Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“End of Discussion” first appeared in the July/August 2007 issue of Touchstone.
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End of Discussion
Scott Noto on Intolerable Dialogue at an Inclusive Blog
Last summer, the National Catholic Reporter, the self-described “independent Catholic weekly,” followed the lead of other news sources and launched its own blog called the NCR Conversation Café. The Café boasts that it “differs from formal news reporting, which the NCR newsweekly continues to offer subscribers, in that it provides a platform for actual dialogue.”
“Telcontar” is a young man of 23 years of age, currently discerning whether he has a call to the priesthood. Last August, he signed up to join the NCR Café. He contributed to many discussions, including two worth describing: one about the “ordination” of twelve women on a riverboat near Pittsburgh, and another titled “What do we need to believe to be a Roman Catholic?”
His is a small story, but perhaps illustrative.
On the topic of the riverboat “ordination,” one poster asserted, “Of course women should be priests. It’s congruent with the gospel, with what I know of the love of Christ. . . . Jesus’ message was about change. He changed all the rules. That’s why he was crucified. He wouldn’t follow the rules.”
Telcontar responded, “So the Good News, the great plan of God, is equal to the women’s ordination movement? I’d love to see a single Bible verse to back that one up? [ sic]” He then added, “Funny, the Apostles seemed to think [Jesus’ crucifixion] was for the forgiveness of sins, salvation, redemption, opening the gates of Heaven. Jesus’ message was not about change, but repentance.”
Telcontar received the following reply: “Some of us . . . are willing to read the Gospel and listen to what God has to say about current events. . . . God made us in our diversity. I can accept that. Can you?” And later, “You need to get out and read more widely” and “shake out the cobwebs.”
Some members were “disgruntled” with Telcontar’s repeated quoting of primary church sources, to which complaints he was forced to concede that he had “2,000 years of writing to catch up on.” Other posters, like Bella, agreed with Telcontar.
Some tried to offer solace to the disgruntled: “Do not be disgruntled,” wrote one. “They [Telcontar and Bella] speak for themselves and their interpretation of what the Church teaches.” Telcontar
Telcontar offered the following response to the disgruntled poster: “I’m sorry if truth offends, but if truth offends, wherein lies the offense, in the one who speaks or the one who hears?” Later, he added, “Yeah, when I quote other people, more than half the time it is Church teaching or Scriptures, more than half of the rest is authoritative sources, and that’s being generous to opinions. I speak very little about my opinions so as not to blur the line between what the Church teaches and my beliefs (although if I put myself outside Church teaching, I welcome correction).”
Bella once again agreed, prompting the following advice from another user: “How ’bout the two of you—Bella and Telcontar—go back to your user accounts and fill in the blanks—like age and gender—which are public on my account.” The user guessed from their “previous naive posting and responses” that
After Telcontar explained that his personal information could not be made public, the author then referenced her credentials: “Female, 52 years old, 12 credit hours from Master of Theological Studies; four classes from professionally certified youth minister; Lay Ecclesial Minister. . . .”
Respect & Reverence
Similar exchanges were featured in the discussion of what beliefs are needed to be Roman Catholic. One poster suggested that a Catholic needs to live the gospel, which includes feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. The list then continued: visiting the imprisoned, protesting wars, advocating against the death penalty, recycling, buying ecologically friendly cars, and “getting beyond” the Mass and the rosary.
Telcontar responded, “This thread is not about what brands us, but what is understood when we say we are Catholic. . . . Are we out there caring for the soul? Not if we are sowing seeds of confusion, or a [ sic] weeds mixed with the good seed.”
This provoked a stern admonition from another NCR patron: “Respect and reverence again! Calling people ‘weeds mixed with the good seed’ is not nice!”
After reminding everyone that he was not the author of that metaphor (see Matt. 13:18–30), Telcontar reiterated that he was talking about the importance of what is outwardly taught as the Catholic faith. His explanation was met with the following response:
For added measure, another poster quipped, “Don’t bet on it. There are bishops who will take him as he is. Lincoln, Nebraska, and Wichita, Kansas, for instance.”
Shortly after these exchanges, Telcontar received an email from the Café management, which explained that his membership was being blocked. The reason? The management had received “numerous complaints from other members and we have observed ourselves, violations of our café guidelines.”
The email elaborated (well, sort of): “We are concerned that you have not entered into the spirit of the conversation we wish to promote. Your numerous postings too often distract from the conversations rather than contribute to them. Your postings too often point to exclusion rather than inclusion.”
Unfortunately, the Café management didn’t respond to Telcontar’s request for a further explanation. Nor did it care to respond to this author’s requests for comment. It appears that, somewhere along the way, “actual dialogue” has broken down. (I searched the site for the rudest thing he said, but could not find anything that I’d describe as even close to rude—though many rude things were said to him.)
To date, Telcontar remains excluded from the NCR Café. Inside, the “spirit of the conversation” continues peacefully now that the management has successfully booted this distractive young man who distracts by politely quoting church teaching.At least the bishops of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Wichita, Kansas, would take him as he is.
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