where is the catholic dialogue?

I continue to struggle to write regularly. Recently, the frustration is compounded by increasing guilt.

The purpose of catholic dialogue is to provide a forum for dialogue on issues confronting the church and the world. This blog opened the doors for me to write for two publications that I admired and respected. The first was the Prairie Messenger here in Canada. The second was the National Catholic Reporter in the US.

I stopped writing for both publications when life circumstances overtook my mind and heart. I didn’t lose interest in “things catholic”, but I did lose the passion required to stay on top of the minutiae of daily/weekly church news. I tried to “stay in touch” with reading, but the writing didn’t come.

I regret it.

The presses have stopped at the Prairie Messenger. The end was announced a year ago. I tried not to think about it. The year whizzed by and the final issues were published. Many commentaries and letters were written by writers and readers, mourning the loss of the last independent Catholic newspaper in Canada.

Quietly. Privately, I mourned also.

I still remember the pure joy and excitement when Maureen Weber, associate editor of the PM, invited me to write a regular column. She gave this insecure writer confidence, and I discovered a soul mate and friend. I regret not continuing the writing. I regret even more not contributing in these final months. It is the regret of many a mourner. If only I had said ____, before they were gone.

The Prairie Messenger reported on church news locally, nationally, and internationally. More importantly, and this was repeated over and over in the many tributes, the PM provided a forum for dialogue; often on issues that were considered “not to be discussed”.

What is left? We have an archdiocesan newsletter that is published every three months. (How’s that for timely news!) Its scant pages are filled with photos of the bishop and priests, parish celebrations, meetings and workshops. It is no more than a PR rag, of interest only to the faithful involved in various parish/diocesan activities.

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, the independent newspaper continues to produce high quality reporting and opinion articles. An excellent example is NCR Rome correspondent, Joshua J. McElewee’s latest article,  Bishops’ prosecutions may point to new phase in church’s sex abuse crisis.

One of the best features of the online version of the National Catholic Reporter was its lively discussion forum. Sadly, the editorial team struggled for years to maintain a safe, civil discourse, but the trolls kept coming. The discussions turned nastier and nastier. The discussion boards were finally shut down. The dialogue that enriched and gave life to the articles was no more.

I follow several Catholic writers, theologians, and publications on Twitter (yes…she guiltily admits she is back on Twitter…sigh). It keeps me informed on the latest news/commentary on “things catholic” from all positions on the lib/trad spectrum. Unfortunately, there is little feedback or dialogue.

So, what to do with all this regret and guilt?

All I can do is try to write.

And keep writing.

when silence is not golden

Dialogue respects diversity and never demands uniformity of thought. At it’s best, dialogue is a lively interchange of ideas, opening our minds and hearts to new thoughts. Our ideological perspective is tested, perhaps nudging us to tentatively turn a few degrees to the right or left of long-held assumptions.

Silence is an important part of dialogue. Silence is a gift of conversational space, given to the other so thoughts may be shared without interruption. Silence also allows us to listen well, in order to speak well.

For me, a good dialogue is energizing. Aggressive, verbal sparring, on the other hand, leaves me drained and depressed. My modus operandi in the face of confrontation is to shut up and shut down.

I’ve learned to stay clear from online bullies and trolls. (Ok, it’s easy to avoid both when you haven’t been writing much!) We can’t always avoid the everyday, conversational bullies. What if we aren’t given an opportunity to speak? What if we are so overwhelmed by an aggressive tone that we simply “clam up”? Is it better to be silent than to jump into what seems to be a useless argument? Is it better to simply tune out and let the person go on. And on. And on?

Silence is not always golden. Silence in the face of verbal aggression can feed the aggressor, leaving them free to boost their own ego by bullying and belittling others.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

For Trump, it seems, silence is a useless vacuum. An empty space begging to be filled with his unique brand of stream of consciousness rants. One gets the sense that he never stops to think before he speaks, or bothers to listen to anyone but himself. He got away with it, in large part, due to the silence handed to him on a silver platter by Republican leaders scared of the consequences of not endorsing a legitimately chosen nominee.

Sr. Joan Chittister, in an article for the National Catholic Reporter titled Leadership is Lacking in this Election Cycle, addresses the dangers of this silence,

The election caravan of crude and crushing comments moved merrily along while Republican after Republican climbed meekly aboard, most of them eyes down, and, most of all, silent…Instead of “I cannot endorse that statement of Donald Trump, this kind of name-calling, that kind of ignorance,” what the country has gotten is silence from the very leaders who are supposed to be safeguarding the level of democracy in this country. There is not an elementary school teacher in this country who would have tolerated this kind of talk on the school playground, not a high-school debate coach who would have allowed such abuse from any of their teams to go on uncorrected, uncensored.

Silence, in order to ponder or listen, is golden. Silence, for a bully, is a golden opportunity.

arrogant catholics

Love is not boastful

It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions. At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant. (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 98)

Pride and arrogance are never pretty. Pride and arrogance in a Christian are not only ugly, but also go against all that Jesus modelled in both word and deed. Pope Francis often echoes Jesus’s zealous criticism of the Pharisees of his day, challenging modern Catholics to judge less and dialogue more.

The recent death of Mother Angelica, the founder of EWTN, has prompted a discussion on the legacy she has left behind.

On the one hand, this conservative nun built a media empire that was the envy of many American bishops. This anti-feminist woman showed that women can, indeed, be a powerful voice in the church.

On the other hand, her brand of ultra-orthodox Catholicism rankled many. Behind her folksy speaking style was a harsh, judgmental view of Catholics who did not live up to the high religious, cultural and moral standards promoted on her network.

Many years ago, I used to watch a lot of EWTN. There was some good, solid catechetical programming. The daily liturgies and prayers are, I’m sure, beneficial to many shut-ins. But, I was quickly turned off by the zealous orthodoxy of some of its presenters, including Mother Angelica herself. Interviewers and interviewees fed each other on a constant diet of “spot the heresy” and “point out the sin” in liturgical practise, doctrine, and the daily lives of ordinary women and men.

There is a big difference in seeking perfection in our own faith lives, and spending our lives scrutinizing the imperfections of others. Self-appointed heresy hunting is seldom wrapped in a cloak of charity and humility.

Father Thomas Rosica C.S.B. is also a founder of a Catholic media network, Salt and Light TV here in Canada.  (In my humble opinion, Salt and Light TV is to EWTN what BBC News is to Fox News.) Father Rosica is a respected scripture scholar and communicator, and also works for the Vatican Press office as a spokesperson for English speaking media.

On May 11, 2016, Fr. Rosica received the St. Francis DeSales Distinguished Communicator Award. His Keynote Address is a brilliant synopsis of the change in tone and “branding” of the Church under Pope Francis. You can watch or read the full speech online at Salt and Light TV.

In his address, Rosica describes the culture of encounter and dialogue promoted by Pope Francis. Francis is showing to the world what we, as Catholics, stand for rather than repeating a long list of things we are against. Our pope preaches about the need to care for the poor, the marginalized, the migrants and refugees. He promotes care for the environment and the need for mercy in both the world and the church.

When speaking about the “Digital World and Catholic Blogosphere”, the usually calm Rosica gives an emotional observation of the harm being done by some overly zealous Catholics online.

It (the internet) can be an international weapon of mass destruction, crossing time zones, borders and space. In its wake is character assassination, destruction of reputation, calumny, libel, slander and defamation.

Instead of using the internet as a graced platform for evangelization, those who partake in this character assassination have,

…turned it into a graveyard of corpses strewn all around. Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people. We must pray for them, for their healing and conversion!

These are harsh words coming from a man skilled in diplomatic communications. For this reason, his words aren’t to be taken lightly.

I’ve written before about the heresy hunters that troll Catholic sites looking for victims for their inquisitorial endeavours. (I’ve been a victim myself.) The wonderful discussion boards at the National Catholic Reporter are often high-jacked by these self-righteous souls.

Pope Francis continues in Amoris Laetitia,

In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love. (AM 98)

The logic of domination and competition about who is the holiest or purest destroys love in the church.

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See also: EWTN: The Legacy of Mother Angelica  by Michael Sean Winters (National Catholic Reporter)

Can Catholic TV move beyond Mother Angelica’s legacy? by Raymond A. Schroth (National Catholic Reporter)