I first got involved in new media back in 2011 thanks to the encouragement of Pope Benedict, who encouraged my generation to become apostles of the digital continent. I learned how to blog for WYD Madrid, a year later I bounced onto Twitter, then a blog on Pope Benedict went viral and I’ve dabbled in everything else since: Instagram, Periscope, YouTube etc….With that viral blog, I learned the immense power and beauty of communicating the Gospel to thousands from the comfort of your home with just a few clicks. It really does make you feel “Catholic” in the ways it connects you to the Universal Church. I’ve used it to promote events, share truth, blog on parish life, make new friends, pick up new ideas for mission, connect with diocesan agencies across the world, to dialogue, communicate and evangelise. I often muse about what St Paul, or St Therese or Blessed John Henry Newman would have done if they had this tool we often take for granted at their fingertips! Oh the holy possibilities!
However over recent years, I have grown more and more discontent with the way the Catholic social media scene has developed in the UK and I wonder just how detrimental this development is to unity within the Church and to our engagement with society. I don’t agree with Fr Rosica all the time, and some of his actions on social media have been questionable to say the very least but he touched a nerve with his address earlier this week, where he seemed to sum up in a nutshell a lot of what can be wrong with social media on the UK catholic scene. He speaks of the ways in which “we Catholics have turned the internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith” and I hate to admit it but he is probably quite right about certain circles in saying this.
Last year when a young man left the priesthood, I was disgusted at the cries of celebration that went up across certain platforms in what seemed like a rejoicing in a perfect end to an online altercation with this priest earlier in the year. Whatever his reasons for leaving the priesthood, he was and still is a priest and that should be a great sadness for the Church. Whatever he is supposed to have done, or not: that will be settled with The Lord on the last day, just like it will be for the rest of us. He isn’t the first one to be at the receiving end of this kind of venom, but it affected me deeply as I knew the good man caught up in the middle of all of this. As a result of this, I had two other blogging Catholic girlfriends contact me independently of each other, both asking how we can end this horrible culture that become part of the Church communications in the UK? It’s witch hunting, gossip filled, character assassination, slating Bishops, fuelling rumours, spreading half truths, measuring what is and isn’t Catholic and so on and so forth. It hardly speaks of communion and is so counter productive to our mission. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe us millennials do approach things differently to older generations. But seriously, how can we not agree that such behaviour is damaging to the Church and such a massive drain on time and energy? Precious resources which could be better used in the mission field.
A senior Church official spoke to me about the blogosphere last year, commenting on the spirit behind different media platforms. He simply said, if something divides and tears down people and the Church, how can you claim that is from the Holy Spirit? It’s not. I cannot get my head around the almost obsessive need to pursue negativity and the need to continually expose people’s sins and shortcomings. Yes people need to be held accountable for some of the issues that have arisen over the last few years, but is social media really the best place for this? How effective is it? How productive? How does it impact on our public witness if we are not united internally? In recent weeks, I have witnessed all of the drama surrounding Tina Beattie/Cafod/Conference of Religious and their differences on life issues. I’m not taking for one minute from the scandal of this pro- abortion position from people in key leadership roles in our Church. It is scandalous. However, I wonder how much the angry tweeting, facebooking and blogging is actually achieving? Why not change our tactics in the public arena and focus on the good? Why not build on that and pray for renewal that way? Let’s give thanks for the many religious who marched for life on Saturday, let’s encourage and praise the Bishops who were bold enough to turn up or to send their support, for all the priests who preach on the Gospel of Life, for the many many young people involved in this event. Let’s showcase all that is good so it can flourish and spread. Renewal in the life of the Church has more often than not come from grassroots, from the bottom up and not from the top down. So let’s impact where we can and trust that which is darkness and error will run its course without our interference because His truth is eternal, unchanging and has more power than anything we can tweet in retaliation to…
The only conclusion I reached with my Catholic girlfriends, was for us all to continue what we are doing and to encourage others to do the same. To publish stuff that is good, that is beautiful and that is true. To share news of the good work The Lord is doing in the Church in the UK. To spread good practice when it comes to evangelisation and to always build people up and, as a consequence build the Church up too! I have spent six months wondering whether or not to write this blog, but another bout of media battles has riled me this week. Enough is enough. This isn’t an attack on any person in particular, it is an attack at a nasty culture that seems to have seeped into catholic communications in the UK. We need to root it out before it cause more disunity in the heart of the Church- division is the work of the devil. We cannot let this become the norm, it detracts from the Gospel message we are called to proclaim. Social media is one of the most powerful tools we have at our fingertips when it comes to evangelisation, but we will never win souls for Jesus if we keep ripping each other to pieces in the public arena. Jesus said that every careless word we utter we will be judged for, the same can be said about everything we type, post, tweet or blog. March for Life on Saturday showed me the power and strength of a united and joyful witness- that’s how we will renew our Church and evangelise our culture. This unity and joy is vital if our work on the digital continent is to bear fruit. Let us flood the internet with His Light and His Love, so that the Church may grow as many souls come to know and love Him through our timelines, feeds and blogs.
From the desire to be retweeted, deliver us O Lord!