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.