Monday, January 6, 2014

National Catholic Reporter Suspends Comments After Weekend of "Vile and Demeaning" Discourse in Some Threads

A brief footnote to my posting last Friday about the "food for worms" response to a eulogy of Father Bob Nugent of New Ways Ministry: 

Significant conversation continued all weekend here, in the thread that developed following the  posting to which I link above (see the first link). By Saturday evening and then throughout Sunday, folks logging in here were reporting that the conversation in the NCR thread had degenerated into sewer discourse. I revisited the thread last evening, and was frankly shocked at what I saw--the filth of some of the remarks, the hatefulness, the pathological ideas being freely spread about regarding gay folks.

As I noted in my response last evening to several readers who made comments here, though American Catholicism has made important strides in recent years (well, among the laity as distinguished from the hierarchy) in beginning to understand and support those who are gay, there continues to be an underbelly within our church (and let's be honest: it's in other national Catholic churches, as well) when gay people, their humanity, and their rights are under discussion.

In the NCR thread I saw last night discussing Father Nugent's death, that underbelly was on full display, and it was ugly indeed--though as one contributor to the discussion here rightly notes, we have no way of knowing for certain that the folks in these discussion threads who claim to be Catholic actually are Catholic. Many of them, I have pretty good reason to believe, are, indeed, Catholic, and that fact concerns me greatly not just as a gay Catholic, but as a Catholic, period. 

(Note that the person who logged in here throughout the weekend to defend the "food for worms" statement about Father Nugent stated his identity, and it's not difficult to ascertain that he is, indeed, Catholic, since he has a website identifying him as a Catholic author and speaker. He also maintains a blog, where he published a posting about the "deathstyle" of gay folks on the same day that he left his defense of the wormfood rhetoric on my site.)

I'm concerned about what discussion threads of the ilk of the one that developed at NCR this weekend reveal about the underbelly of American Catholicism, because--I'll repeat the term--what's in full evidence in such threads is outright pathology. Among some people of faith, the revulsion against those who are gay has become a sickness. It is pathological. It exceeds any theological parameters that it claims as warrant and spills over into the kind of social pathology we can easily study throughout history, in which vulnerable minority groups have been attacked, vilified, lied about, and subjected to violence.

It's disheartening, to say the least, to see this kind of toxic pathology latching onto Catholic blog sites. We can and must do better. I continue to maintain that moderators of most Catholic blog sites wouldn't entertain such dangerous pathological discourse for a minute, if it were directed against people of color, Jews, or other minorities who have long borne the brunt of such discourse in many societies.

And so I'm pleased, if also saddened, to see a notice today from Dennis Coday at NCR which says that the journal has taken note of the problem and, as its initial response, has suspended comments. Dennis Coday states,

Comments that have appeared on the website in recent days have been vile and demeaning. We could no longer support hosting a Web feature that allows such despicable comments to appear, and that is why we ordered the suspension of that feature.

I'm very sorry that any forum for open, respectful exchange of ideas has to take such a step. I think that in the case of NCR and the kind of exchange we saw at some threads this weekend, it's the right step. I'm not entirely sure what the next step ought to be. It seems to me there has to be a balance between permitting free speech and monitoring abusive discourse that does serious damage to targeted minority groups. And I know from my own efforts to strike that balance at my own blog site, which has far fewer readers and comments than NCR does, how exceptionally difficult it is to find that balance.

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