saying all sorts of things, some are right, some are almost right, and some are way wrong. The internet is an environment with very little control, hence there is almost no on-line oversight from the Church’s pastors (i.e. the bishops). What is more, the internet culture is often looked down upon by the Hierarchy – both by bishops and by many of the priests. I notice that older priests are especially quick to discredit Catholic blogs (whether this is because the Catholic blogosphere is quite conservative or whether it is just a simple matter of “hiding one’s head in the sand”, I do not know).
There are legitimate questions raised occasionally, especially when it comes to priests (and, I suppose, bishops) who contribute to blogs: Is the blogosphere really a dignified place for a preist? Does a priest have time to write for a blog? And, finally, If a priest does have a blog, what should it look like?
In this little article, I would like to provide something of an answer to these questions. In the course of my response, I hope as well to give people a little insight into how a priest might fit “blogging” into his busy schedule.
Pope Benedict and clerical blogging
The first question: Is the blogosphere really a dignified place for a cleric?
Rather than entering into a philosophical and historical study of the role of technology in the Church’s mission, I will instead invoke the moral authority of a couple of bishops (one being our Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome). On a theoretical level, suffice it to say that those who reject the technology of the internet ought likewise to oppose the technology of paper and the revolutionary invention of books (not to mention such modern creations as the fountain pen).
Here is a short list of a few bishops who contribute regularly to blogs. I provide them as an authoritative witness to the legitimacy of clerical blogging. If any want to discredit or dismiss priests who blog simply because of the nature of the blogosphere, such persons will also be dismissing and discrediting these bishops as well.
His Eminence, the Most Reverend Sean Cardinal O’Malley: Cardinal Seán’s Blog
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy Dolan: The Gospel in the Digital Age
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Christopher Coyne: Let Us Walk Together
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Kevin Farrell: Bishop Kevin Farrell
And many, many others besides. [moreover, we note that Cardinal Burke, and Archbishops Dolan and Chaput (to name a few) have Facebook pages as well]
More than this, there is the clear desire of His Holiness the Pope:
“Responding adequately to this challenge amid today’s cultural shifts, to which young people are especially sensitive, necessarily involves using new communications technologies. […] The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts. Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word [...] Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ. They will best achieve this aim if they learn, from the time of their formation, how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord. Yet priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a ‘soul’ to the fabric of communications that makes up the ‘Web’.”
- Benedict XVI, 44th World Day of Communications
Hence, in answer to our question – Is the blogosphere a dignified place for a cleric? – we must state, He had better make it to be so! It is the duty of the Catholic to subject the technological advances in communication to the service of the Gospel, and this falls especially upon the priests who are charged by the Church to preach the faith in the world.
How a priest might maintain a blog
For the priest who is already generally well educated in the faith (and that should be all of them), it would not be difficult to maintain a blog in terms of the content. If a priest is writing about theological points, especially since he would probably be writing from a less academic perspective and more from a pastoral focus, he should not need to do much research for his posts. Thus, the main work will simply be writing the articles.
Personally, I can say that a post rarely takes me more than thirty minutes to write, often it requires less time. Adding the proof-reading and formatting, I generally can get a post done in under forty-five minutes.
As far as the preparatory research is concerned, readers will notice that almost all of my writings are based on the liturgical calendar in some respect – generally, they are related to the Sunday readings or to the saints. Most of the posts come from the study I am already doing in reference to my pastoral duties as a parish priest. In any case, it would be good for all priests to spend at least two hours a day in study – if they were to use one half hour per day on preparing and posting a blog article, most priests could be contributing an article almost every day.
Something else that helps the priest to maintain a blog is that it is possible to schedule articles to be published well in advance of the actual posting date. Personally, I am almost always two weeks ahead of schedule; occasionally, I will get a full month ahead. This allows the priest to maintain the blog and at the same time takes off any pressure of a deadline.
Finally, again speaking from personally experience, I will say that the most difficult and time-consuming part of a blog is answering comments. Still, I am convinced that responses in the comment box can bring a great level of clarity to points that would otherwise be left in obscurity.
Therefore, it seems that our second question – Does parish priest have time to blog? – can generally be answered in the affirmative.
The example of Msgr. Charles Pope
Now we turn to the final question: What should a priest’s blog look like?
There are certainly many models of what a clerical blog could be – some are far more personal, others are more theological, others still are liturgical, and some are more of a news-source. Most incorporate the various aspects together.
Take Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s blog – it is primarily (in my opinion) a “news-source” blog. He almost always deals with things happening in the current news. However, it is obviously a “liturgical” blog; and even most of the news is liturgical in character. Finally, I would say it is a very “personal” blog: His readers know all about his personal tastes when it comes to food and drink (he recently posted an article dedicated to the “gin and tonic” drink – and he is quite famous for the before and after pictures of his meals), his hobby of bird-watching, his travel itineraries, et cetera.
Then, there is a blog like that of Fr. Longenecker – it strikes me as a much more “pastoral” blog. He often posts articles that are more-or-less homilies. Certainly, it is “theological” as well; since he is very much dedicated to spreading the Gospel and explaining the Faith.
I would suppose that our blog, The New Theological Movement, would be pretty lop-sided to the “theological” side. However, we do try to post often on the spiritual life. We are very consciously neither a “news-source” blog, nor a “personal” blog – in fact, this is by far the most “personal” post we have published to date (excepting, perhaps, our “contributors” page).
Personally, I think that Msgr. Charles Pope, over at the Archdiocese of Washington blog, is the best example of a priest-blogger (and I mean no slight to other clerical bloggers by that assertion). Msgr. Pope posts articles which range from his Sunday homilies, to interesting theological and spiritual reflections, to insights gained from his many years of priestly ministry in parish life. Msgr. Pope strikes me as a true “pastor” in the blogosphere – this is particularly evident in the fact that he responds to many (nearly all) of the comments which he receives [in this regard, the good Monsignor has inspired me; though I still need to grow in imitating his gentleness and patience at times].
Concluding thoughts – Priestly brotherhood
A priest does far more good through the face-to-face pastoral ministry to which he has been assigned by his bishop than through his blog writings. There is always something suspicious about a priest who is more dedicated to the media and to technology than to the down-to-earth administration of the sacraments – here, the case of Fr. John Corapi comes to mind.
Still, where would we be if St. Thomas Aquinas had refused to teach in the “novel” universities (which, in his time, were not that well established as places befitting of clerics) – rejecting them as too “main stream”, too “secular”, and “just a fad”? At least some priests (and bishops and deacons) must write for blogs. The internet must be conquered for Christ and subjected to his rule. Though the process will be long and is sure to be fraught with difficulties, at least some clerics must (by the express wish of the Pope) enter this new world and preach the Gospel with clarity.
Certainly, most priests will not be inspired to write for a blog. In fact, most priests would not be very good as “bloggers” (it’s ok, you don’t have to be a good blogger to be a good priest!). Moreover, it would probably not be good for most priests to have a blog – since this would flood the blogosphere. Still, at least some should take up this task; and the others who are not so-called should rejoice in the gifts which God has bestowed on their brothers.
Let not the foot disdain the hand, nor the ear the eye; but let us all recall that we are one body in Christ our Savior.