I wrote some more general thoughts on the Vatican bloggers’ convention in a recent post here. But there’s a more specific issue that reportedly came up that deserves comment and that has come up online before. Do we need imprimaturs for blogs?
Bloggers expressed concern about authenticity and wondered if there could be some kind of “imprimatur” to show when online content reflects the faith. Others were quite happy to be left alone and exercise their freedom of speech unfettered by authority.
For the Vatican, the idea of “authenticity” is critical. The faithful need to know whether what they are reading is Church teaching or someone’s personal interpretation or opinion.
In fact, the Church’s initial wariness of the online medium may have stemmed from fears that the malleable and viral nature of digital texts meant Church teachings could become diluted, polluted or convoluted when they hit the Web. [Catholic News Service]
Here are my thoughts:
1) Whether the Church is online or not, whether there are digital imprimaturs or not, Church teachings have already and will continue to be diluted, polluted and convoluted when they hit the web. In fact, they were diluted, polluted and convoluted long before the web was even imagined. The Church can either choose to get online, do damage control, be the light and lead. Or she can let everyone stumble around in a digital darkness. Thankfully, many in the Church are beginning to understand this. Pope Benedict is one of them.
2) The fact that the question of imprimaturs for blogs was even raised at the bloggers convention shows that many in the Catholic blogging community are still learning what this whole blogging thing is all about. Blogs are not libraries of digitized books, encyclicals and official teaching documents. Blogs are digitized conversation. Digitized soap boxes. Digitized living rooms and pubs. Would you put an imprimatur on a soap box? Or on a bar stool? Or on a living room conversation? Of course not. Not only is the idea of imprimaturs for blog posts entirely impractical (actually, impossible), but it would violate the essence of what a blog is. It’s like prefacing your conversation with the fella next to you at the bar with, “this message has been officially approved by a bishop of the Catholic Church.” Good luck with that.
3) It also has absolutely nothing to do with bloggers being “left alone” to “exercise their freedom of speech.” It has to do with embracing what blogging is all about. (Remember: Blogs are not just websites or digital content.) Blogs are opportunities to have those conversations. Crucial, powerful and effective conversations in more ways and with more people than has ever been possible.
Of course authenticity is critical. Just like authenticity in any conversation is important. And the current use of the imprimatur will work just the same online for digitized works as it does for other printed works (in this way it already works online just fine). But still, anyone online (or offline) can claim to have an imprimatur and claim to speak for the Church and most people won’t know the difference. We can’t control people or keep them quiet.
The thing that will guarantee authenticity the most is if the Church herself is online to speak for herself. If she’s not there to speak for herself, others will do so for her ... whether she likes it or not. It’s a task both laity and leadership must do together. But bishops especially, given authority to preach and teach by the apostles themselves, must be present there, speaking up and speaking out. Sitting on bar stools and standing on soap boxes. Sharing and promoting authentic teaching and those who spread it. That’s how the Church did it Old School. Blogs are Old School.