Episcopal Attacks on Orthodox Catholic Blogs

Not for the first time in his own indispensable blog, Protect the Pope, Deacon Nick has drawn our attention to another attack on Catholic blogs, coming from a familiar prelatical source.

In a homily given during the Diocese of Westminster’s recent Mass following the election of Pope Francis, Archbishop Nichols quoted the new Pope’s reflection on the disciples complaining on their journey to Emmaus and extended it to make it look as though Pope Francis had been criticizing Catholic blogs for spreading complaints and destroying love in the Church.

“Pope Francis,” he said, “has already identified two kinds of behavior that destroy love in the Church. They are complaining and gossiping. He is a practical man. He knows that we live in a society in which complaining and gossip is a standard fare. They sell newspapers and attract us to blogs because we love hear complaints and to read gossip. But Pope Francis is clear: they should have no place in the Church.”

What, blogs? Pope Francis was saying that blogs should have no place in the Church? But he doesn’t say anything at all about blogs. “We, as Catholics,” concluded the archbishop, “are always ready to profess our love for the Lord. But now Pope Francis is calling us to show that love in down-to-earth ways. How wonderful it would be if our Church was known to be a place that was free of the sound of complaining and the whisper of gossip! Then the light of Christ would indeed shine brightly.”

Free of the sound of complaining, eh? No blogs, eh? But as Deacon Nick points out, Pope Francis’s reflection on complaining was actually about difficulties in our life of faith, and not about complaints about the Church and the way it is conducted. The Holy Father said this: “I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints… They were afraid. All of the disciples were afraid,” he said. As they walked toward Emmaus and discussed everything that had happened, they were sad and complaining. “And the more they complained, the more they were closed in on themselves: they did not have a horizon before them, only a wall,” the Pope explained.

I was wondering what Catholic blogs the archbishop had in mind; then I read this comment by Deacon Nick: “Archbishop Nichols has pushed Pope Francis’s words beyond their original meaning to express his own personal desire that ‘the Church would be free from the sound of complaining.’ Here Archbishop Nichols’s words echo his intemperate demand that faithful Catholics complaining about the Soho Masses should ‘hold their tongues.’ Is this the silence that he hopes for in the Church of England and Wales?”

Who knows?—but I have good reason to believe that that remark about critics of the Soho Masses “holding their tongues” was aimed at this particular column among others. So one has to ask again what the duty of a layman is when he firmly believes that duly constituted local authority is setting itself against Church teaching. The usual response on such occasions is rightly and appositely to quote St Thomas Aquinas’s famous dictum: “If the faith is in imminent peril, prelates ought to be accused by their subjects, even in public.” St Thomas also said that “Augustine says in his Rule: ‘Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger.’ But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.” [Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 4, Sed Contra].

One could also recall Newman’s writings about various times in the history of the Church when it was the faithful rather than their bishops who were the defenders of faith, times when “there was a temporary suspense of the functions of the ‘Ecclesia docens,’” when, “the body of Bishops failed in the confession of the faith. They spoke variously, one against another; there was nothing, after Nicæa, of firm, unvarying, consistent testimony, for nearly 60 years. There were untrustworthy Councils, unfaithful bishops; there was weakness, fear of consequences, misguidance, delusion, hallucination, endless, hopeless, extending itself into nearly every corner of the Catholic Church. The comparatively few who remained faithfu1 were discredited and driven into exile; the rest were either deceivers or were deceived.”

You may say that things are not so desperate now: but are there no bishops who, for instance, allow known and blatant heretics to teach the faithful, with their support and within the curtilage of their own cathedral? We know that there are many and that precisely this has happened here recently: and that the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, in what is still a post-conciliar period, are lightly regarded or set at nought by some in positions of authority in our own Church. The times we are living in are not so very far from the history of the Church in the times Newman so famously described in Arians of the Fourth Century.

“The episcopate,” he wrote, “whose action was so prompt and concordant at Nicæa on the rise of Arianism, did not, as a class or order of men, play a good part in the troubles consequent upon the Council; and the laity did. The Catholic people, in the length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not… on the whole, taking a wide view of the history, we are obliged to say that the governing body of the Church came short, and the governed were pre-eminent in faith, zeal, courage, and constancy.”

Can we not say something similar—not about all the bishops or about all the laity, but certainly about many of them—to describe the English Church over the last 30 years and more? There is, certainly, good reason for hope today, largely because of the pontificate which has now, regretfully, come to a premature end. But until these hopes come to fruition, the laity should not “hold their tongue” when they believe that the faith is in peril through the actions of those set over them. Certainly, I shall not, for as long as my arthritic fingers can, even feebly, still press down on the keyboard.

This column first appeared April 19, 2013 in the Catholic Herald of London and is reprinted with permission. Pictured above is Archbishop Nichols of Westminster.

Dr. William Oddie


Dr. William Oddie is a leading English Catholic writer and broadcaster. He edited The Catholic Herald from 1998 to 2004 and is the author of The Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy.

  • JERD

    There is a difference between constructive criticism, and mean spirited complaining and gossip. Ironically, this article is an example of the later. The writer concludes that the Archbishop was in accord with the proposition that blogs “should have no place in the Church.” That obviously is not what the Archbishop was saying.

    He was saying that some media is dominated (he used the phrase “standard fare”) by complaining and gossip. I suspect it is true that there are some Catholic blogs devoid of understanding, kindness and love. They are more interested in tearing down, than building up.

    Does this website sometimes get that way? At least with this article, it did.

  • chrisinva

    If the bishops themselves had practiced fraternal correction in recent years, it would have had much greater consequence than all the blogs they complain about. Have they urged one another to teach steadfastly the moral truths of the faith, especially the difficult, unpopular parts?

    Well, Pope Benedict begged them to repeatedly.

    When the scandals broke in the nineties, and again in 2002, did bishops advise their colleagues who had covered up for abusers quietly to resign?

    No, they voted almost unanimously (I know of one who abstained) to exempt themselves from their own charter.

    The bishops constantly instruct the laity and the congress, how to treat practical legislative specifics that are far beyond their ken (and beyond Lumen Gentium as well). They complain about the lay bigots (opposed to amnesty) or the greedy taxpayers (who oppose deficits, ballooning budgets, and wasteful spending) all the time.

    However, Archbishop Nichols apparently doesn’t believe that the laity should criticize bishops prudential decisions the way they criticize ours. What will the consequences be?

    If the laity is docile, and the bishops refuse to exercise fraternal correction with their brethren, then we’ll be back to “pray, pay, and obey.”

    We can sure see where that’s gotten us.

    • JERD

      Please site a bishop who complains about the laity who oppose “deficits, ballooning budgets and wasteful spending.” if you cannot, you are engaging in the kind of complaining and gossip that were the subject of the Archbishop’s comments.

      • chrisinva

        Bishop Steven Blaire constantly attacked Rep. Paul Ryan, to the point that Ryan’s Bishop (Morlino – Madison) came to his defense publicly.

        google bishop blaire “paul ryan” bishop morlino.


        • Phil

          Thank you Chrisinva. You give great spiritual guidance to Jerd and other Catholics, cafeteria Catholics and all types of Catholics.

          • JERD

            I don’t see this as being a spiritual issue. It is prudential. It is a matter of accuracy and being fair to others in the catholic community with whom one doesn’t agree. It is a matter of seeing the plank in our own eye, before we complain about the speck in our neighbor’s.

        • JERD

          I did as you asked. Respectfully, you are incorrect. Bishop Blair was not criticizing Ryan for opposing “deficits, ballooning budgets and wasteful spending.” He was criticizing HOW Ryan’s budget addressed those issues. He expressed the Church’s teaching on a preferential option for the poor. It is a constructive criticism, not mean spirited and not gossipy, Part of being a gossip is the tendency for the speaker to exaggerate or misrepresent the words or behavior of another person.

          I pose the question again in the spirit of fair debate. Name a bishop who has complained about a lay person’s opposition to “deficits, etc.”

          • Adam__Baum

            The so-called “preferential option for the poor” is routinely interpreted by certain members of the Episcopacy to mean cradle to grave provision of all material goods. It is damaging to the soul, the psyche and the polity. I’ve read Blair’s criticisms and I find them woefully uninformed and naive. I don’t mind ignorance of pecuniary matters, but I do object to negligent and willful ignorance.

          • Micha Elyi


            The Ryan budget opposed deficits, the Obama alternative did not.

      • fredx2

        Just an FYI – the word you want is “cite” not “site”

      • Micha Elyi


        The Ryan budget opposed deficits, the Obama alternative did not. When Blaire complained about that layman’s budget he was complaining about the laity who oppose deficits, ballooning budgets and wasteful spending.

  • The problem I have with this uproar is the quoted statement was not against blogs (any more tham it condemned newspapers), but against attitudes of gossip and complaining. There are blogs out there which are quite malicious towards that in the Church which they dislike.

    When a member of the Church does something we dislike, we should make sure we do so with charity and respect. Those blogs which fail to behave so deserve reprimand.

    • Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum!

      Is that right? Then, answer this, how did we get to the state we are today with the church and culture? It seems to me that a lot of priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, and laymen over the decades must have been doing a lot of disobeying and complaining against the traditional church and faith.

  • cestusdei

    I would ask whether the bishop was as concerned with the dissent oriented blogs?

  • jaymis

    If Abshp Nichols faced a trail to determine whether or not he was a faithful, orthodox, Catholic Bishop, would there be sufficient evidence to convict him? Insert the name of your favorite priest or Bishop. If you have to think about the answer is “no”. Best guess is the majority would not be convicted.

  • hombre111

    A papacy come to a premature end? Thank God for Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. He could have done what Pope John Paul did, and drag the whole Church into his sick bed. The death agony lasted for years. Pope Benedict saw this, and his decision made him a better man than the holy narcissist who occupied the throne/death bed before him.

    • Deacon Ed Peitler

      This is sinfully disgusting.

    • musicacre

      I’m sorry for you that you have no understanding or love for Christ or the Church. Only a cold dead soul could say these things.

      • hombre111

        Christ and the Church are my life. But the Church joined Pope John Paul on his deathbed during the four or five years it took him to die. In the meanwhile, the sex abuse scandal festered. In his weakened condition, Pope John Paul seemed unable to grasp how serious the situation was. He allowed the infamous Marciel Maciel, abuser of seminarians and father of children by two different women, to fool him completely. He could not understand what his prolonged death agony was doing to the Church.

        • fredx2

          I would suspect that there was some degradation of this facilities but nowhere near what you claim. In addition, Ratzinger was making all the changes (that Francis so recently put his stamp of approval on) in the 2002- 2005 period, so it was not as if everything went to pot during that period. There were still men in the Vatican doing their jobs every day. The institution has always had to deal with declining Popes, and they are ready for it. Perhaps the abuse crisis might have perhaps been handled a bit more swiftly if a younger, more healthy JP II were in charge. But who knows.
          I disagree with you – his suffering was in solidarity with millions of suffering people all over the world – we saw that the Pope can suffer and die, too, just as we all will do one day. He gave an important example. The job is more about moral examples than anything else.
          As for Maciel, yes, he was fooled by that clown but so were hundreds of others. Some psychopaths are just very good at fooling people. You probably have a point on Maciel though.

        • Chris

          It is called being stubborn. He should have resigned the papacy in the year 1996.

    • fredx2

      You obviously have no idea. If the Church is your life, as you say below, you would not say anything so weird as calling JP II a “holy narcissist”

    • Chris

      I agree with you 100%

  • When this dude is complaining about Catholics who complain isn’t he complaining that people are complaining? How can he complain about complaining because he is complaining about what he himself is doing?

    • fredx2

      Stop Complaining.

  • musiccacre

    Thank you for being tireless in the truth and encouraging us to always live by it, even when it’s not convenient! Especially when it’s not convenient! I don’t recall even once, an orthodox, faithful Catholic priest or Bishop or writer ever saying we should hold our tongues; but many Modernists have tried to shush us like children!

  • AcceptingReality

    Good article. Thank you!

  • fredx2

    I think this has been completely blown out of proportion. As I read the bishop’s statement, he is simply using “newspapers and blogs” as types of media. And we all know that all sorts of gossipy stuff takes place in the media – constantly. Gossip is at least 50% of their business. He certainly did not aim at conservative blogs. His comments apply to the NCR, the Washington Post and Rorate Caeli equally. The idea that he is gunning for blogs, or conservative blogs is not supported by his statement.
    So I would recommend cutting him some slack on this one.

  • Marc L

    I must concur with JERD and fredx2: reading the transcription of the homily gives no impression that His Grace was talking about anything other than the kind of mindless business that makes up so much of the “24-hour news cycle” we could probably do so well to live without.

    However, it did give rise to some thoughtful historical references and reflections on the rightful role of the laity in these matters (thank you!). And there is no doubt that the Archbishop did at other times demand the silence of his critics. Just not with that homily.

  • Church.

    Archbishop Nichols obvious interest in topics dealing with homosexuality seems-odd, indeed.
    Has annyone headr him expressing much sympathy for the many victims of homosexual abuse in the church?