Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Hammering Heretics

As you can imagine, I am a fan of hammering heresy.

Hammering heretics is perhaps a slightly different matter.

I will leave that thought hanging for a bit, and digress. If I remember, I will return to it at the end of this post.

I have been distressed at the coverage on much of the Catholic blogosphere of the whole Protect the Pope saga.

There has been a quick, and I would suggest tribal, reaction: ' Bad bishops.... censorship... abuse of power... lies...'

All that started before the explanation issued by +Campbell, and that explanation was then read and interpreted through that hermeneutic.

However, the facts are limited, and the interpretations that could be placed on them are many and varied.  For that reason - in fact in simple justice - I have taken to pointing out some of the fallacies in the argument, and suggesting there could be another interpretation.

Of course, the risk in all this is that I could b seen to be 'siding with the bishop against Deacon Nick.' One commentator (Geoffrey Sales, on Jessica Hoff's blog) had the gall to suggest that I was imbued with the culture of CBCEW (though  to be fair, he later looked at my blog and I think took a different view).

I don't really want to side with anyone on this, as we don't know the facts.  If I have stood up for the bishop it is because I have seen him unjustly maligned and demonised. Nick, it seems, needs no such defender in me, as there are so many others rushing to his support. However, if in my efforts to point out that there are readings of this affair which paint the bishop in a better light, I have unjustly denigrated Nick, I truly apologise: that is not my intention.

Nonetheless, I risk doing so again, as I believe that, in justice, the point must be made: we simply do not know enough about this affair to say the bishop is as bad as he is being painted - or indeed bad at all.

The issue is complicated, but many seem to have reduced it to an idiotic simplicity. I am afraid that James Preece, for example (with whom I have a great degree of sympathy on so many issues) has done so here

So I would like to spend a little more time on this, and look at the story from two quite different points of view.  Of course, what follows is an imaginative exercise, merely designed to show that the same set of incidents can be seen very differently by people of good faith.  I do not presume to speak for either Deacon Nick or the Bishop, and am sure that each would write a very different account of the affair than the ones I offer.  But, as I say, my design is to  show that the same set of incidents can be seen very differently by people of good faith.

On the one hand, I can imagine from Nick's point of view it could look something like this:
He set up Protect the Pope to provide a forum for supporting the Holy Father prior to, and during, his visit to the UK, in the face of an almost unprecedented anti-Catholic media frenzy.  By presenting a Catholic view, backed up by substantive facts and the undermining of the claims of the Holy Father's detractors, he accomplished a great deal. Catholics at least, and many fair-minded observers, were able to see that most of the attacks on Pope Benedict and the Church were at best ill-informed, and often worse. 
His blog attracted a very significant following, which demonstrated that there was a real appetite for this, both in the UK and abroad.
After the papal visit, he continued to make the case for orthodox Catholicism, defending it from enemies without, and also on occasion, from those within the Church who were undermining or diluting it. 

With the arrival of Pope Francis, problems within the Church became more acute. Dissident voices, such as ACTA, were given new courage, and it seemed some in the hierarchy were turning a blind eye to their subversion, or even colluding with it. And nobody seemed to be doing anything about that.  So, whilst recognising that this would be unpopular and risky, he decided to shine a light on that too, including naming those in positions of authority who were not doing as they should. 

There were howls of outrage from the usual suspects, and a number said that they were going to complain to the bishop about the blog. 

Then, suddenly, the bishop suspends the blog temporarily.  Moreover, when a period has passed, he extends the suspension and adds that nobody else should post to it either. 

Everyone can see what's going no here, as the comments of support on the blog, twitter and other blogs make quite clear.

On the other hand, I can imagine from the Bishop's point of view, it could look something like this.

He had heard that Deacon Nick had set up a blog to defend the Pope, and that it was very successful.  He congratulated Nick. 

Some time later, he received a number of complaints from different sources, saying that Nick was over-stepping the mark, and posting unjustified attacks on named individuals, including members of the Hierarchy, as well as hosting a range of very uncharitable comments in the combox.  Examples were provided that seemed to justify these concerns. 

He asked one of his staff to have a quiet word with Nick about it, but the concerns remained and further examples were sent that suggested no change of approach.  It was also pointed out that the blog had a huge readership, internationally, so it was a matter of some importance to get this right. 

He therefore asked Nick to pause from blogging, and to reflect on how he used, and allowed others to use, the blog. That was a private conversation, and the hope was that Nick would take some time out, to pray and reflect, and later they could agree on how best the blog could be used. 

Whilst Nick desisted from posting on the blog, two unforeseen things happened. One was that his wife took up the mantle, and the blog carried on much as before.  The second was that Nick took to other social media, including publicising a large number of comments to the effect that the Bishop had closed down the blog because of Nick's defense of orthodoxy.  

That was scarcely the period of prayer and reflection that the Bishop had had in mind; indeed, it confirmed the bishop's view that so intense a focus on seeking out heresy and heretics had not been good for Nick's judgement.  So when Nick asked if he could resume blogging, the bishop suggested that the period of prayer and reflection should be extended. 

Nick then announced that he would stop blogging for good, and that the the Bishop had effectively closed down the blog.  The volume and hostility of the blogosphere intensified, vilifying the bishop. 

The bishop issued a statement to point out that he had not, in fact, closed down the blog. For obvious reasons, he did not include his view that Nick's judgement was temporarily a bit impaired, as such a judgement is by its nature confidential, and also because in the climate of the blogosphere, it would have been wide open to misrepresentation. That statement was interpreted in the most negative way possible by those determined to see this as yet another example of 'the bishops' colluding with liberals and persecuting the orthodox.

But the Bishop has no case, the cry goes up.  Nick has only ever blogged from an orthodox point of view, and naming those doing wrong is surely both justifiable and necessary.

To that I would reply that other orthodox bloggers had raised concerns about one or two (and only one or two) of Nick's posts before this incident. See Patricius, here, and me, here, for example.

Let me re-state: I am not saying that either account is right or wrong.  I suspect both to be right in some aspects and wrong in others, as I do not have full access to the facts, and still less to the intentions of the protagonists.  My point is simply this: neither does anyone else.  For which reason, the rush to judgement of the bishop, and in particular the imputation to him of malign motives, is quite unjust.

I promised to return to the hammer.  It has been wisely said that to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail.  The risk is that to a man on a mission to hammer heresy, every disagreement reveals a heretic.


Ttony said...

I expect that this is pretty close to what happened. I doubt very much that a single person who has opted for binary explanations will suddenly say "Gosh! maybe there are two sides to every story."

Patricius said...

"It has been wisely said that to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail."

Very apposite! It seems to me that anyone attempting to deal with the enemies of truth within the Church needs, in addition to lashings of charity, something more than an otherwise commendable desire to knock the heretics over the head. In short some insight- the kind born of prayer and reflection. The cause of orthodoxy is ill-served by knee-jerking!

Patricius said...

You may be interested in a series of posts on the Protect the Pope saga by Joseph Shaw, LMS Chairman and which I am just beginning to absorb. Rather than directly criticising the bishop he identifies an institutional culture of appeasement towards dissidents within the hierarchy as key to understanding what has happened and which I find plausible. http://www.lmschairman.org/2014/05/protect-pope-strange-double-standards.html
Nevertheless, much as I want to see the heretics bashed, I still feel that occasionally some of the posts somewhat compromised by a lack of perspective.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks, Patricius.

I have been reading Dr Shaw's comments with interest and much agreement. I certainly think he is onto something about the prevailing culture amongst some of the more conservative members of the hierarchy.

However, I am not convinced it applies in this specific case of +Campbell and Deacon Nick