22 October 2019, The Tablet

Archbishop condemns Catholic keyboard warriors

A Catholicism of self-defined certainties will lead eventually to a doubt about all certainties and thus to emptiness

Archbishop condemns Catholic keyboard warriors

Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, with Pope Francis at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin

Catholic keyboard warriors who “spend all day attacking and responding” on social media in the belief that they are “defending the integrity of Church teaching” have been sharply criticised by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

In his homily for a Mass to mark the canonisation of St John Henry Newman at Dublin’s University Church, Archbishop Martin said he was “astonished” at the content and tone of daily messages on social media by Catholic pundits, who he said were “anything but kindly”.

Rebuking these pundits over their actions, the Archbishop referenced St John Henry Newman stating: “The kindly light will never be defended by nastiness and bitterness.” He said negativity and polarisation reflects “a pointless retreat into self-defined false certainties”. 

Emphasising that the journey into faith is never just self-driven, he added that it is the kindly light of God that enlightens the path and the entire journey.

Speaking on World Mission Sunday, Archbishop Martin referred to Pope Francis’ concern over the dangers of “pastoral pessimism” that blocks people from seeing the joyful newness of the Gospel.

He said the religiously alienated would not be drawn back to their faith if the Church did not also identify the factors that alienated them from the faith. 

People are attracted to the message of Jesus only if they encounter believers as both people of joy and people who recognise where a sense of self-defined certainties had led to the wrong path, he said. 

Referring to recent discussions in which people questioned if Newman would have been a Brexiteer or a Remainer, the Archbishop said his question was: “Where would Newman place himself in the situation of the Church in today’s Ireland?”

Irish Catholicism, he noted, was marked for many as a culture of religious certainties and for others as one where each one determines his or her own beliefs. 

Newman would belong to neither, he said.

“Conversion is always the roadway of a whole lifetime. A Catholicism of self-defined certainties will lead eventually to a doubt about all certainties and thus to emptiness. A Catholicism of self-defined certainties and self-importance led to an authoritarian and harsh Irish Catholicism, with consequences we know only too well.”

The Church, Archbishop Martin said, must reach out to those who belong to its fold but also to the many who are religiously estranged or non-affiliated, not confronting them with ready made answers, but attracting them into that search for the true light and accompanying them on that life-long journey towards discovering their true selves.

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