No need to answer every critic

I have a disability. It isn’t one that you can see, but it is one that occasionally gets me into trouble. This very post may be a case in point, but here goes.

My disability is that when the Church and Faith that I love and to which I have given my life is criticised, I find it very hard to shut up and just walk away. I always have to answer it. No end of often pointless arguments have resulted. To be sure, St Peter (as referenced in the header of this blog) did tell us to be ready to give a defense when called to account for our faith, and St Paul told St Timothy (2 Tim 4:2) to preach the faith both in season and out of season, but sometimes I think there may be some wisdom in saying to oneself “don’t take the bait; just walk away”. A very wise bishop once said to me “that’s what the delete button on your computer is for”.

What’s this all about? Well, its about our friend Fr Eric Hodgens. We had a bit of go at his whinge in The Swag back before Christmas. Then there was the brief blip where CathNews picked up the story, put a link to Fr Hodgens article, and (within a very short time) the article was pulled. Barney Zwartz then ran a story in The Age accusing someone high up of “censorship”. Actually, contrary to popular opinion, CathNews is not an entirely independant news agency. It is governed by Church Resources, and Church Resources has a board, and more than one person on that Board thought that Fr Hodgens whinge was not inappropriate for the medium. Censorship? Hardly. Not running a story is an editorial decision, not an act of censorship.

But in today’s paper, Fr Hodgens himself has taken up the “censorship” line. He repeats his complaints in this article, and then asserts that “the church’s leadership has lost its way but is not willing to discuss or even consider that there may be a point”. He rather brazenly compares the refusal to give airspace (or internet space) to his whinges with “the mentality that got them caught in the headlights with the paedophilia crisis”. Even more breath-taking is the comparison of the rejection of his “message” to Jesus (“Jesus had difficulty getting his message accepted”). That is just too precious.

The headline to Fr Hodgens piece today reads “Church needs to answer critics, instead it silences them”. If only it were possible to silence Fr Hodgens! One thing that I find a bit surprising about life in the Catholic Church (as compared to my former ecclesial community) is the willingness of those who belong to her community to air their “criticisms” in the public media. But no-one is obliged to answer any critic, and sometimes it is wiser just to let the ball go through to the keeper. That is especially the case when the “criticisms” are old and tired complaints that have been answered a billion times before, but when the critic simply won’t take “no” for an answer.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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8 Responses to No need to answer every critic

  1. Terra says:

    Agreed David.
    The real issue is why Cath News decided to run it in the first place, at least without any contextualisation.
    And on the problem of Cath News, I’ve put up a post over at my place…

  2. Christine says:

    Good observations, David.

  3. Paul G says:

    Hi David,
    I was reading Peter Hitchen’s blog and a comment he made to one of his critics might be relevant:
    http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2010/12/an-old-year-message.html

    “Mr Lewis is mistaken when he says that it angers me when others don’t share my views. Dishonesty and misrepresentation in argument anger me, as the breach of known and accepted rules in any activity should do. They are a form of cheating. Straightforward honest disagreement gives me pleasure and I seek it out.”

    I suspect you, similarly, get pleasure from honest disagreement, and I think that is a virtuous pleasure. It is the ugly, irrational, abusive arguments that are stressful. For example, I see in the lineup of new ABC TV programmes, there is a show called “Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journey”. From the little I have seen, Judith Lucy appears to be a Catherine Deveney lookalike, so I know what to expect. This is unlikely to be “straightforward, honest disagreement”.

    I don’t know what is more virtuous or needed, pleasurable honest disagreement, or stressful opposition to irrationality, perhaps the latter.

    • Schütz says:

      I suspect you, similarly, get pleasure from honest disagreement, and I think that is a virtuous pleasure.

      Absolutely! That’s why I run this ‘ere blog!

  4. Tony says:

    Censorship? Hardly. Not running a story is an editorial decision, not an act of censorship.

    Not with you, David. The story was run, then pulled. You may or may not agree that pulling it was justified but I can’t see how it’s not censorship.

    To me the most important point about this whole saga is how damaging censorship is especially in terms of what it tries to achieve: not promoting or spreading an idea you don’t agree with. As is so often the case, the opposite happened. The article has actually achieved international noteriety!

    If CathNews decided not to run with the story then I don’t think anyone would bother about criticising them or, at least, the criticism would not have had anywhere near the bite. But to publish, then withdraw is another thing all together.

    On a broader note, the other thing that truly puzzles me about this issue is ‘why that article?’. I’ve seen stuff on CathNews from all sorts of perspectives and this one doesn’t seem to stand out as being an article they’d normally shy away from. So, the other thing about censorship — and, again, this is what it is — is that it is something done with little or (mostly) no explanation. Everyone, including those who support it, is left to speculate about the reasons. That is something, in principle, I can’t abide and, I’d suggest, is not a good look in a democracy.

    My speculation is that there is local politics at play.

    • Schütz says:

      I can’t see how it’s not censorship

      To run the story was a incorrect editorial decision – as the board pointed out to the Cathnews editor. The editor agreed with the board and had a “second thought” not to run it. To censor something would be to remove it from public access. It would be censorship if they demanded that Fr Hodgen’s remove his essay from “The Swag”.

      • Tony says:

        Not ‘censorship’ but an ‘incorrect editorial decision’ or a ‘second thought’. Egads, Orwell eat yer heart out!

        To censor something would be to remove it from public access.

        And, within the domain of CathNews, that’s exactly what they did. Your broader definition of censorship would only apply to the government.

        It would be censorship if they demanded that Fr Hodgen’s remove his essay from “The Swag”.

        I don’t know what definition of ‘censorship’ you’re using David, but the on line dictionary, in describing it used as a verb, says ‘to delete (a word or passage of text) in one’s capacity as a censor’. I think that’s pretty much a common sense meaning of the word.

        But even if you leave aside the meaning of the word, how can the church seek to defend freedom of the press in the context of the wider society and act in this way?

        Do as I say, not as I do?

      • Tony says:

        PS: Maybe I have a ‘disability’ too, David: plain speaking. Over the time I’ve participated in this blog you have been pretty hot (rightly, in my view) on press ‘spin’. It seems to me you’re engaging in it yourself in regards to this issue.

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