So, after certain Catholic academics protested to the New York Times that Mr. Douthat wasn’t qualified to talk about theology and indicating that the NYT should dump him, Bishop Robert Barron wrote a thoughtful response. The main thesis was that while there was a lot to object to in what Mr. Douthat said, his writings were not against the rules of being a political commentator for the Times. He pointed out that the critics should try to refute him, not try to silence him—that we shouldn’t try to silence views that make us uncomfortable. That’s certainly well said in this day and age of modern censorship against what one dislikes hearing—The Catholic Church seems to be a constant target of this.
Unfortunately, after the Bishop’s essay was published, certain Catholics began referring to it in the same out of context way as “same sex marriage” advocates began referring to the Pope’s words “Who am I to judge?” out of context. Blog sites and Facebook pages began to see this cited when the moderators continued to enforce their policies against abusive language and calumny against the Church.
This is the nuance people are missing. Ross Douthat is offensive in my eyes, but he is not showing up on people’s Facebook pages and posting abusive comments about the Pope and the Church against the policy of the Facebook page or blog. He is a paid writer for the NYT who wants to have a conservative editorial writer on board. That he is controversial is probably a good thing in the eyes of the staff.
Now personally, I seldom have had to block anybody on my blog (I’m not all that well known), but I do have policies which are not the same as the New York Times. I am fine with people disagreeing with the Church, but I do insist on people being respectful of the Church, the Pope and bishops, and of myself personally even when they disagree. In enforcing this policy, I don’t believe I am censoring anybody. In other words, you’re free to state in your comment that you disagree with the Church or with me, and in such a case, I’ll do my best to explain why I hold the position I do. But you’re not free to be abusive in doing so.
With this in mind, I think some people have missed the point of Bishop Barron’s article. He’s not giving a sanction to saying whatever the hell you want. Ross Douthat did not violate the policies of the NYT in his articles. So trying to appeal to the paper to fire him is an attempt to silence without refutation, and that’s not good. I’m of the opinion that Douthat should be refuted (I did so a year ago, HERE). But the blogger or the person who administrates a Facebook page can decide they don’t see any good in allowing a person to hijack their platform to promote something they find offensive, and that’s not censorship.
However, Mr. Douthat may find that his bishop may have something to say about his antics, and that’s not censorship either! Just because he has not violated the rules of being an opinion writer doesn’t mean he has not violated the rules of being a Catholic. People do have the right (provided it is done respectfully) to appeal to their bishop to address needs, and if they think Douthat is causing a scandal, they can take it up with his bishop. But in doing so, we have to recognize that the bishop may decide on a different way to handle things.
I think we need to make this distinction: We individuals can and should refute people promoting error. We shouldn’t use underhanded means of eliminating things we don’t want to hear. But, if we think something is morally a scandal, we can bring it to the attention of the bishop so long as we recognize his authority to decide how to handle it, and that is not censorship. We also have to realize that our freedom to say whatever we want does not trump the rules of the site we choose to comment on or share posts on. If we exceed the rules of the site, we can face consequences and those consequences are not censorship.