Friday, August 20, 2010

Blog ways

In a thread below, I'm accused of not being "pastoral" because of some response I gave. Since the one making that complaint didn't specify which of my responses she meant, I will not make any unnecessary assumptions.

Anyway, it occurs to me that things like this happen when folks interact with different expectations but don't realize that they have them, resulting in misunderstandings. So, maybe spelling out some notions of how I approach this blog, and what I think is courteous, regarding comments and discussions on a blog, rather than taking them for granted.

How about this:

1. If you comment, please use some sort of screen name, even if all you do is add, at the end of the post, a pen name.

2. If you ask for an opinion or an explanation, I'll do my best to give it to you. I don't object if you disagree, but that's an invitation for some back-and-forth.

3. I am a Catholic priest. I teach and present Catholic teaching, in its entirety, as best I can. I recognize that some parts of our Catholic Faith are hard to hear or hard to follow. I am genuinely sorry I am not smarter or more creative in being able to make the "hard teachings" not have hard, pointy edges that sometimes hurt. You'll have to take my word for it that if you feel hurt, that was not my aim. While allowing for all my flaws in presentation, nevertheless remember that sometimes the truth does hurt.

4. Everyone is entitled to a favorable presumption, until saying or doing something that calls it into question. I try to do that, and I may well fail and I'm willing to have someone say so. But I appreciate folks treating me that way. Example: I presume people are good and decent and trying seriously to follow Christ, and I expect others to presume the same about me--not lecture or condescend to me about how I ought to be a better Christian.

5. Part of the purpose of comments is discussion; if you post an argument for something, I think reasonable people presume you're fine with that being critiqued and responded to. If you post an argument for something that is at odds with Catholic teaching or practice, or--no offense--gives flawed information about a subject pertaining to the Catholic Faith, or Catholic history, please don't be surprised if I or someone else responds and corrects that. It's not personal. Example: someone posts arguments for ordaining women as priests. Sorry, that's directly contrary to Catholic teaching. I'm not going to let that go unchallenged. Particularly when it's not all that connected to the topic. And if someone claims to offer facts that are not facts at all, brace yourself for that to be pointed out.

6. I don't claim to be an expert on everything involving Catholic history, liturgy or teaching, and I don't claim to have read every document or be able to quote them off the top of my head. I don't have time to track it all down. I'm a parish priest and I post comments on my blog, about my day, or about homilies I've given, etc. I think I'm reasonably knowledgeable on these subjects, and I try to be transparent about what sort of information I'm sharing.

7. Let's not play games. If a poster chooses to be contentious, that is an invitation for a more vigorous response. Please don't then play the, "oh you should be nicer" card. If you don't want the give-and-take of a discussion, don't give and you won't have to take. There are other games: "bait the Catholic/bait the priest," being disingenuous about "questions" that really aren't requests for information but set-ups for a point you want to score, etc. Play it straight, and I'll do my best to respond in kind. Play games and I'll call you on it or just not take you as on the level.

8. This blog isn't the be-all and end-all of my life, and it shouldn't be for anyone else; meaning: don't take it that seriously. When sour folks show up and complain, picking on rather obscure "offenses" (such as complaining about me "telling" him or her what to pray for, when I said please pray for more priests)...without wishing anyone ill, I genuinely think you may do better not to read this blog, or any blog, if it upsets you. Seriously, and in all charity, if someone's feelings are really that tender, online blog discussions are not for you.

9. I do have a hard time digesting the "surprise" and umbrage that sometimes shows up in comments. I used to offer my political views, and these would generate howls of outrage from a few tenacious folks, as if I have no business telling anyone my personal opinions; and you would think I was advocating the death penalty for puppies, as opposed to views that--even if you disagree with them--aren't terribly unconventional. Well, I got tired of that, so pretty much no more political observations on the blog. Not worth my time and energy. Yet it remains very puzzling to me that folks can get so worked up. Speaking more generally, some so-called "outrage" just can't be taken with a straight face.

10. If you accuse me of something--such as attacking people "personally," or saying something it would dumb, or wrong, to say, please don't be surprised if I ask you to back it up.

11. This is my blog. I get to decide when someone is behaving badly or not getting into the spirit of things. My tools are extremely limited: I can respond to a comment, or delete it.

This took me a few minutes to dash off, so no doubt I could write it better with more time. And, yes, I'm giving you the option of offering comments.


Wayne said...

Father, I must say that I miss the political observations as that was one of the main reasons I read your blog. I know you have a background in politics in Washington and it was always interesting to hear about things from an "insider's" perspective. Of course, I understand your reasons, so I guess I'll have to just be spiritually nourished instead.
Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

As one who grew up in NOVA, I also miss the political observations with a Catholic viewpoint but also as one who blogs and gave up all postings political because I didn't I have time to deal with the trolls, I understand!

I find those that are screaming in opposition to something are usually trying to silence the voices of dissent in their own minds. And once the screams turn into personal attacks it's because they've run out of facts as ammunition.

God Bless, Father! Love your blog!
DivaMomVicki (Who is having Google log-in-issues!)

Pat said...


I support all of your written statements about blogging and commenting. May I add though, that you and I have had some unpleasant exchanges in the past largely because (IMHO) you were opining on areas outside of your authority as a parish priest: namely, matters of state law or medicine as those topics relate to gay people.

With all due respect, just as I expect you to correct your commenters (including me) when they make erroneous statements about the RC faith, please also expect to be challenged when you make erroneous statements about law or medicine.

In Christ,


Fr Martin Fox said...


I don't need your permission to offer my comments on any subject.

If you're going to take a high-handed attitude--such as you telling me what I have "authority" to talk about! Gimme a break!

See you later, Pat--till you learn some manners.

Pat said...

Wow. I acknowledge your authority as a parish priest and that's not good enough for you? You're offended that I promise challenge any claim to authority as a legal expert or a medical expert?

I advise a little less superbia and a little more humilitas.

In Christ encore,


Fr Martin Fox said...


I'm not going to fence with you. You're not welcome here, until you learn manners. If you keep coming back, I will restrict comments. So there is no point in you continuing to be a pest. I would prefer you be a polite guest, but you've already chosen not to do that.

Bye Pat.

Fr Martin Fox said...

To my other readers:

Just so you know, back in February "Pat" chose to behave very badly and aggressively here. I tried to reason with him then, and gave up. Pat may be interested in playing that game again, but I'm not.

Pat said...

Fr. Fox,

Please explain to me how or where I was impolite. I stated that "I support all of your written statements." I acknowledged your expertise in matters of faith. I asked if I "may add" some thoughts. I offered my "humble opinion." I spoke with "all due respect." I even welcomed correction and instruction as to matter of the Catholic faith.

If I am not being understood I deserve the right to know that, and to correct it.

In my view, my mistake was merely challenging you when you speak about legal or medical matters.

Surely, you can't be opposed to that?


Fr Martin Fox said...

Folks, sorry comments will be adjusted from this point on as Pat is refusing to leave. I'm sorry but I have limited tools to deal with a pest.

TerryC said...

Late getting to this, but as you stated in your post if someone posts flawed information, which is not supported by the facts they should expect to be challenged. Having read your blog I cannot imagine that you would post any "opinion" on matters of law or medicine or related to gay people which did not support the teaching of the Church and her statements and opinions. In my mind that makes you qualified.
Pat, who is very close to a troll in my opinion, in this at least, is attempting to put forward the idea of suppression of religious belief in the public square. A priest's teaching on the moral aspects of medicine, law or sexual morality, if it follows the teachings of the Church, is not only within his expertise, it is part of his call to priesthood.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Pat, in my opinion, got overheated. He wouldn't take a hint so I had to ban him. As far as I'm concerned, he's welcome back if he behaves courteously.

Folks can go back and see what Pat said when I posted something about marriage--and in the process, ruled out so-called "same sex marriage."

I have no idea what statements he thought pertained to "medicine." But the truth is, our Faith professes that Jesus Christ is King; everything is under his authority. We profess a salvation and a morality that is universal in scope--meaning that everyone is bound to the same Law of Christ, and everyone must stand before him one day. He is Lord.

So, pretty much any topic, one way or the other, can intersect with the Christian Faith, to the extent it has a moral dimension, or it has to do with a right understanding of human nature, or human dignity, etc.

But you are right that some folks think Christianity, and Christians, and clergy, should stay only in certain areas. Obviously, I don't agree!

And as far as "authority"--I'm not seeing that as the issue here.

Folks are welcome to check me on this: I seldom try to persuade by appealing to "authority"--at least, my own. I.e., I doubt I often--if ever--argue for something by saying, "I'm a priest, so you should believe this!" It is true that often appeal to my own experiences, and I guess that's a kind of appeal to authority, but that's about it.

My intention is to offer facts, arguments or reasoning that persuade--not appealing to my own authority. And of course, that reasoning or those facts can be contested.

But when the discussion or debate is about the ideas, the facts offered, or the chain of reasoning, then they stand on their own, whether I'm a priest or an engineer or someone who just fell off a turnip truck. The person who makes the argument is not the issue--that's the fallacy of "ad hominem."