Friday, 16 January 2009

Choking on "Holy Smoke"

Being relatively new to blogging, I investigated Catholic and Christian blogs to see what others were reading and following. I had some respect for Damien Thompson, a Catholic journalist who has often been quite forthright and also insightful. His blog, "Holy Smoke" is disappointing, being full of rumour and satirical invective against the bishops of England and Wales. Some of the "posters" are very angry and disappointed people. Others seem to be just hurt, confused or looking for answers. I decided to try my hand at posting a few comments. I tried to defend my bishop against some of the, frankly, ridiculous accusations thrown at him (of course he is not there to defend himself). I mentioned a priest who has been supported against my bishop and merely said that the whole truth was not known and pointed out that there were faults on the other side. In my view they are "shocking" faults (but this is my opinion). What followed was a searing rebuke from one person in particular, and he was supported by a few others. The suggestion was that all priests of my generation are to blame for the whole sad situation of the church in these islands. Of course I realise that this was hyperbole, exaggerated to get some kind of fighting response, but I refuse to be drawn into arguing against what I consider to be a childish and uncharitable display of - let's say it - arrogance.
I decided to leave, and did. I then revisited briefly - twice - to see if there was any chance of my participating in the future. I then discovered that I was being accused of having a "martyr complex" of running away from a fight (I think this is called cowardice) and of not being open enough about my defence of my bishop, the cause of the present malaise(es) in the local church, the comments I made about a fellow priest etc.
I did not say any more about my fellow priest because I felt unable to do so, for more than one reason. Of course, some of those posters would have insisted I explain myself. In that blog everything has to be made plain, revealed and examined. However, I am not prepared to do this to another priest. That fact that I said he had made mistakes and that not everything could be blamed on my bishop was not enough for some of them and it was clear - whatever some of them now say - that the exchanges had become personal because I would not do what they want. Because I did not follow their instructions or wishes I am now regarded as a coward or less than honest.
I don't know what Damien Thompson's motives are in running this blog. I find it absurd - a theatre of some sort which includes comic horrors - and as much as I value satire (I am a great admirer of Ian Hislop), this blog is less than helpful except to those who post on it. Some of them seem to be fairly reasonable people. Perhaps they think this is where they will get the support and friendship they need - perhaps it is not about that at all. Whatever they think it is about or want it to be about (some say it is precisely a "place" for vituperative, blunt, bad-mannered exchanges - all in the service of Church and country) to me it seems a waste of time and ultimately useless as a debating forum or echange of views. Why so many other Christians keep it on their blog list is now a puzzle to me. Do they actually read it or participate in it? Perhaps that is the thing to do - read it only, like holding a spitting cat at a distance so you don't get scratched. Of course I shall be criticised for that one - cowardice again, but I am a cat lover and have been deeply scratched more times than I care to remember. I'm just a bit fed up with it now, and I see it as unnecessary - like "Holy Smoke".


  1. Well said, Father. I saw the original reaction to your postings and felt embarassed for those deeply uncharitable people.

  2. Dear Father

    I like your blog! You be carefuk with that Holy Smoke blog -it's Satan's playground with all that bile,spite and poison that gets spewed out on it. I always feel like I need a good wash after I've read it!

    Best wishes


  3. I think one has to view Holy Smoke as being written in a particular "literary genre", and that goes some way to explaining both the style of posts and the style of some of the comments.

    Having said that, I do find it difficult to see how Holy Smoke contributes to the mission of the "dialogue of truth" to which Pope Benedict referred in an interview posted on the Vatican youtube site, where he talked about the Vatican presence in the new media.

    Ah, now that is a site worth linking to from a blog ...