A Roman Catholic deacon from England, Nick Donnelly, will pull the plug on his blog Sunday. I followed this story with interest this past Lent. The Catholic Herald website reports on it here. The feeling at CH seems a bit schizophrenic. The headline seems innocent and truthful enough, “Popular blog to close down after clash with bishop.” On the other hand, the site’s link identifies the news item as “popular-blog-closed-down-by-bishop.” Could have been a working title. Could be how the journalist or her superiors really interpret the situation. Bishop Campbell is quoted at length, but the link to his statement doesn’t appear in the original article. Bad form, I must say.
The bishop requested the deacon to take a period of reflection. The deacon requested to return to internet writing after Triduum. The bishop refused, saying the time wasn’t sufficient. The deacon shuts things down in a few days. And comments running decidedly against Bishop Michael Campbell, who attempted to clarify the situation, first by praising the good:
Protect the Pope was particularly successful (in 2010 at the time of Pope Benedict’s visit to England) in articulating a strong defence of the Petrine Office, the Catholic Church, and its teachings against certain secularist and anti-Catholic activists.
And then by criticizing what “divides the community of the Church.”
In the last couple of years, however, Protect the Pope appears to have shifted its objective from a defence of Church teaching from those outside the Church to alleged internal dissent within the Church. With this shift, Protect the Pope has come to see itself as a ‘doctrinal watchdog’ over the writings and sayings of individuals, that is, of bishops, clergy and theologians in England and Wales and throughout the Catholic world.
To be sure, this description applies to hundreds of sites written by Catholics. Some of those Catholics are clergy.
As for Protect the Pope, some recent posts have drawn significant commentary (67 for an account of “dissent” at a diocesan study day, and 80 for a criticism of an English cleric) and others not so much (15 for the most recent one on abortion).
It seems clear that like other blogs, this site generates a lot of heat by being a critic of other Catholics. And that is patently obvious where Bishop Campbell’s problem with Deacon Donnelly lies. The bishop wanted a change in tone. The deacon ‘s wife and friends continued with the old tone.
There are things we can do, simply because we have the ability, expertise, or power. There are things we should do–this is the tricky realm of morals and ethics. Some of the things we should do are very subtle. And sometimes we fail and don’t do them.
I don’t know the situation in English Catholicism in that diocese or online. There is undoubtedly a strong subcurrent of stubbornness in all of this: the Herald, the deacon, his friends, and the commentariats at the various sites. The tone is off, and presumably, this is what the bishop is concerned about. It’s not just content, but how content is communicated.
“Possession” of a blog and pride in one’s writing is a powerful feeling. Very hard to let go of something like that without a struggle. I feel for the blogger, but I understand his bishop.