Yesterday The Southern Cross issued a notice on its website stating that it was, with effect from the 16th of January 2013, shutting down the ability to comment on the newspapers online content.
The newspaper cites as the reason for this decision the fact that the online comments were marked by a “a level of polemic and lack of charity, sometimes including slanderous and even libellous statements, that stood in direct breach of Christ’s 11th Commandment.” The newspaper stated further that when mutual respect is lacking “fruitful debate is impossible and cannot be facilitated by a forum that is truly Catholic.”
If the truth is to be told, this newspaper has for years tolerated online comments that are quite frankly not “truly Catholic” and which were specifically designed to not only convince Catholics that there are acceptable alternatives to the teaching presented by the Magisterium, but also to muster support for these contradictory views. The newspaper has made no attempt to censor these in order to protect its readers and this in itself is a “direct breach of Christ’s 11th Commandment.”
The majority of the comments made on this newspapers site during the last few years could be divided as coming from one of two groups. One group being the group who engaged in posting the type of comments referred to above, which were apparently supported by the editor of the newspaper, despite him often stating that this perceived support was not true. This group effectively consisted of three individuals, not counting the editor. This group showed absolutely no respect for the true teaching of the Church. Instead they clearly held the belief that the Church's teaching on Faith and Morals was open to constant reconsideration and change.
Counter to the above group was that group of commenters who made a point of drawing attention to any of the fallacies contained in either the actual published section of the newspaper or in the online comboxes. This group was larger than the first, consisting of at least ten members, though its size has over time been diminished as a result of some of its members being blocked by the editor, or because they simply gave up in utter disgust at the seemingly uphill battle of responding to these dissenting voices, which was of course not helped by the perceived support of the editor for the first group.
Some of the views of the first group, that was challenged robustly and vociferously by the second group, was: ordination of women, gay marriage, doctrine of Original Sin, use of contraception, Holy Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, Holy Communion for Protestants, abandoning Latin, the primacy of conscience without deference to the Magisterium, New Age prayer techniques and accusations that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is responsible for gay teen suicide.
It is interesting that the final event, that appears to have led to the comboxes being closed, was when one of the commenters from the first group who presents dissenting views, was challenged about whether he, as a Catechism/RCIA teacher, presented any of his dissenting ideas, particular about homosexuality, in these teaching sessions. He failed to respond to the question. The editor then deleted the question without explanation. The question was later reposted and again the editor deleted it. Why such a reasonable question about the quality of content being presented in Catechism/RCIA classes would be deleted is, quite frankly, beyond me. Instead challenges and questions of this nature, which serve to get to the truth, are deemed by the editor to be “slanderous and even libellous”.
Following the announcement that the combox had been closed I received a number of emails that expressed this to be a victory for Catholicism. The editor has long been accused of being sympathetic, even supportive of this first group who so frequently presented dissenting views, though the editor has denied this. This accusation was reinforced over a period of time by the editor’s own actions and comments, which included blocking those who challenged these dissenters from commenting, or redacting and even completely deleting the challengers comments. At no time was any one of the persons who supported or promoted the dissenting views subject to the same actions by the editor. If it was, it was not done publicly as with the second group. The victory in getting the comboxes closed means that we now no longer need to be concerned that these dissenters can use a Catholic forum to present their cleverly disguised, dissenting views, as acceptable Catholic positions. The risk that Catholic readers will be confused and mislead by the online combox content of this newspaper has therefore now been eliminated and it therefore no longer matters whether the editor does or does not support the first group.
What now remains is a desperate need to get our bishops to focus on the published content of this newspaper. This newspaper has a tendency to present content and ideas that promote controversy. It seems to me that this editor and newspaper believes that they have the duty to act as the self-appointed watchdog of Catholic hierarchy on behalf of South African Catholics. This is of course very definitely not the role of this newspaper!
The latest editorial is one such perfect example. The editorial presents the subject of the discontinued Soho Masses as if it both agrees and disagrees with the action. This lukewarm, politically correct approach, which this editor so frequently adopts in his editorials, is unhelpful and not “truly Catholic”. Why not highlight, as other Catholic publications have done, what the dangers of continuing the Soho Masses were and why we Catholics should support Archbishop Nichols decision. There are sufficient secular media outlets available, plus television coverage, that will publish the counter arguments and present the politically correct positions, but never the Church’s and the Archbishop’s position.
The Southern Cross is also guilty of often publishing content that fails to express with absolute clarity exactly what the true teaching of the Magisterium is. It often leaves a margin for misunderstanding and even the possibility of Catholics mistakenly believing that some of the discussed alternative ideas may in fact be acceptable positions for them to hold as Catholics.
We cannot permit our Catholic Faith and Morals to be diluted, not least of all by a Catholic newspaper that is sold to Catholics from within our churches. We need our bishops to guarantee us protection from any such harmful content, no matter how minor it may appear.
I leave you with these extracts from Canon Law:
Canon 823 §1: “In order to preserve the integrity of the truths of faith and morals, the pastors of the Church have the duty and right to be watchful so that no harm is done to the faith or morals of the Christian faithful through writings or the use of instruments of social communication. They also have the duty and right to demand that writings to be published by the Christian faithful which touch upon faith or morals be submitted to their judgment and have the duty and right to condemn writings which harm correct faith or good morals.”
Canon 827 §4: “Books or other writings dealing with questions of religion or morals cannot be exhibited, sold, or distributed in churches or oratories unless they have been published with the permission of competent ecclesiastical authority or approved by it subsequently.”