Some of the discussion seems to indicate some moves in the direction of a little more openness to blogs and the social media as a means of engagement more generally. But some of the comments, I would suggest, indicate a continuing ambivalence to the modes of discourse embedded in the social media today.
In particular, a reluctance to adopt the dialectical mode favoured by the new media that tests propositions through debate.
Read the blogs?
Over at Cath News for example, Ms Hogan reports that Monsignor Tighe encouraged participants to read widely, even (perhaps especially) of those critical of you:
"A little further down the track, Mons Tighe told the Congress on Tuesday: “We can use new media to learn about the people we are trying to engage with. Without having to respond formally to their questions [why not?] - read the blogs, read the people you don't like, read the people who are criticising you.”
Let's take his second point first, read the blogs.
Personally, I do regularly peruse (when I'm feeling strong) the views of those I strongly disagree with and consider to be on the fringes of the faith or outside it, such as Catholica Forum, V2Catholic, Cath News and Eureka Street.
But like Ms Hogan (and I imagine many others) this can often be a fairly challenging task:
"Read the blogs! Sometimes it is extremely difficult to read the spin put on even the most anodyne blogs by people with a ferociously held and determinedly expressed agendas from the deep fringes of the Church’s extreme wings."
Where the centre is: orthodoxy
The first issue for me at least however is that criticism of one's (actual) views is one thing, promotion of outright heresy is another.
I rather think Ms Hogan and I would differ rather strongly on exactly what constitutes the 'deep fringes of the Church's extreme wings'.
In my view, what makes one's views fringe or extreme is not how many people in any particular time and place happen to agree with you, but where you stand in relation to the timeless teaching of the Magisterium.
The liberals may have control of most dioceses and their catholic media outlets at the moment, but like past such periods, this too will pass!
My personal view is that unless you have a very strong grounding in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and theology more generally, you should stick to blogs and other news sources that are at the heart of the Church, that is, that respect and promote its teachings, rather than subjecting yourself to those sources seeking to undermine the faith, directly or indirectly.
Or if necessary, use the orthodox sources to help you interpret what is coming at you from elsewhere!
Read orthodox blogs of the kind highlighted in The Pulp.It and New Advent (see the right sidebar). Yes, they are often highly selective (you won't find my critiques of conservative American takes on social policy being picked up over there!). But they will quickly lead you into the debate.
Look to news aggregation services that feed your faith rather than attempt to subvert it such as the Vatican, Pewsitter and the Life Site.
And read Catholic newspapers committed to the promotion of the faith, such as the excellent UK Herald.
Then set all of that context against what you are being fed from the more dubious sources!
Dialogue vs dialectic
The other part of Monsignor Tighe's comment though, that one doesn't need to respond to what is being said, I do take rather stronger issue with.
Part of the problem I suspect, for the generation whose world views was shaped by the revolution of the 1960s and 1970s is their commitment to the idea of 'dialogue'.
Dialogue in this context is a code word for tolerance of other views of the world, and the attempt to find good in the other. And in a world where Catholicism was well-entrenched and most people absorbed their faith by immersion in it, it must have seemed a reasonably safe approach to try. But in practice it tends to conflate the idea of respect of the other with a relativism that makes all religions and beliefs equal.
The insistence on dialogue was a reaction to what was seen as an undue insistence on the Church's monopoly as the custodian of truth. The theory behind it, I think, was well-meaning: it reflected an assumption that hardline positions were offputting. It is an assumption, though, which in my view has not stood up to empirical testing: 'hardline' religions such as Islam are growing rapidly; Western catholicism with its addiction to dialogue instead of dialectical engagement is collapsing!
Monsignor Tighe's piece draws attention to the Pope's insistence on the absolute nature of truth and rejection of relativism. Yet Monsignor Tighe's piece over at the ABC still reveals something of this ambivalence in his comments on blogs:
"A similar phenomenon is emerging in the world of Catholic media, especially in the blogosphere, where often it seems not enough for protagonists to propose their own views and beliefs but where they tend also to attack the arguments, and even the person, of those who disagree with them."
Opinions, debate and the narrowing of discourse?
It is certainly true, as Monsignor Tighe points out, and I've argued previously, that the natural reaction to the vast volume of material of often doubtful provenance, is to stick to sources of information and opinion you find trustworthy.
He suggests that this can be a risky strategy:
"In the political arena, there is the risk that people will only engage with media that they know to support their particular views and they will not be exposed to alternative positions or to reasoned debate or discussion. This is turn will create increasingly polarized and confrontational forms of politics where there is little room for the voices of moderation or consensus."
But this is where, I think, there is a fundamental difference between the old media and the new that needs to be understood.
When it comes to the old media, for example, if you read the Australian as opposed to the Fairfax media, you know what you are going to get, editorial slant-wise. If you want to get the range of opinions, you know that you need to read both.
When it comes to the new media, however, we are actively invited to challenge what is being said. Many blog posts are themselves a commentary on a particular spin on an issue from elsewhere. They explicitly link to other people's work.
Or you can go to a blog post aggregation site like the Pulp.It and find a guide to the range of posts on the same subject.
We can add our comments to a blog post.
And if the particular place that the opinion we disagree with won't let us publish our perspective, we can write our own blog piece.
Or we can draw attention to someone's views critically or approvingly with a quick twit, or facebook comment.
Blog debates can continue to rage for quite a while on some topics, until a working consensus of views, or agreement to disagree, is achieved.
Engagement is the real challenge
The New Media, in other words, reflects a broader cultural shift away from dialogue back to dialectics.
Personally, I think a dialectical mindset is truer to the Church's origins: think Our Lord with the Pharisees; St Paul in the market place.
The challenge for the Church then is not just to read and hear the criticisms, but to actively engage in the debate with a view to promoting truth.
And that requires a real shift in mind set for a generation that was trained to avoid apologetics and real debate like the plague!
It is, I guess, a natural reaction to see every challenge to one's views as a personal attack.
Too often those reacting to blogs and other new media sources from a 'dialogue' mindset seem to revert to distortion of what is said and personal attacks rather than genuinely listening and engaging. There often seems to be a curious selectivity in the application of the rhetoric of dialogue: after all, surely conservatives and traditionalists deserve the same respect and commitment to dialogue the liberals accord to members of other religions and ecclesial communities!
Hear, reflect, respond
But true dialogue, dialogue aimed at recovery of truth, requires that we actually start from the proposition that is a mark of respect that people think your views are worth engaging with rather than simply dismissing them as something we are better off not reading or thinking about.
So here is my take out message for Catholics on the new media: engage.
So please, do feel free to comment here even if you disagree fundamentally with where I am coming from.
I'd welcome bishops, for example, engaging in some of the debates online..
But whoever and wherever any Catholic omments, let me suggest some principles for engagement.
Stick to the actual stated views, not what you think they might be. A good mode of listening is to summarise first, before you respond to them, what you think the other person is saying ("reflective listening") - not just the words, but the sub-text as well.
Then, when you respond, stick to the issues, don't attack others personally.
And don't over-interpret, colourful language is fine provided its accurate; don't take things that aren't personal as an attack on you.
Finally, when speaking, respect the limits of debate set by Magisterial teaching. We can explain the reasons for Church teachings, explore how best to present it today, but the endless outright rejection of any absolutes is what turns me off those fringe sites...