LANCASTER, UK, March 21, 2014 ( – An English bishop has pressured one of his deacons to cease blogging in a move described by critics as an effort to silence the deacon’s lively defense of orthodox Catholic doctrine and the papacy.

Deacon Nick Donnelly’s well-travelled blog, “Protect the Pope,” now carries the note, “From its inception to the beginning of March 2014, Rev. Nick Donnelly, was the main author and editor of this blog. At this time he is in a period of reflection and prayer.”

The diocese of Lancaster issued a statement this week saying that Bishop Michael Campbell had invited Deacon Donnelly to stop posting, and to enter a period of “reflection and prayer … on the duties involved for ordained bloggers/website administrators to truth, charity and unity in the Church.” No reasons were given for the bishop’s action. Donnelly’s wife, Martina, has taken over posting and has invited other authors to contribute, and Deacon Donnelly himself has said that he has no control over what is posted.


LifeSiteNews contacted Bishop Campbell’s office but was told there would likely not be any further comment.

Donnelly told LifeSiteNews that he has been able to speak to Bishop Campbell, but prefers to keep the details of his face-to-face discussion private. He added, however, that bishops in general have a “very low opinion of blogs” and cited a speech by Westminster Archbishop, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who accused Catholic bloggers of “spreading gossip and complaints and destroying love in the Church.”

Donnelly launched his blog in 2010 in response to the frenzy of attacks against Pope Benedict XVI by the secular press in the lead-up to his state visit to Britain that year. Its popularity on the internet is without question, with over a million hits per year and readers logging in from 188 countries around the world. Donnelly is a permanent deacon for the diocese of Lancaster, but includes a disclaimer on the blog that says, “Protect the Pope is a private initiative and is in no way officially associated with the Diocese of Lancaster.”

Donnelly strongly denied that his blog has ever been used to spread “gossip” and insists that it only commented on material available in the public domain. But Donnelly strongly defended the rights of Catholics to object to the near-universal disintegration of the faith.

“Don’t we have the right to complain when dissent is disseminated in the Church? Don’t we have the right to challenge the betrayal of the Faith entrusted to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ? Blogs are often the only way that faithful Catholics have a voice in the Church.”

“When I ran Protect the Pope I was often privately contacted by Catholics who wanted to tell me about their concerns and complaints about dissent and disobedience in their parish or diocese because they had been given the brush off by their parish priest or bishop when they approached them,” he told LifeSiteNews.

Bishop Campbell’s decision has caused a considerable backlash, and other clerical and lay Catholic bloggers have commented that bishops who hope to stave off controversy by suppressing writers are accomplishing only the opposite result.

The most prominent of Britain’s Catholic bloggers, Father Timothy Finigan, the priest and theology professor who writes the “Hermeneutic of Continuity” blog and who founded the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, wrote that it is “impractical” for bishops to attempt to censor clerical bloggers. Finigan said that censored bloggers, especially with the growth of “alternative social media platforms” like Facebook and Twitter, can simply start up a new site under a pseudonym and continue as before, a fact that might not be understood by an older generation of bishops with little or no understanding of how the internet and the blogosphere works.

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Fr. Finigan said, “As activists on the internet pointed out years ago, censorship is just another bug for which you find a hack or a workaround.” And a censored blogger is an unhappy blogger, he pointed out, who is less likely to be “inclined to moderation in a new social media incarnation.”

“Bloggers work in an environment which is open to everyone. One of the healthy things about such open communication is precisely that you cannot rely on personal standing to squash disagreement,” added Fr. Finigan, who has frequently been attacked himself for his outspoken defense of Catholic orthodoxy on his own blog.

Deacon Donnelly told LifeSiteNews that bishops have largely failed to understand how the blogosphere works and to take advantage of it. “I suspect that most bishops don’t understand blogs and the new media, and still only think in terms of TV and newspapers as the ways to get their message out.”

“But to be honest, on the whole, bishops appear very nervous about engaging with TV and the press, so the idea of blogs and the new media must make them very suspicious and apprehensive,” he said.

“The days of thinking you can control the message by ignoring the media, or even suppressing the media, are long gone,” he added.

Donnelly, who also serves the Lancaster diocese as vocations director for the permanent diaconate, has frequently been critical of much of the British Catholic establishment, but wrote on his blog that his purpose was only ever to promote the teaching of the Catholic Church in its fullness, “to compare and contrast what’s being said and done in the Church with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That can never be wrong.”

In an editorial Thursday, the Catholic Herald said, “The emergence of the Catholic blogosphere is one of the most significant developments in the 21st-century Church,” and that Catholic blogs, by penetrating into the world of the internet, “where increasing numbers of people spend most of their waking lives” have a “prophetic dimension.”

The Herald posits that the aversion to blogging evinced especially by English Catholic bishops could be less about an ideological leaning against orthodoxy and more of a holdover from the penal laws that suppressed any public expressions of Catholicism in Britain. “There was a time when English Catholics were forced to set aside their differences and present a firmly united front: their very survival was at stake. That instinct has endured long after penal times.”

But Donnelly himself told LifeSiteNews that the suppression of Catholic voices is one-sided in the British Church, saying, “As faithful, traditional Catholics we are only allowed to express ourselves in the Catholic press within certain constraints, so blogs are vital for a free exchange of ideas and viewpoints. Without blogs, faithful, traditional Catholics would be rendered voiceless.”

Reactions from the public were summarized by one commenter at the Catholic Herald, who wrote, “No secret. He is too ‘Catholic’ for some of the powers that be.” Another said, “The inquisition has returned and mainly conservative and traditional Catholics are the targets.” Another asked, “Why do bishops insist on sounding like politicians & not priests? Not only are the laity clericalised; the clergy are in effect laymen in Holy Orders. Not what the Fathers of [Vatican II] hoped for.”

One of the UK’s most-read conservative political bloggers has also chimed in, saying that the attempt to suppress such a prominent voice on the internet was guaranteed to trigger a backlash.

The pseudonymous blogger Archbishop Cranmer wrote, “This ‘period of prayer and reflection’ is manifestly nothing of the sort: the ‘request’ carries more than a whiff of absolutist clericalism; an enforced disciplinary censorship imposed upon the Deacon for daring to defend Roman Catholic orthodoxy against the more liberal winds blowing through the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.”