Bishop Campbell did not close down Protect the Pope… he says
‘Back in 2010 Deacon Nick Donnelly set up the Protect the Pope website/blog, as a
direct response to the campaign of hostility and ridicule from sections of the media and
lobby groups against Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI’s historic visit to the UK in
September of that year.
Protect the Pope was particularly successful at this time in articulating a strong defence
of the Petrine Office, the Catholic Church, and its teachings against certain secularist
and anti-Catholic activists. In the last couple of years, however, Protect the Pope
appears to have shifted its objective from a defence of Church teaching from those
outside the Church to alleged internal dissent within the Church. With this shift, Protect
the Pope has come to see itself as a ‘doctrinal watchdog’ over the writings and sayings
of individuals, that is, of bishops, clergy and theologians in England & Wales and
throughout the Catholic world.
Protect the Pope makes it clear that the site is a private initiative and is in no way
officially affiliated with the Diocese of Lancaster. The fact, however, that its creator and
author is a permanent deacon of the Diocese of Lancaster and holding some
responsibility here fosters in the minds of some people that Deacon Nick Donnelly is
somehow reporting the views of the Diocese.
It is my view that bishops, priests and deacons of the Church – ordained and ‘public’
persons – are free to express themselves and their personal views, but never in a way
that divides the community of the Church i.e. through ad hominem and personal
challenges. Increasingly I have felt that Protect the Pope, authored as it is by a public
person holding ecclesiastical office (an ordained deacon), has, at times, taken this
approach its own posts – but has also allowed for this by facilitating those who comment
I note that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, speaking at a media conference in
Rome on 29 April, said: “We adhere to the best and highest standards”—indicating that
this doesn’t only pertain to the latest in technological advancements which are “critically
important,” but also to “the way we use that technology,” because “how we say
something is just as important as what we say.”
Cardinal Dolan also noted the importance of never caricaturing or stereotyping those
who oppose the Magisterium. He exhorted that even when confronted with those who
attempt to distort what the Church says, or who issue “mean, vicious, and outward
attacks,” we must “always respond in charity and love.”
On several occasions, I asked Deacon Nick, through my staff, for Protect the Pope to
continue its good work in promoting and teaching the Catholic Faith, but to be careful
not to take on individuals in the Church of opposing views through ad hominem and
personal challenges. Unfortunately, this was not taken on board. Consequently, as a
last resort, on 3 March 2014 and in a personal meeting with Deacon Nick Donnelly, I
requested, as his Diocesan Ordinary, that Deacon Nick ‘pause’ all posting on the
Protect the Pope website so as to allow for a period of prayer and reflection upon his
position as an ordained cleric with regards to Protect the Pope and his own duties
towards unity, truth and charity. The fact that this decision and our personal dialogue
was made public on the Protect the Pope site and then misinterpreted by third parties is
a matter of great regret. In fact, new posts continued on the site after this date – the
site being handed over and administered/moderated in this period by Deacon Nick’s
On 13 April 2014 Deacon Nick requested in writing that he be allowed to resume
posting again from the date: Monday 21 April 2014. I did not accept this request as the
period of discernment had not yet concluded. Again, the fact that this decision was forced, misinterpreted and then released publicly on the site – and miscommunicated by certain media outlets and blogs – claiming that I had effectively ‘closed’, ‘supressed’ or ‘gagged’ Protect the Pope was regrettable and does not represent the truth of this situation. To be clear: I have not closed down Protect the Pope.
I am certainly aware of the need of the Church and the Diocese of Lancaster to engage positively with the new media, social media, blogs, and the internet for the sake of spreading the Gospel to the people of our age. Indeed, our Diocese has a good track record of such engagement in reaching out to a much wider audience through our active use of the new communication technologies. I have a weekly blog myself.
I am, of course, also conscious, that no bishop can ever ‘close down’ or supress blogs and websites – such a claim would be absurd. Bishops can and must, however, be faithful to their apostolic duty to preserve the unity of the Church in the service of the Truth. They must ensure that ordained clergy under their care serve that unity in close communion with them and through the gift of their public office: preaching the Truth
always – but always in love.’
There will be no further comment from the Diocese of Lancaster on this matter.
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster 2 May 2014
My comment: The words of Bishop Campbell and his actions appear to be in opposition. There is obvious confusion.
I think for now the best we can all do is pray sincerely for Bishop Campbell and Deacon Donnelly, who are two good persons caught up in a situation which must be distasteful, to put it mildly, for both.