The End of Protect the Pope

I have questioned myself about the wisdom of posting this. I find myself in a bit of a quandry over this piece of news: I don't think public speculation is going to help anyone, I want to support my friend Nick, but I don't think that should involve criticism of his bishop either. I hope this post walks the narrow line I have set out for myself whilst raising what I consider to be valid concerns about the incident.

A couple of days ago, a post on Protect the Pope announced that the blog was to close following ongoing discussions with the the Bishop of Lancaster, the Rt. Rvd. Michael Campbell, and the blog's principle author, the Deacon Nick Donnelly.

The post cites Bishop Campbell's refusal to grant Nick’s request to resume news posting on Protect the Pope as effectively closing the site. It also says that Bishop Campbell has stated that he does not want anyone posting on Protect the Pope on Nick’s behalf. Nick's wife Martina had been posting on the website, but she now says that she feels unable to continue doing this and so the blog will not have any new posts from the 4th of May, although it will remain as an archive of information.

The Catholic Herald adds the following:
Deacon Donnelly announced that he would take an indefinite break from blogging in March, after his local bishop, Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster, “requested that he undergo a period of ‘prayer and reflection”.
Deacon Donnelly’s wife, Martina, has run the website since but on Tuesday Deacon Donnelly announced the closure.
He said: “I am sad and disappointed that Bishop Campbell will not give his permission for me to return to running and posting on Protect the Pope.”
He continued: “On Protect the Pope I have only ever defended the Faith of the Church from dissent and disobedience.
“Though I do not understand the grounds on which Bishop Campbell has made his decision about Protect the Pope I will obey because I take seriously the promise I made when I was ordained. If I didn’t obey him I’d be no different from the dissenters who rebel against the doctrines of the Church and disobey her discipline.
“Therefore, Protect the Pope will cease to operate as a Catholic news service on Sunday May 4. I would like to thank members of the Guild of Blessed Titus Brandsma for their support.
“Finally, I continue to encourage all faithful and loyal Catholics to take up the responsibility given us by Our Lord to safeguard, defend and teach the divine doctrines of the Church. Maybe some of you will even consider setting up your own versions of ‘Protect the Pope’. I’d be happy to give you advice about how to go about this.”
There has been a lot of internet discussion about this and many people feel aggrieved. The main reason for their disconsolence appears to be the fact that Nick was only ever loyal to the Magisterium, I can't think of a single instance where he was even accused of deviating from the Church's teaching on an issue. He has come in for criticism for being over-sensitive, for example, protesting Pret-a-Manger's decision to sell Virgin Mary Crisps. He has also sometimes been accused of being impolitic, not fearing to take Archbishop Longley and Cardinal Nichols to task when he thought they were wavering from the carefully trod path of orthodoxy.

Some might consider this bad form, that we should accept that our leaders in the episcopacy do an incredibly difficult job, which necessarily involves a careful balancing act of charity and truth which should be about preaching the faith in love to draw all to Christ. Others feel that this very purpose would be better served by their being more outspoken on the truths and teachings of the Church, and even feel let-down and aggrieved that the bishops fail to speak out on so many issues regular Catholics face today.

I know enough to realise the incredible challenge faced by our bishops, that they are human, that some days must be better than other days, that they need our support and encouragement, as well as our prayers.

Despite this, I am really disappointed that Protect the Pope has been silenced, it feels like a real blow for everyone who loves the Church and is committed to it. After all, that is why we do this, that is why we blog: to express the love and joy we have received through Jesus Christ and His Church and to promote its teachings so that all might benefit. Nick has invested a great deal of effort in writing and researching his blog over the years, and doubtless has done everything he has done for love of Christ and His Church. Isn't it then rather self defeating to close down this bastion of orthodoxy? Yes, it might be a bit harsh for some people, but goodness knows there is enough wishy-washy clap-trap out there, and this seems to continue with impunity!

Ttony notes the ongoing Mgr Basil Loftus dissent which is tirelessly exposed by Dr. Joseph Shaw. There are so many leading Catholics away from the truth and breeding confusion: The Tablet and ACTA for example, both organisations which came under intense scrutiny from Deacon Nick. Bruvver Eccles certainly pulls no punches in his satire of the situation and Mundabor is characteristically truculent, whilst Mulier Fortis offers her own concise synopsis here. Many faithful Catholics are now asking why these initiatives are allowed to continue unhindered whilst good and faithful sources of news and information like Protect the Pope are forceably shut down? Perhaps it would be wise to remember Bishop Egan's words on internet charity this Lent?

Fr. Tim Finigan wondered about the practical wisdom of attempting to censor the blogasphere here, where he makes some excellent points. Although we all disagree with each other regularly, that is OK, and it is only through fostering proper discussion that we actually come to grow and learn. The Catholic Blogasphere has facilitated an explosion of information about the Church, as well as a voice for loyal, joyful Catholics.

Whilst I do not agree with attacking Bishop Campbell over this issue, I do think it is reasonable and indeed natural, that his decision to intervene with Protect the Pope will necessarily bring questions and raise concerns among many. Of course we do not know what reasons Bishop Campbell has for closing down Protect the Pope, but that only serves to make the whole thing more puzzling and open to speculation, surely?

It seems to me (as a leader) that if the bishop was disapproving of the blog in question, it would have been a very prudent course of action to direct Deacon Nick's energy into a activity which the bishop felt was more appropriate and which both party's agreed to?

Irrespective of what has gone on, I would advocate prayer for both Nick and for Bishop Campbell who is an excellent bishop who has promulgated many excellent initiatives for the New Evangelisation (for example) as well as supporting a proper understanding of Catholic Schooling (more good news about the Bishop's work on CC Father's blog). Our leaders are people we need to value and support, they are not just there to be attacked, even if we sometimes feel disappointed and upset with their decisions. It is far more beneficial for all if we can find a way to work together, utilising our energies to build up the Church together, than to spend our efforts bickering and attacking each other. In this, Nick's obedience to Bishop Campbell's wishes provides us all with good example.

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