The other day I tweeted a somewhat snarky comment about Bishop Barron’s suggestion that the bishops might issue a mandatum for those online commentators in their diocese who are teaching or commenting about the Catholic faith.
This idea was portrayed by some online hacks as the bishops attempting to censor the internet and social media.
Is Bishop Barron trying to censor Michael Voris of Church Militant because Voris has criticized Barron? I don’t think so, but I can see why it has come across that way.
What is going on? Voris has criticized Barron, so it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Bishop Barron is suddenly planning to crush Voris with all the power and authority of a bishop of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Well, maybe but not really.
Take a deep breath.
First understand that a mandatum is simply a formal acknowledgement that someone who is professing to teach the Catholic faith really is doing so faithfully. It’s meant to be a positive affirmation rather than a negative censorship. That’s all very nice I suppose, but in this day and age it is about as effective as trying to hammer a nail into concrete with a wet noodle.
While such measures might be intended as validation for something good, when the mandatum is withdrawn or not given, it does, in effect, serve as a kind of censorship. People get all high and mighty and say, “That In Exile paper you know. They don’t have the mandatum!” Or “That Velocity website with all the inflammatory investigative dig up the dirt journalism stuff? They don’t have the mandatum!” Or “You know those LGBTQ priests, those dissident nuns, those people who are ‘building bridges’ all those left wing Cardinal Marxists…they don’t have the mandatum!”
So the mandatum becomes yet another point of argumentation, accusation–a tool to condemn the other tribe in the present day Catholic mud wrestling of social media and the internet.
Furthermore, you can bet your Latin Missal that as soon as a group, a blog, a paper, a website or Catholic YouTuber doesn’t get the mandatum that they will play the victim and martyr. The bishops will be portrayed as the big, nasty, corrupt establishment guys–the old boy system at work through which the cover ups, conspiracies and greasy inside jobs are perpetuated, and the persecution faux victim card will be played just as effectively by the Cardinal Marxists as it will by the “We Love to Hate Bergoglio” crowd.
The mandatum is also a bad idea because in this present day democratic, open season, free market, wide open global free speech of the internet, a mandatum comes across as yet another top down, institutional, clericalist power play. When are the bishops going to wake up and realize this sort of bureaucratic, USCCB scarlet robes clericalism simply does not work. When are they going to realize that huge numbers of Catholics have already walked because of just this sort of “solution” and that many of those who are still in the pews are there with crossed arms, glum faces and attitude, and that attitude is “The only power I have in the face of this incompetent, corrupt ecclesial bureaucracy is the power of my wallet and I’m sitting on that.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily agreeing with their attitude. I’m simply reflecting back some of the stuff I hear from the people in the pew. If you don’t like it or you think I’m wrong. That’s okay.
So, instead of some sort of medieval mandatum why doesn’t Bishop Barron–who is a good guy, a great communicator, a creative smart person and a man who gets thing done–get something done about the scabrous, heterodox, often scandalous, bitter and downright ugly Catholic stuff out there on the internet? Bishop Barron heads up the Word on Fire outfit. They seem to have some pretty significant funding. I expect he holds hands with some people with very deep pockets indeed. So why not fund a dynamic new blog or website called Veracity?
Instead of issuing or with holding a meaningless Latin document with a wax seal on it, why not hire a good web designer and a posse of smart freelance writers who will actually spend their days sifting through the obnoxious websites, the nauseating Tweeters and bloggers and correct their errors, their half truths, their heresy and false teaching?
They should do so not with the dull, academic, yawn inducing, long winded posturing that features on some websites I could name, but with a Chestertonian rumbustious spirit, the with of Evelyn Waugh, the curmudgeonly controversialist crunchiness of Belloc and the jolly common sense of C.S.Lewis. The keyboard is mightier than the sword, let them tap away with a prayerful, careful, joyful defense of the truth.
When Fr James Martin SJ tweets of his subtle, sentimental twaddle that undermines and contradicts church teaching let the writers at Veracity correct him in an objective, balanced and authoritative manner–but with wit. If Michael Voris digs up some dirt on a bishop somewhere let the writers at Veracity acknowledge what is true about Voris’ report, but add the balance he often omits. Let them explain how a bishop has to tiptoe through canon law, civil law and deal properly with confidentiality issues while at the same time providing as much transparency as he can. Let them tell us how very complicated such things are and how tabloid journalism doesn’t help the situation–but let them do so with a jaunty air and both humor and humility.
When some dissident nun squawks on with some feminist, neo pagan nonsense, let the writers at Veracity correct her using the teaching documents of the church with objectivity and pastoral concern while giving her a little nudge and asking her to lighten up. If a sincere YouTuber promotes some sort of sinister conspiracy theory about the smoke of Satan, let the writers at Veracity acknowledge the truth of what he is saying, but let them also critique his opinions–not with sarcasm or ad hominem attacks, but with a balanced, objective and informed point of view and a touch of “Don’t worry old boy. Things will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end yet.”
In other words, jump into the mud wrestling pit and correct the error, guide the faithful and be a true lighthouse in the stormy sea of the world wide web.
That would not only accomplish much more than a mandatum…it would also be more fun.