In the last few days, the saga surrounding the silencing of Deacon Nick of ProtectThePope.com seems to have come to an end. Last week, Deacon Nick announced that Bishop Campbell of Lancaster was disinclined to acquiesce to his desire continue blogging and that consequently, ProtectThePope.com was to shut down. Most supporters of the blog were outraged by this decision and many took to Twitter or the blogosphere to vent their frustrations. Fueled by slightly obfuscating tweets from Deacon Nick, rumour and counter-rumour threatened to turn the swell into a storm as the saga went international .
Personally, though I questioned the tone of the articles on ProtectThePope.com as perhaps lacking in due compassion, I believed it to be a necessary tool in a media driven world and was impressed by it willingness to engage with open dissent . As such, I thought the decision to prevent Deacon Nick from blogging was outrageous but that it was useless to speculate on the motivation behind it as the details were, understandably, not forthcoming from either party.
In the absence of a definitive reason for the silencing of Deacon Nick, open criticism of Bishop Campbell was beginning to build as commentators questioned the motives behind the censure of a blog which was ostensibly faithful to Church teaching. Today, Bishop Campbell finally responded, issuing a definitive statement which he hopes will put the matter to rest .
Bishop Campbell's statement appears to have been written by a man rather irked by its necessity. In this, he may share an affinity with Fr Federico Lombardi who is having to deal with the fallout surrounding Pope Francis' phone calls. Again, in an increasingly communicative world, I suspect Bishops will be spending far more of their time dealing with the media.
In his consideration of ProtectThePope.com, Bishop Campbell brings attention to a shift in its objective from "a defence of Church teaching from those outside the Church to alleged internal dissent within the Church" and suggests that it came to see itself as a "doctrinal watchdog". Bishop Campbell's primary reason for insisting that Deacon Nick refrain from blogging appears to be the tone of his articles, stating that they were becoming increasing ad hominem and personal in their focus. He was also concerned that though Deacon Nick was blogging in a private capacity, the Diocese of Lancaster would be implicated by association.
I'm not totally convinced that ProtectThePope.com has a particularly ad hominem bent (which I would classify as being up personal details tangential to the matter under discussion) but it certainly engaged with dissenting individuals in addition to broad concepts.
Bishop Campbell goes on to iterate that he made several requests to Deacon Nick to refrain from ad hominem and personal challenges to "individuals in the Church of opposing views" before requesting that he observe a "period of prayer and reflection upon his position as an ordained cleric with regards to Protect the Pope and his own duties towards unity, truth and charity". He also laments that what was to remain a personal dialogue between a deacon and his Bishop was made public and then "misinterpreted by third parties".
I have two main trains of thought at the conclusion of this saga. The first is that it is all to easy to get caught up in the swell without giving due consideration to what conclusions can actually be drawn from the facts at hand. Given the contents of the statement and my own reservations regarding the tone of ProtectThePope.com, I believe that Bishop Campbell's actions were not unreasonable, especially given repeated requests for moderation. Though Deacon Nick did refrain from blogging, one may question the wholeheartedness of this submission as he frequently alluded to his suspension and retweeted support for his cause, some of which was provocative enough to undermine the position of Bishop Campbell.
I believe that Deacon Nick is an erudite, intelligent and perceptive individual; a faithful Catholic who loves God and the Church. I am sure that he will continue to support the Church in his office as Deacon and I hope, in time, he will be able to do so in the media.
My second observation concerns, as Bishop Campbell puts it, "internal dissent within the Church... the writings and sayings of individuals, that is, of bishops, clergy and theologians". If Bishops won't engage with these individuals and they prevent clergy, deacons and religious from doing do, what are the faithful to do?