A Cautious Criticism of Father Rosica

Father Thomas Rosica is the founder and CEO of Salt and Light, which, aside from being a TV station, has a fantastic blog. He posts often, and I enjoy his posts. But sometimes, it seems like he just doesn’t understand the Internet. I hope the Catholic News Service just took his comments out of context, but listen to what he had to say about the Catholic blogosphere.

Wow. Okay, first a bit of context.

Regarding the “negativity,” Rosica drew heavy fire from many Catholic bloggers after his harsh criticisms of the pro-life movement a few months ago. He had an important point about mercy and compassion, and if you dig through the drama, there was a lot of really nasty stuff directed his way. But… isn’t that to be expected when you tell well-meaning (if often, err… uninformed) people that they’re doing the “work of Satan?” There was plenty to disagree with in Rosica’s post. It’s unfortunate that the conversation spiraled to such low levels — on both the part of Rosica and his detractors — but to extrapolate as if that’s an accurate depiction of “the blogs”? Come on. What Catholic blogs does Rosica read?

More importantly, there are some serious issues the Church faces with the communications revolution of the web, and Rosica is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He’s not just any priest, but he has a special role in assisting the Vatican with these challenges. And there are huge challenges. Writer for the Catholic Register, Dorothy Cummings McLean, explains:

What we are seeing now is a communications revolution in that anyone and everyone can set up a blog and begin writing on Catholic issues. And depending on the material presented or the skill in presenting it, anyone can attract a large following. No endorsement from the bishops is demanded or even expected by the readers. This leaves the bishops–and traditional media power structures–in a situation akin to the invention of the printing press.

I have no idea how much of a player either Salt + Light or The Catholic Register is on the “Catholic blogosphere.” My guess is that their readerships are dwarfed by the readership of such blogs as “LifeSiteNews”–which has a large American following–”What Does the Prayer Really Say” and “American Papist”. From a Girardian perspective, such blogs have something that old media might want: huge readerships and fervent fans. Meanwhile, old media have something bloggers might want: funding and credibility. These longings might be setting up what Girard calls “mimetic rivalry.”

This is similar to the challenges that traditional news organizations are facing, or, well, traditional communicating-anything organizations. But Rosica’s suggestion? Oversight. Oversight?! I really, really hope that was taken out of context, otherwise someone needs to explain to him what a bad, bad idea that is before he embarrasses himself and the Church. Providing formation for Catholics in this matter in the way that the Church provides formation in general would make sense, but that’s not “oversight.” How would you even begin to provide official mechanisms of oversight for Catholic websites and blogs?

The only solution is to participate in the conversation — not to try and regulate it. This needs to be done on a diocesan level, like Boston Cardinal O’Malley or New York Archbishop Dolan have been doing. The Archdiocese of Toronto has an excellent blog as well. As Dorothy explains:

How to respond to the Catholic… blogosphere? Looking at the popularity of “Father Sean’s Blog”, the blog of Boston Cardinal O’Malley, it might be a good idea for the CCCB to begin their own blogs or endorse their favourite blogs. The dream of an episcopal stamp of approval (or even funding) might inspire some bloggers to mind their manners.

Bishops and clergy need to engage with Catholic bloggers, to set a good example, to encourage charity, truth and hope — not to enforce it. You simply couldn’t. I really hope Rosica’s choice of wording was just an incredibly sloppy misstep as opposed to anything remotely resembling a plan. Because that would be a terrible plan.

The Catholic Church knows a thing or two about evangelization. It ought to be at the forefront of social media, not fumbling around like a tired old media giant trying to be an information gatekeeper. It knows better. Fr. Rosica, please don’t suggest “oversight” as a way forward. If it’s a suggestion, ditch it, and if it’s a talking point, drop it.

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