Catholics build a

Spurred by the abuse scandal, an informal network of Web essayists has sprung up, offering a safe place to debate and celebrate their faith
Chicago Tribune, Aug. 2, 2002
By Darlene Gavron Stevens
Tribune staff reporter

August 2, 2002

They call it St. Blog’s Parish, but there are no weekly masses, no altar or pews.

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The only requirements to join are a computer, Internet access and a desire to vent about the Roman Catholic Church.

Each of the estimated 85 members in this unofficial cyberspace network has a “blog,” or Web log, an online diary complete with links and reader feedback that is updated daily–commonly through a free Internet program.

Launched earlier this year amid the growing sex abuse controversy in the church, the “parish” has provided a safe place to heal, debate and celebrate the Catholic faith through daily essays and news links, according to bloggers from Toronto to Tinley Park.

“When it got to the dozen point, and we had a priest, choir director and a cathechist blogging, I started calling it St. Blog’s Parish,” said Kathy Shaidle of Toronto, one of the first Catholic bloggers.

The community was even more active in recent weeks, with the Voice of the Faithful laity conference in Boston and the pope’s North American trip dominating discussion. The bloggers say they intend to keep tabs on the abuse scandal and the controversial issues it has stirred.

St. Blog’s fills a niche by creating a community that isn’t available in traditional parishes, said Douglas E. Cowan, assistant professor of religious studies and sociology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“It’s a platform for people who feel that they have something important to say, but until now could only say it to the people around them,” said Cowan, who co-edited the book “her blog in 2000, when she was a religion columnist for the Toronto Star. She is now a contributing editor to the Toronto diocesan newspaper.

If St. Blog’s perishes, she says, it will be because of boredom, not controversy. At the peak of the scandal, when her blog was a magnet for debate, Shaidle estimated that it went from 200 hits a month to 12,000. Now it has dropped to about 9,000.

Offering a special perspective in St. Blog’s is Steve Mattson, whose “In Formation” blog delivers daily reflections on his life as a second-year student at Mundelein Seminary.

“The reason I added my voice into the mix was partly because of the criticism of seminaries,” said Mattson, 40, who is studying to become a priest for Michigan’s Lansing diocese. “These are difficult times. Maybe what I have to say can help others…. Maybe we can get the church to a better place.”

One of St. Blog’s resident philosophers is Karl Schudt of Tinley Park, whose “Summa Contra Mundum” blog was named in tribute to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Athanasius.

Schudt, a doctor of philosophy who has taught at Mundelein and Marquette University, describes himself as a “church nerd,” someone with Vatican II documents on his bookshelf. Schudt once took on the topic of female priests by writing an essay titled, “Is God Sexist?”

“I try to be the opposite of a Cafeteria Catholic,” Schudt said. “I’m a philosopher, so I make arguments.”

St. Blog’s has seen its share of battles, but for the most part the debate stays civil and can even be therapeutic, said Welborn, a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service.

On one particularly bad day, she got a letter from a blogger who said, “Let me tell you about a very good priest.”

It helped her and other bloggers see that “it’s not all that bad,” Welborn said. “The church is prevailing.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 8, 2002.
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