What freedom of speech for the clergy on social networks?


Our word must be limited to the authority entrusted to us

Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard

Auxiliary Bishop of Lyon and member of the Council for Communication at the Conference of Bishops of France (Credit: Diocese of Lyon)

There is a real theology of communication, whatever the medium. God, moreover, is an excellent communicator, through his son Jesus who is “the image of the invisible God”. But communication is never an end in itself… which can be the risk of social networks. Because people are on these platforms, it is also the role of the Church to be present in the public square. There is an emotional and personal dimension to networks which means that our presence cannot be solely institutional. But that’s part of the game: when you are ordained a priest, you have to accept the public dimension that comes with it. Like any public person, a cleric cannot communicate only in his name!

One of the questions that often arises in the Communication Council concerns the geographical delimitation of our mission. Our way of expressing ourselves must be lived within the circle of a geographically defined mission. A parish priest accompanies his parish spiritually, just as the bishop accompanies his diocese. On the networks, the cleric speaks to Internet users who are not entrusted to him in the parish or in the diocese. If the priest’s words on the networks go in a different direction from that of the priest in the parish, this can pose a real problem of communion. This is why it is essential to have a universal word that everyone can take up for themselves: we can “retweet the pope”, or the word of God shared by a priest.

In the diocese of Lyon, we train pastoral actors in communication, and give very simple rules to priests for networks: do not be critical, talk about things related to his ministry, be benevolent, never controversial, do not not to spend an inordinate amount of time there… To be finally on the networks as one wishes to be in life! Because networks are places where narcissism can particularly emerge, it is important to be accompanied by a communication team. Sometimes you have to be wary of yourself! Especially since a single communication error on the networks can lead to losing self-confidence and the joy of one’s ministry.

Between priests and bishops present on the networks, we talk about it among ourselves, within the framework of fraternal correction. It is not about being in the forbidden, especially since we are not all of the same generation and have different uses of networks. But we educate ourselves, we correct each other. I sometimes challenge bishops on such and such a statement on the networks, when it is not in connection with his diocese, that it lacks charity or that it is too political. Our clerical word must be limited to the authority we have. Otherwise, it’s called clericalism.

Collected by Youna Rivallain

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What freedom of speech for the clergy on social networks?

Necessary, the freedom of tone must be accompanied

Abbot Pierre-Hervé Grosjean

Pastor of the parish of Montigny-Voisins (Yvelines) and co-founder of the Padreblog (Source: P.-H. Grosjean)

For a priest, social networks are a missionary opportunity, that of sharing the message of the Gospel beyond the borders of his parish, of reaching out to the peripheries. Especially since on social networks, everyone can benefit from real freedom of tone: a priest does not speak on TikTok or YouTube like a bishop would express himself in a pastoral letter for his diocese!

I have nothing against the fact that priests expose themselves, the Church needs figures who know how to use networks to embody the message of the Gospel. It can be a real service! But this daring must be accompanied by prudence, consistency and real loyalty.

The clergy have a particular responsibility on these kinds of platforms because, by virtue of their very ministry, they carry a message that is not their own, but of which they serve. The priest’s word engages more than himself! We are not ordained to share our personal opinions or doubts, but to announce a Truth that is beyond us. Certainly, the Gospel needs witnesses to embody it, with their personality, their charisma and their different tone… but it must remain the same Gospel!

Just as one is not a priest without the Church, a cleric cannot teach or transmit anything other than what the Word of God and the faith of the Church say – especially on subjects on which the magisterium is concerned. is already expressed. It is a question of fidelity to the mission received! It is ultimately the same responsibility as when a priest delivers his homily, except that the audience is considerably larger. This is why this freedom of tone, although it is necessary, must be responsible and accompanied.

Responsible, because the priest is aware that his word, his audience, his function engage him and engage the Church from which he has received what he is. He must remain a servant of his message. In the end, it is the message that must be retained more than the messenger. This is all the more important with social networks, which tend to highlight the person in front of the camera above all.

Freedom accompanied, because one is never a priest alone, but in communion with the whole Church. It is vital to remain in obedience with your bishop, whose role is to ensure the consistency of what is announced by the priests of your diocese. The more a cleric is exposed, the more important it is that he let himself be surrounded, that he have brothers to help him discern. It was very valuable to me when I started to be exposed to the media. It’s important to be able to ask the question regularly: what am I really looking for? Of course, the goal is to be able to transmit the Gospel to as many people as possible, but care must be taken that the search for an audience does not detract from the message. It is also necessary to keep an anchoring in reality, through the life of the parish which is the place of verification.

Collected by Youna Rivallain

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