Thursday, August 11, 2011

Does a parish priest have time to blog?

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.
Blogging bishops:
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’.”
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.


Anonymous said...

Father, this was an interesting post. Thank you. I think it's great that priests blog and are active on the internet. Having said that, I think priests must be careful and circumspect in their blogging, particularly in more personal blogs. There is a huge potential for scandal, more so than in normal conversation or preaching (given the much larger audience, the weight of the written word, etc.).

In particular, things like sarcasm, ridicule, "rants," etc. are not uncommon, even among priest bloggers. This happens in normal conversation, too, but it has a greater and more lasting effect when it's blogged. I wonder how much different we would be (on the internet and off) if all of our examples from priests in the Catholic blogosphere taught us always to be charitable, kind, gentle, and patient. Of course there may be slip ups, but I think clerical bloggers especially need to be very careful in this regard.

I also think priests need to be wary and discreet when writing about their personal spiritual lives. I have even seen priests post things that state or directly imply that they have committed mortal sin in the recent past.

Stacy Trasancos said...

Wonderful post! You are a blessing Father Erlenbush. (My husband, by the way, uses old fountain pens that are restored. He leaves the blogging to his wife.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Father, I didn't realize I commented anonymously earlier (8:41 AM). I meant to sign it Julia.

-Julia :)

Richard Chonak said...

Fr. Jenkins of the "Blogger Priest" site is in another category, offering short apologetics pieces. I'm glad to see a priest take on this sort of teaching which, on the net, is mostly being done by laymen.

FatherTF said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post, Father. I occasionally have priests ask me in a rather accusatory tone "How do you find the time to write your blog?" My stock answer is "I don't have a television."

It is always amusing to hear the slightly panicky justifications: "I only watch documentaries", "I have it for the History Channel", "I think it's important to watch the news"...

We all have to prioritise and use our time as best we can.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr Finigan,
Great answer! I too find that not watching TV gives me a ton of time for theological study.

What I really love is when some (generally older) priests will say that they don't think a priest has time for theological study (or, I suppose, for a blog), but they faithfully read the New Yorker and other trash!
Set down that garbage and pick up the Summa!

Peace and blessings to you, Father, and keep up all the good work over at The Hermeneutic of Continuity!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, I too have seen priests "rant" on-line ... not very helpful.
But do be patient with us poor priests, we all have so far to go!

I recently heard a homily from Bishop Swain (Sioux Falls) in which he reminded us of a quote from St. John Vianney: "There are no bad priests, only priest for whom there is not enough prayer" (meaning that priests need to pray more themselves, and that we all need to pray for our poor priests).

Blessings and peace to you, and thank you for the comment (it is a good reminder to myself as well). +

Anonymous said...

I agree with Stacy; you are a blessing, Father!

The only drawback with priests/bishops blogging that I can see is that many Catholics in the pews are spiritually starved and starving, and may take up more of your time than you have to give. But that is the reality of being a Catholic in the year of Our Lord 2011.


Anonymous said...

"Set down that garbage and pick up the Summa!"

Ha!ha!ha! That's a good one. I agree.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Stacy, :-)

@RC, I am not familiar with "Fr. Jenkins" as an apologist blogger ... the only Fr. Jenkins I know of is the priest from Notre Dame University ... could you give a link to the website of the blogger Fr. Jenkins? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post Father. Like all catholic bloggers, priest have to be especially careful when it comes to expounding catholic doctrine. A great many lay 'Catholic bloggers' out there sometimes teach outright heresy and actually believe its sound catholic doctrine. Many souls can be lead astray. This can be particularly made worse when priests make doctrinal errors and assert false teachings. No one is immune from doctrinal error, false teachings or even heretical teaching. Anyhow, I would be in favour for some kind of oversight for priests (from their Bishop for example) to teach Catholic doctrine. All the best Father.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Very true!
btw, there is oversight for priests who teach Catholic doctrine -- they either have the faculty to preach or they don't. If they don't have that faculty (given by their bishop) then they probably shouldn't be publishing on-line either.
[for example, I have both the faculty to preach and express permission of my Bishop to write for this blog -- I should think that most blogging priests have the same]

[in this respect, I am far more worried about lay-bloggers who claim to be "Catholic Theologians" or "Catholic Apologists"... since many of them have not received any approval from their local bishops -- in this regard it is worth noting that Mark Shea (among others) regularly insists that he is NOT writing as a "Catholic Apologist/Theologian"; he has a great blog and is quite smart to emphasize that he is simply sharing the faith as a layman and not as a quasi-authority figure]

Anonymous said...

@ Father Erlenbush 3:17 pm.

True enough Father, priest have the faculty to preach. But that faculty is given by and large to preach in their own diocese under the authority of the Bishop. With internet, this becomes somewhat of a problem and some oversight is needed for priests.

I agree that lay-bloggers represent a problem when they claim to be this or that. However, their errors don't carry as much wait as the same error (doctrinal) carried by out a priest, precisely because he is a priest and folks will tend to lend credence to whatever a priest may say, even if its doctrinal error or heresy for that matter.

All the best.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A book receives an imprimatur from one bishop and is dispersed throughout the world.

If a blog is published in a particular diocese, with the permission of the local Bishop, then I see no reason why any further oversight is needed. Unless we are going to claim that some bishops are protecting heretics, I don't see why another level of oversight is required ... certainly if there were a serious problem (and, personally, I don't know of any) then the CDF could be alerted.

[this is why there is such danger when lay bloggers claim to be "Theologians" (it is great to have lay-bloggers, but they should be careful about how they present themselves -- I don't even call myself a theologian, and I am licensed by a Pontifical University to teach theology in seminaries!) ... these "theologians" have no level of oversight from the bishops, but the priests are generally fairly well guided by the bishops -- in this respect, we recall that it is a very serious matter for a person to publish "official" theological books or Bible translations or Catechisms, etc without the approval of the local bishop]

Peace. +

Anonymous said...

@ Father Erlenbush 3:37 pm

Father, in terms of blogging for priest, I was thinking something that would ressemble (but updated ) what the Fifth Lateran Council taught a long time ago. This Council dealt with the problem of persons who were preaching heresy, and making false prophecies. Here is a quote:

'We decree and ordain, with the approval of the sacred council, that nobody -whether a secular cleric or a member of any of the mendicant orders or someone with the right to preach by law or custom or privilege or otherwise -- may be admitted to carry out this office unless he has first been examined with due care by his superior, which is a responsibility that we lay on the superior's conscience, and unless he is found to be fit and suitable for the task by his upright behaviour, age, doctrine, honesty, prudence and exemplary life. Wherever he goes to preach, he must provide a guarantee to the bishop and other local ordinaries concerning his examination and competence, by means of the original or other letters from the person who examined and approved him. We command all who undertake this task of preaching, or will later undertake it, to preach and expound the gospel truth and holy scripture in accordance with the exposition, interpretation and commentaries that the church or long use has approved and has accepted for teaching until now, and will accept in the future, without any addition contrary to its true meaning or in conflict with it. They are always to insist on the meanings which are in harmony with the words of sacred scripture and with the interpretations, properly and wisely understood, of the doctors mentioned above. They are in no way to presume to preach or declare a fixed time for future evils, the coming of antichrist or the precise day of judgment; for Truth says, it is not for us to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. Let it be known that those who have hitherto dared to declare such things are liars, and that because of them not a little authority has been taken away from those who preach the truth .''


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, the good Council of the Lateran, fifth by that name!

Of course, the priest does receive faculties from his bishop and these are generally respected by all the bishops; unless there is some special circumstance.
The priests generally receive a "card" from their bishop which asserts that they are in good standing and faithful.
[this would seem to fulfill pretty well what the council asks for]

The final part of the quotation is also very good ... I have seen some "catholic theologians" on-line who are obsessed with predicting the future ... very dangerous!

Peace to you. +

Anonymous said...


I am indebted to your kind bishop for giving you the permission to do this. Many thanks to His Excellency! This blog has been a "soul saver" for me more than I can tell you.


Anonymous said...

I am not closed to the idea (in fact, I read some priests' blogs) and I'm sure it's important to have a presence on the web. I have been wondering, though, how some have the time, and if sometimes the time could be better spent going into the neighborhoods to try to bring people into the parish--actual people who are right next door who maybe are not getting ministered to. Or at least it shouldn't prevent such work.

Also, it just occurs to me that perhaps blogging should have to be under the supervision of the bishop or legitimate religious superior, because it's basically (at least at times) preaching, and don't priests have to have faculties to preach? But blogs are basically allowing a priest to preach anywhere in the world. So if error or bad attitudes show up, who is in charge of that? Since they are priests, there has to be greater accountability that for your average joe. Is there some oversight? ---Mouse

Anonymous said...

@ Father Erlenbush 4:18 pm

Along those lines from the Council, the more I think about it, the more I would like to see that priest bloggers receive, like you have, an authorization from their Bishop to blog (preferrably published), and that a kind of imprimatur and Nihil Obstat be given by the local Bishop so that:

1- Bloggers who assert to be priests can be proof checked by the faithful at the local ordinariate (this would prevent anonymous bloggers who claim to be priests)
2- With the imprimatur and nihil obstat, the blog, just like the book, is deemed to be catholic and without any doctrinal error and could therefore be published beyond diocesan boundaries.
3- The readers could, potentially, report the blog to the Bishop because some teachings have become contrary to the faith.
4- I like the card idea, perhaps a scan of the card on the priest bloggers website would be useful.

These are some of the safeguards I would put in place to protect the faithful.


Father Shane Johnson, LC said...

Thanks for the post, Fr Ryan! All very true.

Spread the word that we need more help on Tumblr... it's exploding among teenagers and college-age folk (traffic has quintupled in the 6 months I've been on it), but you can count the number of us priests microblogging there on one hand.

God bless!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Father Johnson,
Thank you for bringing our attention to this new media! I have to confess that I have been completely unawares of Tumbler.
Peace and many blessings on your work there! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I have to admit that I don't see the situation to be quite as perilous as you make it out to be.
If a priest is given faculties to preach and to hear confessions, then I should hope that he will write blog posts faithful to the Church. In any case, there are certainly plenty of solid lay people (like Jimmy Akin and Mark Shea, and even Michael Voris) to call him to task.

Thus, based on my limited knowledge of the blogosphere, I have to say that the real problem is with particular lay fanatics who claim to be "theologians", who denounce others and even denounce priests, but have no approval from their bishop -- most priest-bloggers are very solid and are promoting the true faith.

I hope that this makes sense and is clear enough. Peace to you! +

Anonymous said...

@ Father Erlenbush 8:45 pm

You are right, the situation is not perilous, but better safe than sorry!

Who are these lay fanatics you speak of claiming to be theologians ?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I will tell you who they are NOT ... I am not referring to people like Mark Shea, Jimmy Akin, Taylor Marshal, (even Michael Voris), et al.
They are doing great work! +

Anonymous said...

Yes Father, there is one guy that always wants to take you to task for your "heresies".

No one should be able to present themselves as a "Roman Catholic Theologian" just because they have a degree (especially a Bachelor's...) from an at least nominally Catholic institution. It implies they have some sort of "authority" when this is clearly not the case.


Baron said...

Dear Fr. Ryan,

Great to see you are doing well. Got some visitors from your neck of the woods in Co Springs a few weeks ago.

Regarding this topic, I would like to assert the validity of a regular parish priest also presenting a witness of the simplicity of a more "unplugged" life. IN a world where we have great breadth, there is so often little depth. Even in erudite blogs. As important as it is (and it really is) to have good priests blogging, I argue it is equally important to have men to show it is possible to e-detach and survive.

That being said, since I could not produce anything better than what is already out there (from the net to the Summa), I am happy to direct folks to these resources.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Peace to you as well!
Certainly, I think you are very right ... it would be good for many priests to live an "unpluggled" lifestyle, as a witness to others and also for their own personal holiness.
As I mentioned above, I do not think it would be good for most priests to blog.

I would probably go even further and say that a priest who blogs would benefit from limiting all other forms of e-life ... TV, movies, web-surfing, txting, et cetera.

Thanks for your comment - it is a good reminder!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

ah ... you must be referring to my dear friend Ron, he does not know how much good he does me (I myself can barely grasp the graces given me through his work, though they come in a manner far different than he realizes).

Anonymous said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

Fr. Joseph Jenkins, who runs the blog, is, like Msgr. Pope, a priest in good standing of the Archdiocese of Washington. I can personally guarantee that he is not at all like the other Fr. Jenkins of Notre Dame notoriety!

Fr. Joe has actually been blogging for a very long time, before blogging became popular. His latest blog, the one I linked to above, is mainly theological reflections and apologetic debates he has gotten into over the years, with occasional updates from his parish life. While he doesn't post as often as more popular bloggers, his posts are very thoughtful, if not a bit long for conventional posts. I definitely recommend the blog.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thanks for the great link! Fr. Joe is far more patient than I would be!

For our readers: The blog is basically a back-and-forth with evangelicals and anti-Catholics. Father Joe debates people who apparently write in or comment.
It is a fast-paced debate style, and certainly quite engaging.

Also, there are some posts which are more a matter of simply putting the faith out there in a quick and convincing manner.

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