Thursday, 6 September 2012

WWJD: In defence of robust debate! **updated

One of the perennial debates in blogdom is over just how vigorous we should be in our debates about Catholicism.  Accordingly, today a brief look at the latest stoush!

The Mark Shea Affair

The latest explosion in this battle, over controversial blogger Mark Shea, is still echoing around the internet.

It started like this.

A priest active on facebook attacked Mark Shea for, inter alia, a blog post that he saw as lending approval to homosexuality (the original post was in praise of a man Shea saw as saintly, his homosexuality notwithstanding;  the problem was that Shea explicitly stated that he didn't know whether the man in question was celibate or not).

The priest's comments prompted some equally vigorous responses from a number of Shea's fellow professional bloggers over at Patheos (and elsewhere), who attacked the priest's level of engagement with facebook, and even, apparently, went so far as to complain to the priest's diocese about the matter.

Now I've been taken to task myself on this front from time to time (including on my most recent comments on Cath News' publisher Christine Hogan), so let's look at the principles that I think apply to criticism of what others say on the internet.

Truth is important!

The first point to note is that from a Catholic point of view, truth is an absolute, and vitally important for our salvation. 

While many non-Catholics may perhaps have the defence of 'invincible ignorance', that is ignorance for which they cannot be held accountable, for Catholics who have access to the Catechism and other sources of orthodox instruction, failure to find out what the correct Catholic teaching is and adhere to it will generally be a serious sin.

So when 'Happy Catholic' suggests that we should be equally prepared to die for all who claim to be Catholic, be they 'Spirit of Vatican II' bloggers, 'Latin Mass bloggers' (!) or whatever, I'd actually put the question another way: shouldn't we show our concern for the souls of those 'V2 Catholics' or whoever by trying to save them from the eternal death that comes due to their adherence to error?

Dogma vs practice

That said, the reality is that too many bloggers become excessively dogmatic about things that are not in fact dogma but merely matters of personal taste or practices on which different views are legitimate. 

Happy Catholic cites the example of dating non-catholics, on which Big Pulpit recently featured a post by Ryan Eggenberger

One could equally point to that traddie classic, the ongoing dialogue vs silent low Mass, highlighted in an extremely balanced article over at Rorate Caeli recently.

That's not to suggest that practices are unimportant of course - they are vitally important. 

Just to suggest that the tone we take when we disagree over these issues should be somewhat more subdued!

The Spiritual warfare

Scripture does, I think, actually provide us with some sound guidance on this subject.

Today in the Benedictine Office at Lauds we say the Canticle from Exodus 15 which contains that memorable line 'The Lord is a man of war, Almighty is his name'!

It is a reminder that that we are locked in a spiritual battle with the forces of evil, and that those forces operate within the Church as well as outside it.

Should we stay silent, for example, when, as Fr Finigan of the Hermeneutic of Continuity points out today, Liberal rags like The Tablet try to suggest that having bishops who vigorously defend the faith is a bad thing?

Should we stay silent when those in quasi-official positions or even holding Office in the Church seek to subvert the faith rather than uphold it?

I think not!


It is worth remembering that Our Lord did not hesitate to call people hypocrites and worse (see for example Matthew 23).

He did not hesitate to warn them that they were headed for hell.

He did not hesitate to warn against wolves in sheep's clothing.

Neither should we.  There are times when calling a spade a spade is justified and necessary.

False tolerance vs healthy debate

I'm not making a judgement about the rights and wrongs of the Mark Shea post - I didn't like it much, but then I don't like a lot of his stuff.  Personally I think he could have headed off the criticism of it just by changing a few things in it, and then we might all have been able to agree that he was making a legitimate point.

But regardless of the merits or otherwise of his post, I do think that the reaction to criticism of Shea's post has been over the top.

The bottom line is that tolerance of sin, which Shea's post could certainly be interpreted as proposing, is not a virtue.

And I don't think Catholics should be afraid of robust debates on these matters such as these, and I don't think that bloggers who blow the whistle on such issues are the squabbling Corinthians. 

Let me instead suggest that they stand in the position of St Paul - acting in the tradition of Catherine of Siena, Hildegarde of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux and many others down the ages - offering legitimate fraternal correction!

***And I'm glad to be able to report that this latest stoush has had a happy resolution, with Mr Shea amending his post.

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