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Monday, March 30, 2009

Social Media, Canon Law, and Attacking Clergy

Charity is not a mere suggestion for Catholics (or anyone else for that matter), but for EVERYONE. And to be clear, in this context I'm not speaking in terms of giving stuff to the disenfranchised, but rather, the command to LOVE.  To be charitable towards others. To respect in them the dignity God gave them, and, in the case of the Ordained (Clergy), we are to hold a particular respect for the OFFICE they hold in obeisance to GOD. 

That is not to say we cannot be critical of certain actions, but we must ALWAYS remember in our criticisms to remember charity and to have respect for the office of those people we may be criticizing.  And we must take care in how we go about our criticisms;  perhaps it's best, maybe, to not shred a priest or bishop on a blog or in a newspaper article and instead go directly to the source?   After all...that IS our obligation and right under Canon Law.  

But we do NOT have the right to ridicule those who hold those offices. As an example, a few weeks ago I referred to a certain dissident Priest as "a Tool".  Meaning, "a tool of Satan".  I did it in conversation, and I hold that he's still a "tool" of the group that is using him and his office to advance a dissident agenda.  However, there is a HUGE difference between the latter and the former;  the first was a personal attack that was a judgment upon him. The second addresses an objective action.  I apologize, therefore for my slander, but I won't apologize for addressing the truth of how he and his office is being used for Satanic means. 

It's easy to spout off and we tend to do so in a knee-jerk manner.  It's harder, though, to look at the actual issue and realize that there is a person with real dignity who holds an office to which he was called by God, whether we understand why or not.  And sometimes the person holding that office is a puppet of some lay group. Sometimes maybe he's just not too bright, or maybe was badly formed. It doesn't matter what is the cause of his very public errors; what DOES matter is how we are called to handle those errors, and public slander and libel and the like is NEVER the proper way to go about it.  

A Bishop's Experience With Internet Criticism

Many have already read the interview with Archbishop Chaput who commented on the hate mail he's received ever since he's been connected online.  In his honesty, he ALSO stated that the mail from the left has contained the most profanity, the mail from the right, those people whom one would think would be most supportive of a Bishop of his intestinal fortitude and holiness, has instead been the most vitriolic.  

Here are His Excellency's exact words, (linked above): 

"Some of the worst emails I get are from Catholic conservatives who think I should excommunicate and refuse communion to Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. of Colorado and to former-Sen. [and now Secretary of the Interior] Ken Salazar of Colorado, and why aren’t you doing this? I mean, just awful kind of stuff that they write. Sometimes, I must admit, that when I write back, I’m not as friendly as I should be. But I try not to be mean."

And then, reflecting on the difference between e-mail from liberals and conservatives, he said:

"The left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that, call me names like that. But the right is meaner, but they’re not as foul."


As a blogger, I've noticed the same things. There are certain blogs I won't read anymore because of the way they attack priests and bishops with impunity - or anyone else who happens to share a different view (which in many cases is a legitimate non-heretical opinion from a fellow Catholic in good standing). There are certain blogs I read, but at which I rarely or never comment;  not because of the author, but because of the commenters who claim to be solid Catholics in spite of the hatred and accusation they spew into every corner of cyberspace.

It is not that I haven't been guilty of doing the same thing. I have been, clearly, and for that, I sincerely apologize.

I'm glad Archbishop Chaput has spoken out on this issue, and I hope his words are taken to heart by the very people who most need to hear that message, but somehow, I doubt it. It seems like those who do the most damage to the Mystical Body of Christ don't take hints very well and apply the barb to everyone else but themselves.

Thus, I'm not expecting that those offensive bloggers, Catholic newspaper columnists from secular and Catholic newspapers alike will change their attitude any time soon.

Maybe it's time to recall, that, especially in the case of our clergy, we as Catholics are OBLIGATED to respect the office of the Priest or Bishop, and obviously, that of the Pope and every other ordained Ecclesial Office.  

Consider the words of Canon 1369

A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty

This is any person. Let's focus on bloggers since this is the proper venue.  Let's also look at other social media such as Twitter or Plurk or other similar venues;  the reality is that what we say and how we say it affects others.  If I am critical of the actions of a Bishop and sarcastically call him to account in a public internet venue, what I'm doing is exciting hatred or contempt in others, whether they are Catholic or not.  And in exciting that hatred or contempt, that would also mean that this would spread to the same effect against religion and the Church. 

I could come up with a LOT of examples of this:  An Actor portraying a role in an anti-Catholic play would fall under this canon. So would a newspaper columnist who spouts off the old-hat inaccuracies and lies about the Crusades and Galileo and the Inquisition. An average Catholic who publicly slanders the Pope in a Letter to the Editor in a local newspaper or diocesan paper.  An average Catholic who twists Church teaching on faith and morals to try to justify their own behavior and writes about it in a publication or calls a conference for that very purpose.  Need I go on?  I could....

What we do and what we say MATTERS to others, whether they are currently Catholic or not. When they look at us, how do we reflect the Church?  If we're running around spewing a bunch of vile insults against certain Priests or Bishops, others look at that and are put off, perhaps affecting their ability to trust in the holiness and the authority of the Church established by Christ. 

We WILL answer for those souls at our Particular Judgment!  If we are the ones who chased someone away from Holy Mother Church, we are placing our very souls in jeopardy.  It is we who have been given so much that have the greater duty to spread the Gospel message with charity and truth.  And it IS possible to be truthful without being vitriolic and rude. Remember what Isaiah said about the Messiah to come:  He would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking wick.  

THAT'S our example to follow. 

Personally...I'm cringing. I KNOW I've acted contrary to this Canon.  How 'bout YOU? 

But wait!  There's MORE! 

According to Can. 1371:  

The following are to be punished with a just penalty: 

section 1:  in addition to the case mentioned in can 1364.1* a person who teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff or an ecumenical council or who obstinately rejects the doctrine mentioned in can. 750.2** or in can. 752*** and who does not retract after having been admonished by the Apostolic See or an ordinary

section 2: a person who otherwise does not obey a legitimate precept or prohibition of the Apostolic See, an ordinary, or a superior and who persists in disobedience after a warning

(See below for Canons marked with *, **, or ***) 

We've had a recent example of this in the news out of the Diocese of Madison; a woman was dismissed by the Bishop because of her refusal to recant her thesis.  As you can read for yourself, the above Canon gives the Bishop (i.e. the Ordinary) the right to ask her to recant, and because she remained obstinate, he was correct in his action to fire her.  Basically, if it ain't Catholic and if you persist in holding to views that aren't Catholic and you happen to work in a church that requires your obedience, you can be dismissed.  Period.  The Church is not about YOU.  It's about God. And if there is a cancer present in the Body, it must be removed. If a warning (i.e. an antibiotic or chemo treatment) is sufficient, well, then all is well. Otherwise, the Bishop gets to apply the scalpel.  Deal with it.  

Unfortunately that's not the only example, but I'll go no further and I won't link to the situation as it really isn't necessary. 

There's another Canon, however we also must consider, because it's ANOTHER thing we see a lot of at least in our local diocese.  

Canon 1373:

A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties. 

Yup.  Have seen a few such examples.  I've seen such disobedience provoked by both lay people and clergy, here and abroad, and recently.  And they tend to do this in the public press, via blogging and personal websites, published literature for various dissident organizations, etc,  as well as in the secular media.  Anything that incites hatred against the Church seems to make it into print and visual media. 

We ALL need to be on notice, and especially those to whom this canon applies! Thus, they who offend against the Church have no right to whine and complain when they're busted and are given said penalties, which can be a range of things.  

People, especially fellow bloggers, we need to take care with our words and positions. It is not that we cannot comment on current events, or share our opinions. But we need to remember that even if we don't personally like a Priest or a Bishop, we DO need to respect the office and tender our words according to what is owed for that reason.  Yes, we all know that the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops (according to St. John Chrysostom), but do we really want our own skulls parked right there next to them on that roadway to eternal condemnation? 

Something to consider the next time we put our fingers to the keyboard. 

I have ONE other thing to say

The reality is that we are used to American Civil Law in our "democratic" society. Under Civil Law, the State considers that we have rights because the law gives them to us.  We can summarize the basic premise by saying that I have a right, which means YOU have a duty.  

In Canon Law, it is just the opposite; I have a right BECAUSE I have a duty. 

Canon law is an ordering of society in order that holiness and salvation can be achieved.  That order is imperative. The law isn't there just to be there; it's there to help us reach to God. It's there because we are fallen creatures and were structures not in place, there would be the same chaos American society is headed for  in our socialist/communist regime.  

So as you read these canons, don't complain that it's complicated. READ them.  It's common sense, really. And if you love God, if you TRULY love God, then you'll love His representatives on earth, and you will treat them with the same proper regard owed to anyone in the dignity of such an office.  It doesn't mean you have to like them or agree with them personally. It means you respect the Office, the Title, because you respect God. And it is that very duty by virtue of your baptism that gives you any other Ecclesial right within the Catholic Church.  

See you in the Confession line.  


--------------------------------  
NOTATIONS:  

* Canon 1364.1 cites apostate from the faith, heretic, schismatic incurs latae sententiae excommunication

§1. A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.

§2. Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firm-ly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.


Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.

15 comments:

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

See you at Confession my dear friend, as if I don't have enough sins on my back, thanks for adding to the list ;)

MaryAgnesLamb said...

It is also well to remember that the Desert Fathers, as well as St. Teresa of Avila recommended not concerning ourselves with the faults and failings of others, unless it were our office to correct them, but rather to place the most possible charitable construction upon them. Rather we should concern ourselves with our own failings and issues.
Easy to say, harder to do, hm??

Adoro said...

Joe ~ Well, anything I can do to help! ;-) Besides...it's easier to stand in line when you realize everyone else is there for the same thing!

MaryAgnes~ Exactly. It's a LOT easier to look at the failings of others, whether clergy or laity. Exactly as I stated in this post.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Adoro: very true :)

Melody K said...

You are right that trash-talking about the clergy hurts the Church, and is a sin. Even if we don't know Canon Law, everyone should know the 8th commandment. We tear apart the Body of Christ when we indulge in this type of calumny and detraction.
Lately I was in a conversation in which the late bishop of a neighboring diocese was the subject. The person speaking called him a "disgrace". I had been acquainted with the bishop in question, and felt that this appellation was undeserved. I've no idea why this person felt free to say such a thing to people he barely knew.

gman59 said...

I have to agree I also see an awful lot of trash talk towards the church and clergy. This from ouside and within. If anything I feel the church should be more stringent in enforcing cannon law. I find at that there are too many lay people who think they know more than the church and the parish priest and to some extent the bishop put up with these people as they are afraid to lose parishioners.
I think in today's society there is very little reverence towards the church and too many "smart people" outside of the church trying to run the church and make decisions fro the church, maybe this is why there is a decline in North America in church attendance? I don't know just my two cents!

Anonymous said...

Adoro, I'll be in that line with you -- guilty as charged! God bless you.

Maria said...

Hi there,

I wandered over from Fr. Darren's comments. This is a great post. Sometimes, I get so frustrated with all this. If it's not from people I know gossiping about our priests or Catholics commenting on blogs about other Catholics or all the comments from former Catholics in media blogs and posts about the pope or other Catholic subjects. It makes me want to throw things at the computer for lack of being able to throw them at them!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the links and info.

ukok said...

well i am so glad you are still Catholic - i read your post yesterday and i was flabbergasted....until i remembered it was April Fools Day!

LarryD said...

Adoro - this is a very good post. I have to check my blog now! And should you ever swing on over to read, and you see where I'm messing up, just leave a comment that says "1369" or "1371". I'll know what it means!

Tessa said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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svend said...

Enjoyed this very much. Though I am a Muslim, I can very much relate to your concerns and appreciate the admonitions. There are a lot of weighty doctrinal questions that need to debated openly within both religious communities, but there are times when a critic's gratuitiously unconstructive and destructive approach raises questions about their motives and belonging, however defensible their actual position may be.

The eagerness with which poorly informed outside observers in the MSM often uncritically accept shrill "dissidents" who obviously have no investment in the system they're attacking or the principles for which it stands as religious "reformers" as opposed to the ex-adherents they often are only adds to the problem. Reform can't be evaulated (much less carried out) by people who reject the most fundamental values of a belief system, and one of those values is respect towards those who have committed their lives to and in some respects embody the faith. For example, even as an outsider (i.e., a Muslim), I'd be leery of trusting the doctrinal judgement a Catholic reformer who obviously lacks any respect for the clergy and/or the Magisterium in general.

At the same time, there are also self-professed defenders of tradition who are far too quick to decry needed intellectual debate that goes over their heads (or just threatens their particular faction's overly privileged position in formulating doctrine) as subversion or heresy. As a theological liberal, I've certainly experienced that firsthand within intra-Muslim debates.

There's an old saying among Islamic mystics to the effect that the heart of spirituality is good manners. That's easier said than done online, of course. I've (I hope only) occasionally crossed the line, too.

P.S. Looks like you have some spam in the previous comment. Dang vermin!

Adoro said...

Svend ~ Thank you for your comment. It's especially interesting in that you're writing from a completely different religious perspective! :-)

I think there will always be people who are too far right or too far left, and you're right in that there does have to be proper intellectual discussion.

I've been carved up and served with a side dish for simply stating that the discipline of celibacy in the priesthood is just that: a discipline. Thus it can change. I don't support that change, but in the interest of intellectual honesty we have to recognize the difference between disciplines and dogmas or doctrines. But certain people on the far right decided to label me a wanna-be-priestess. Wow. What a leap of illogic!

I think that's the type you were referring to.

And of course, on the other hand are the people who are anti-clerical, have no respect and just want to make demands in order that the Church be conformed to THEM.

In both camps, what is lacking is an acknowledgment of truth.

The reality is that the Church is a huge huge place and fits many attitudes within her while still remaining faithful!

You must see the same thing, as a Muslim. Could you define for me, though, what you mean by "liberal Muslim"? What does it mean to be liberal in your religion. And I'm wondering, where do most Muslims fall in the spectrum, do you think?

Thanks again for your comment and God bless!

svend said...

Sorry for the long delay in responding. I'm glad you appreciated my comment. To answer your question somewhat, when I say "liberal" here I mean it mainly in the American political sense, though there are issues where I come down on the other side of the debate (e.g., capital punishment). Some those positions involve what some might call theological liberalism, too, though I think these position have ample support in Islamic tradition.

I see the phenomenon of disaffected radicals trying to pass off their own libertine or simply wooly headed inclinations as "reform" in Islam, as well. At same time, I think there are times when traditionalists are too quick to assume that reformers are driven by personal agendas instead of the same commitment to truth.

BTW, observers sometimes have said that Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are similar to Protestantism and Catholicism, respectively, but those parallels only hold for political/organizational questions that are almost trivial in the scheme of things. When you look at the approach to faith and tradition, no Muslims are "Protestant" at all. The issues involved are very complicated, but all Muslims believe in a "deposit of faith", a holy tradition that has been formulated by a divinely guided "magisterium" of sorts over the centuries. Epistemologically, we're far more Catholic or Orthodox than Protestant.

Adoro said...

Sven ~ Thanks for your response, and no worries about the delay.

What you say is very interesting, so thank you for the definition in terms. That is greatly helpful.

When you say that "observers" comparie Sunni Islam and Shia Islam to Protestant and Catholics, does that observation indicate respective venues, e.g. Sunni corresponds to Sunni as Shia corresponds to Catholics?

And in that case, who are the "observers" you cite? Just media pundits, anthropologists, sociologists, or..random scholars doing what they do best? ;-)

Also, you cite a "Magisterium of sorts", but it is my understanding there is no actual central authority as there is in Catholicism. (While the Pope doesn't act alone, I think you understand what I mean; if not, I'll define more clearly).

So...from what you say, all Muslims understand certain basic tenants that are not negotiable; while your "Magisterium" may be a bit fluid, it is still solid in those terms of faith and morals that do cross the board from sect to sect. Is that right or is it even more nuanced (or perhaps better explained differently?)

Thanks!