Monday, April 11, 2011

Don't get me wrong...

So, I hear that people are all a-tizzy that I've said mean things about the Vatican's official blognic. That this is a "rival" event, that I think theirs will be a bore, that I think they don't really know what's what, that I think their "selection process" is a code for "we're only going to invite 'safe' bloggers" and the whole thing is a nefarious plot to keep "controverisal" bloggers out.

Let's take this one point at a time, ok?

"It's a rival event".

It's not a "rival" event. I'm just brazenly stealing the idea. If it were a "rival" or "counter" event, it would be on the same day at the same time. It's the day after because we're hoping that people will go to both, the "official" one with the important talks, and the fun one with the beer.

"You think the Vatican's conferences are boring."

The Vatican's conferences are boring, in the sense that they're not entertainment. It's impossible for a speaker to be entertaining at them. Sorry, but it's true. Have you ever been to one? I've been to lots. They're often interesting; they're often important, and sometimes they even make a difference, but lawdy! they ain't a fun evening out. It's not the fault of the speaker. Maybe it's the fluorescent lights or the weight of the ages, or the stern gaze of Bernini's saints glaring down at you, but it's just not a fun place. If they got a speaker who was Oscar Wilde wrapped in G.K. Chesterton wrapped in Mike Myers, under the Vatican Serious Solemnity Rays he'd flop.

It's a hard fact if you work Inside, but the only person who works in the Vatican who anyone wants to hear from is the Pope. And he doesn't have to be entertaining.

"You think the Vatican doesn't know what it's doing with the 'new media'"

I know the Vatican doesn't know what it's doing with the new media. The pope admitted as much. I'm thinking that's the reason they want to have a conference for bloggers.

Yay! I'm glad they have seen that Catholic bloggers have interesting and important things to contribute. Do I think they're probably going about it the wrong way? Yep, probably. But that's only because they're new to all this. By the end of the blogger conference, they will know the blogging world better. Which is the point, isn't it?

"You don't trust the Vatican to be the good guys."

In fact, I do. I've actually met a few people who work inside, and I've found them to be (almost) uniformly charming and kindly. And they understand that they're hampered by lack of information. They've got the weight of the world on their shoulders and it's a big world. There are a lot of things to keep track of and not enough people or resources to do the job. It may surprise y'all to learn that there are only a few hundred people running the whole thing, they don't get paid all that much and they're not psychic.

That being said, I'm betting that there were quite a few things they didn't think of when they came up with the blogger conference idea. If they'd asked me, for starters, I would have mentioned that there has been a lot of annoyance in recent years over the appearance of high-handedness in the Vatican's way of doing things. I might have mentioned that announcing an international Catholic bloggers' conference three weeks before the date and asking people to come from around the world, and then saying, "Oh, by the way, we've only got room for 150 of you, so we'll let you know at an undisclosed date who exactly is invited," kind of smacks of that old Vatican "Don't call us, we'll call you" attitude that gets people annoyed.

I think they probably had no idea how many bloggers there were out there, or how fast the news would flash around the 'sphere, or how many people would be interested. The local media has been making some simply amazing estimates of how many people overall are going to be here for the Beatification. Some of them have said 3 million. Well, there are only 3 million people living in Rome. This means that accommodation, even on floors, is going to be, shall we say, at a premium. Do they know that most Catholic bloggers are not professional writers, or people formally attached to dioceses or newspapers who can afford to send their 'bloggers to liveblog the ceremonies? Do they know that most Catholic bloggers are individual parish priests, housewives, students and working people? Not a lot of financial slack to suddenly jet off around the world and pay for a bed when they get here.

I might also have mentioned that it might be a good idea to ask the bloggers themselves who they think the most influential and important among our numbers are. Do they know that we have annual Catholic bloggers' awards? I can't speak for the non-English speaking world, but there are already structures in place in the 'sphere that has created a fairly coherent community. I've not heard from anyone yet who has told me, "Oh yes, the Vatican guys contacted me and asked me how the Catholic bloggosphere works." I don't know a single Catholic blogger who would not have been thrilled to have been asked his advice.

There's something that most people who work Inside the Walls doesn't seem to understand about the Catholic laity: the Catholic laity don't trust them. Whether that is the work of the secular media, whether it's Dan Brown's fault, or is because of societal changes that have created a gap between the average lay person and his priests or bishops, whether it is a vast right wing conspiracy or a vast left wing conspiracy is beside the point. Lay people don't trust the Official Church. The reasons are myriad, complex (and honestly, have been done to death on the blogs), but the fact remains. There have been a lot of people in commboxes speculating on why this conference was conceived, by whom and for what potentially nefarious purpose.

The fact that the laity are the bloggers and "new media", for the most part, hasn't been lost on them, but the gap is there and it won't be easy to cross.

Do I think it's a dumb idea?

Of course not. I would love to go, but I'm not holding my breath.

The idea of the *Other* Rome Catholic Blognic jumped into my mind when I thought, "Dang, no way I'm going to make the cut, sure sorry to miss out."

This way, I won't have to.

And neither will you.


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