Here is a very timely piece by Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington well worth reading. I recommend checking his blog frequently as he writes some pretty thoughtful stuff.
I have been wanting to write this exact post for some time and he just weaved it together perfectly. I have noted several times in the blogosphere that some comments are so vile, profane, or uncharitable, that it is nothing short of Christians behaving like pagans who do not know Jesus Christ. Of the anonymously written comments I received before turning that option off, I would estimate that 80% were just plain nasty or foul. People have this mistaken impression that it's all about how well someone can be "told off". Some readers feed off such things like sharks in blood infested waters and snowball off of them (which is why some bloggers reject those comments rather than publish them). In reality, it's much easier to tell someone off than to practice constraint. That is, maintaining composure and making points in a matter-of-fact manner, without lowering oneself to the level of those who do not have these skills. The latter is aligned with the Gospel, and the former is discouraged (1 Cor 13).
I am taking some major snippets from his longer post, which I would encourage you to read in full: Say What You Mean, Mean What Say, But Don’t Say it Mean. On The Tone of Recent (mostly deleted) Comments. He first discusses criticism that came his way after a pic of him celebrating the TLM landed on the cover of newsweek. I can empathize with him having seen comments in blogposts about the usus antiquior that leave me wondering if these people will nitpick in purgatory. Father Z has warned people on his blog many times that priests will not want to celebrate Mass with the 1962 Missal because of the perfection that is expected even on a priest's first celebration of it, with no room for honest mistakes allowed. I recall another blog picking up one of my photos and a comboxer there throwing a nutty over how many links up the chain the altar boy was holding the thurible! Some people aren't happy unless they are unhappy.
I am reminded here again about Archbisop Vigneron's, 10 Rules for Handling Disagreements Like a Christian.
It's not that some things aren't important, but it is the judgment of motive. What has disturbed me the most is how people presume that something sinister or wicked is involved when people may be making an honest mistake or have a different view that is well within Catholic teaching. CCC 2478 admonishes us not to engage in rash judgment, and to interpret the actions of others in the best possible light. But some seem to think that this can be set aside if they are "defending" the Church. More often than not, as Msgr. Pope points out, these combox kerfuffles are not over dogma and doctrine. That is my experience too. The worst comments I've had to reject are over small "t" issues.
He's balanced in pointing out problems with comments on the other end of the spectrum too.
Msgr. Charles Pope writes:
As I have I now been blogging for over two years, I have become accustomed to difficulties the Internet can sometimes present to civil discussion. The vast majority of commentators here are kind, and willing to engage in mutually respectful conversation in the comment threads. I am able to post most of the comments that come in without any concern.
I DO appreciate vigorous and honest discourse and am undisturbed that disagreements are frankly aired. But there comes a line that, when crossed, makes me hit delete, or post the comment, but with a blow of the referee’s whistle.
Recently however, I am getting more comments that are just plain rude, mean or unnecessarily personal. I have had to press the delete button more than I’d like. It is not just the use of profanity that is alarming (and that too is becoming more common), but it is the excoriation of one’s opponents with dismissive labels and terms which either question their orthodoxy, or their love of the poor, label them as rigid or as communists, etc.
There is also the unnecessary ridicule of positions. And most of these comments come in the context of a discussion outside dogmatically defined issues, where reasonable people, reasonable Catholics, can differ and terminology may have more than one meaning, where the presumption of good faith and the celebration of the Catholic faith ought to be presumed. Gentle corrections are appreciated, but making a person look foolish is usually unnecessary.
The most nasty remarks often center around liturgy and the social doctrine of the Church.
As for liturgy, while there are norms to which we must submit, there is also legitimate diversity permitted by the Church. It is alright to have and state preferences, and even advocate for them. But too often various “camps” hurl stones back and forth and look down on others who are merely exercising legitimate options. The lovers of the Traditional Latin Mass have spent years in exile and been treated very poorly. Others who prefer more charismatic forms of the Mass are also ridiculed by some. And both these communities can also dish it out. But to be clear, as long as we stay inside the guard rails of the norms, there are various and legitimate lanes, whatever your preference. A little mutual respect please.
As for the social doctrine of the Church, here too there is a wide variety of understanding as to the application of those teachings. Catholics of different political backgrounds will differ on how best to apply some of the norms in caring for the poor. Further there has been the division of the Church along certain lines, the life and moral issues on one side, and the social issues on the other. To be sure, we need a division of labor. Everyone can’t do everything. Those who advocate for the poor ought to be glad that others are working to end abortion. And those in the pro-life community ought to be glad, and see as partners, those in the Church who advocate for, and serve the poor. We should value one another as the basis for any discussion. There may still be differences on details and emphasis, but the over all demeanor should be one of grateful appreciation for the work of the other. That should set the tone for the discussion.
Even in the necessary corrections where a commentator, or the blog author, has strayed from doctrinal accuracy, it is healthy to presume good will on their part, and that they did not wish or intend to stray from Catholic teaching. Further it is helpful to assume that terminology can and does often have technical uses, and more colloquial uses as well. This is not a blog for highly trained theologians, it is for the ordinary faithful who often speak in manners that are more relaxed and less technical. Rushing to accuse others of “error” or “heterodoxy” or humiliating them for the terminology of their comment may win the argument, but discourage a member of the faithful from ever evangelizing again, or being “out there” with their faith. Here too, gentle correction and distinction can be helpful, but with love. We are all brothers and sisters.
I agree with what he says here too. None of us is perfect. My beef is with those who just like to drop in with a drive by that is just plain nasty.
A final disclaimer. I do not claim I get the balance and the tone perfectly. This post is not written from on high, from one who is perfect, to those who are not. Rather this is for “us” who interact on this relatively new medium of the Internet where the face and person on the other side of the screen are not seen. Yet those with whom we interact ARE human persons. In recent months I have been increasingly bothered at the tone of some incoming comments, most of which I had to delete, and you never saw. Some of them were just plain unkind, others hypercritical, still others rude and riddled with personal attack. Some others were clearly only an attack, and not a request for real discussion. Some were directed personally at me, others at some of the commentators here. Still others were mean-spirited attacks at the bishops, those who prefer other permitted liturgical forms, or those who come from a different theological tradition within the Church than they.
I will say that some of these comments cause me great personal grief, whether for myself or those who are unfairly or excessively attacked. So for us all, whom Christ loves, and for whom he died, let’s consider that the one on the other side of the screen is a human person, worthy of respect. And to be clear, most of us don’t need this post in an absolute sense, but just as a gentle reminder. God bless you.
Yeah! What he said!
h/t to Deacon Greg Kandra via Twitter
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