In the old days theological propositions used to be assigned a ‘note’ : put into a category, if you like, which defined the value of the proposition – and there was quite a range of ‘notes’ for unsatisfactory propositions, ranging – as I recall – from ‘heretical’ to ‘offensive to pious ears’.
I’m not suggesting that there is much heresy in the Catholic blogosphere; nor even much which is inherently seriously wrong : but I fear that there is quite a lot which, even if the phrase ‘offensive to pious ears’ is no longer appropriate, might be described as ‘bewildering to uninformed ones’ !
Now : I’m sure we’re all familiar with blogs and websites which make statements about various aspects of Catholic teaching and doctrine, suggesting that various developments (or proposed developments) within the Church are anything from ‘regrettable’ to ‘damnable’.
It seems to me that there is nothing whatever wrong with putting forward such positions in the context of a Catholic discussion – a Parish study group, say, or a Seminary class, or even a chat over supper with like-minded friends. You can say your piece, and then, in the best scholastic tradition, defend it against the questions and contrary opinions of those around you; and you may persuade them, or they may persuade you, or neither : but in any event the discussion – the ‘formal disagreement’, if you like – remains within the household of faith; and no scandal is thereby caused to anyone.
However, when you put your position up on a blog, it seems to me to be a different matter, because you have no control over who reads it, nor whether the readers then read subsequent comments : in other words, it is no longer a debate, which may in its totality inform people – it is merely a single-sided assertion which may, from that very fact, serve to confuse, mislead, or even damage someone’s faith : few of us are, after all, so highly educated in every aspect of the Faith that we are impregnable.
The problem is perhaps particularly true in the field of liturgy, which is a field in which a lot of contentious remarks tend to be made. Such comments may be, and indeed often are, fully justified by a detailed knowledge of the facts; but to those without an extensive knowledge – which is the majority of Catholics, of course – such remarks can appear merely arrogant and aggressive : hardly the way to win friends and supporters; and we mustn’t forget that all this is even more true of those outside the Church, who usually have little or no idea of what is being discussed, only of the terms in which the discussion is being carried on.
More significantly, though, we have to recognize that we live in an environment where many people are attacking the Church; and I worry lest what are in reality no more than fairly good-tempered discussions on (usually comparatively trivial) points allow opportunities for the devil to sow seeds of doubt and dissension – if not within the faithful, at least amongst onlookers whose sympathy we do well to preserve.
Accordingly, I feel that it behoves all of us to ensure that, inasmuch as we hold ourselves out to be Catholic bloggers, what we say is either the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Church (as far as possible with the relevant authority quoted) or, where it is our own opinion, clearly identified as such – and that in any event, we seek to debate in charity and forbearance : and I make no bones about needing to remember this last caveat myself !
I’m not saying that this will avoid any possibility of ‘causing scandal’, but it seems to me that taking such simple precautions must be in the best interests of Holy Mother Church – which is, I take it, something which we all want.