Catholic bloggers and the Magisterium

In an address given on 3 June at the annual Catholic Media Association convention in New Orleans, Bishop Gabino Zavala spoke about what it means “to be a faithful Catholic media organisation in the 21st century”. In the National Catholic Register, Matthew Warner highlights a passage in which the bishop speaks about bloggers.

“As I talked with brother bishops in preparation for this presentation, there was consistent agreement that one aspect that is most alarming to us about media is when it becomes unchristian and hurtful to individuals. For example, we are particularly concerned about blogs that engage in attacks and hurtful, judgmental language. We are very troubled by blogs and other elements of media that assume the role of Magisterium and judge others in the Church. Such actions shatter the communion of the Church that we hold so precious.”

Many popular Catholic blogs, by clergy and laity alike, consider it a duty to write honestly about all kinds of developments within the Church. And there is much that is cause for concern and often that concern leads to contrary opinions and disagreements between people. Elsewhere in his address, Bishop Zavala discusses this in relation to the media in general, and he says that the bishops of the United States and Canada look for several things when Catholic media addresses such topics.

The first is to adopt a basic principle of “Speak the truth in love.” Speak the truth out of a love for the Church, and a love for the people of God. There also has to be a place for mercy. All too often, secular media seems to seek the destruction of individuals when they are caught in a mistake. This is not what our Lord taught us. And so this is something Catholic media can teach the secular media – how to report divisive or scandalous stories in a spirit of love and mercy. To do this, we have to have a “nose for grace” and a conviction that God turns everything to the good. So even in the midst of dark and depressing stories Catholic media can be asking, “What is the potential for good in all of this?”

As Catholics active in (new) media, we bloggers must keep our faith, so to speak. We must defend it, certainly, but not in such a way that it shatters the communion of the Church, to paraphrase Bishop Zavala. That is something to always be mindful about, I think. It is so very easy to  only focus on what the other does or thinks wrong, to have that lead or behaviour and our writing.

Bishop Zavala also warns against bloggers (and I would imagine other media as well) assuming the role of the Magisterium and so judging others. The Magisterium is the Church’s teaching authority, made manifest in those people appointed to it and endowed with the gift of authority – a gift from the Holy Spirit given through consecration. The Magisterium consists of the pope and the bishops in union with him. Their authority does not belong to man, but to God, although men can wield it, so to speak. It is not an authority that belongs to everyone, and we must not pretend it does. A blogger who claims to live and act in unity with the Church can certainly speak truth, even has an obligation to do so. But he (or she) should not attack or use “hurtful, judgmental language”. You are not the Magisterium (unless you are a blogging bishop, of course).

The Magisterium is one of the things that maintains the communion of the Catholic Church. If we take the role of the Magisterium on our own shoulders, that communion shatters. That is also not what Jesus taught us.

Bishop Zavala is auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee. You can read his complete address here.

Advertisement

Ouellet to the Congregation for Bishops

Against the background of ongoing rumours why George Cardinal Pell did not accept an appointment as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops – health issues or opposition from certain bishops? – Andrea Tornielli (usually a very reliable source for such things) brings the news that Marc Cardinal Ouellet has been appointed in his stead. Currently the archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Ouellet has been attacked in Canadian media recently for explaining the Catholic teachings on abortion and other issues. If anything, that shows that the cardinal is a steadfast man who knows his business.

As prefect he will be the head of the office which oversees the selection of new bishops. While it is the pope who appoints bishops, the Congregation does the preparatory work: enquiring at the dioceses in question, investigation the background and behaviour of the proposed candidates and advising the pope as to the men best suited to the job. The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops has therefore a fairly important role: his work will affect many Catholics across the world. It is he who decides who will be the local shepherd of many thousands of people.

Cardinal Ouellet, who has been secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (ecumenical experience!) before taking the see of Québec, was elevated to the cardinalate in 2003. The 66-year-old native of Canada will be the sixth prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, which has existed in its current form since 1965. He will succeed Giovanni Cardinal Re.

Traditionally the nine congregations of the Catholic Church, which are comparable to government ministries, have mostly been headed by Italians. With the appointment of Cardinal Ouellet, only the Congregation for the Causes of Saints still has an Italian prefect (Archbishop Angelo Amato). Pope Benedict XVI, and before him Pope John Paul II too, have been gradually working to prioritise certain parts of the world, not least the English-speaking part, in the upper echelons of the Church. With the vast majority of Catholics living in areas outside Europe, this seems not only logical, but also necessary. Whoever is appointed to a post in the Vatican, takes his background with him, as well as knowledge about the Church in the place where he is from. Although the Catholic Church is a world church, it is not a uniform behemoth. The variety and differences within her need to be known and taken into account in the day-to-day running of the various congregations and departments.

With Cardinal Ouellet at the helm, the current new harvest of bishops in North America, the American midwest especially, may turn out to be a herald of things to come in the wider world.