Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Considering the Archdiocese of Chicago's New Blog

Take a look at it.

It's a group blog and postings will only be weekly. Cardinal George makes the first post which is actually a reflection on the medium itself, excerpt:
I am coming late to the blog, and I enter that world as anyone going to a foreign country with a particular task. Can I understand the language, can I use it to get my message across? What is new about e-mail and the blog that grows from it is its interactive nature. People can talk back and forth and therefore become more involved with one another than is possible just by publishing books and articles or even by appearing on TV. Since the Gospel always involves the messenger as much as the message itself, blogging would seem to be a good means to preach.

An immediate problem is: how much of the messenger is really revealed? Contacts are not relationships, and relationships are not automatically loving. And love is at the heart of the Gospel: love of God and love of neighbor. The blog can be anonymous while giving the illusion of forthrightness. How can it be used for evangelical purposes?

A few months ago, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a group with a daunting title, published a letter from Pope Benedict XVI. He reflects on electronic communication and human relationships.

The Pope points out that we can now almost instantaneously share words and images “across enormous distances and to some of the most isolated corners of the world.” The benefits are many. Families remain in contact; students and researchers share their sources and their results; our deep need to communicate with others is more easily satisfied and new communities spring up.

The dangers are also obvious. The quality of the messages and the content carried can destroy genuine respect, dialogue and the growth of friendship. As Archbishop of Chicago, I sometimes receive messages from people who hate the Church, distort her history and want to use the Internet to wound or destroy her. Pope Benedict says: “If the new technologies are to serve the good of individuals and of society, all users will avoid the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable.”

I'm pleased to see that it has a comments function. It's moderated, but I see they have allowed a negative comment. The disclaimer which must be agreed to comment is daunting:
The Archdiocese of Chicago welcomes input in response to the current blog posting. However, the Archdiocese reserves the right to deny posting any information on the Archdiocesan blog that does not adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Insults, use of ethnic slurs or personal insults, obscenities or any conduct that would not be acceptable to the Archdiocese of Chicago or the Catholic Church in general will not be accepted.

Minors should seek parental permission before submitting a post.

All posts submitted by bloggers will be reviewed and approved by the Communications Department before going live on the website.

Personally identifiable information (first name, last name and e-mail address) will not be sold or otherwise transferred to unaffiliated third parties.

In order to submit a comment, all fields are required. Only submitter’s first name will be displayed with the comment. You agree that you are responsible for any postings you make, and for any consequences thereof. You agree that all postings will be in compliance with all applicable local, state, national and international laws, rules and regulations. The Archdiocese takes no responsibility for third-party content nor does it have any obligation to monitor such third-party content. By submitting or posting content (“Content”) you grant the Archdiocese a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, publish and distribute such Content. You represent and warrant that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein to any Content.

Regular readers of this blog know I'm a big fan of the Archbishop of Chicago and we give a lot of space to his pronouncements here. So what follows is in the nature of hopefully constructive engagement.

The effort looks reluctant. And I can understand why.

In starting this blog, only one conversation took place. I asked Bishop Finn if I could start a blog and he said yes. This is rather contrary to the means of diocesan communication. There was no committee. The diocesan lawyer was not consulted. There were no ground rules or guidelines.

Comments are not generally moderated here and anonymous comments are allowed. Only racist remarks, spam and people posting under multiple names are deleted. Commenters can preach heresy. They can attack me, the diocese, the bishop, the church - in good or ill will, in truth or falsehood.

There is no schedule or planning or vision. What's posted here are news driven items of particular interest to me, wherein I have some knowledge to add to the story. The only "protection" built into this blog for the diocese is that only one person is in charge and the bishop is relatively assured that he (I) won't publish anything directly contrary to the doctrine of the church or the bishop's teaching.

A blog like this is, I think, fairly unique as a diocesan affiliated organ. But it is not unique for the medium. This blog, I hope, looks like a blog - and it does because it wholly follows the rules and tenor of the medium.

Which is not necessarily all good. This blog shares other characteristics with the much of the "open" blogging world. It's attention seeking. It's reactive. It's driven by the news cycle. Comments can be rancorous and off-topic. It clearly reflects the personality (and faults) of the blogger. In short, it's a blog.

But is the Church called to enter a medium under the assumed rules of that medium? Certainly the Holy Father has outlined ways that the medium can be harmful in terms of content and time spent virtually. But what about the essence and rules and tenor inherent in the medium itself? Are we called to sanctify that as well? I think the answer is yes. We should make our contribution to the improvement of the medium and many fine bloggers do.

But on the other hand, we certainly cannot say we are effectively entering a new medium bringing along all the rules and care and structure of traditional diocesan communication.

This blog, I know, suffers as a witness from its enthusiastic participation in the tenor of blogdom as well as the particular flaws of the blogger. So we're at one extreme of how the institutional church can enter this medium.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has taken, for now, a very cautious approach. It looks more like a weekly column with moderated comments than an actual blog. I don't think their caution is necessarily unjustified. But we all haven't found the right balance.