The evolution of 'The Fan Club'
The very term "fan club" -- was used in the spirit of humor. tongue-in-cheek, as it were. Back in the day, there was no modern theologian more unfairly vilified than that of Joseph Ratzinger, Rome's Grand Inquisitor, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Self-styled "progressive" Catholics would paint him as an evil figure of Dostoyevskian proportions (although John Allen Jr. did strive a little to put a human face on him).
And so was born the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club -- because what could be more apt for those who appreciated Joseph Ratzinger, the theologian? -- than a "fan club" for the Grand Inquisitor. "Putting the Smackdown on Heresy since 1981". The website was primarily focused on the ideas and writings of Joseph Ratzinger -- a gesture of intellectual appreciation, with a hearty dose of humor. (Spotting a fan club mug on the shelf of a faculty colleague, for instance, may be taken as a covert sign of theological orthodoxy at a liberal Catholic and/or secular university). It was all in good fun.
But then the Prefect was elected Pope, and the notoriety of Ratzinger was vanquished by wave upon wave of adoration -- with the forum becoming increasingly more populated by "fans" of a different sort: those who were far more invested in following, discussing, scrutinizing and in some cases adoring the person and personality of the Holy Father as opposed to anything resembling a serious study of his ideas and theological contributions to the Church.
Was I complicit in such? -- I would confess as much. Who couldn't be caught up in that initial wave of papal enthusiasm? And yes, it was fun. That is, until it wasn't.
Not what I had intended, exactly
Somebody on the forum asked:
When it comes to topics like theology, the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, assessments of his works and thoughts, even Catholic faith and belief , history of Christianity and Catholicism barely a squeak is heard in reaction to articles or assessments posted there. A quack once in a while followed by eternal silence.
Christopher Blosser: was this your intention when you started this forum many years ago in honour of a great intellect and theologian: Joseph Ratzinger?
I confess that was my personal hope in starting the 'fan club' -- and it has succeeded to a degree on the website itself, or in the various blog discussions, or in personal email correspondence arising from the blog.
But the forum itself had within a few months of Benedict's election, evolved (perhaps inevitably) into a discussion of religious trivia and gossip about all things papist. It so it remains to this day: a forum about the person and pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI than the thought of the man himself, together with the expected splintering of factions within the forum -- as positions are taken on this or that issue and points of papal trivia (ex. the character of Msgr. Ganswein and the exercise of his office).
All of this may seem to be of great interest to some, and perhaps it is part and parcel of being a "fan". But I honestly cannot even bring myself to muster interest or concern over this or that tidbit of information about the papal household, the political rivalries of the Vatican curia, etc. And honestly, I cannot imagine Ratzinger would care about such, either -- who, visibly worn and weary, was probably only too relieved to forsake such for the comfort of his books upon his retirement.
What about moderating?
All the moderators of the forum have vacated (perhaps, like me, out of sheer mental and/or spiritual exhaustion, bearing witness to the infighting over a prolonged period of time). There was a point where I myself attempted to take the reigns, but that too has come to an end.
I am treated almost weekly, and in some cases daily to emails of high dudgeon from this or that party within the forum castigating the other, denouncing the other, and demanding that righteous justice be meted out in the form of censorship and banning.
Everybody perceives themselves as in the right. Nobody is seems willing to concede the slightest bit of understanding or charity to the other. The impression one receives is that this forum is populated not so much by grown adults with a capacity for civilized discussion as little children hellbent on protecting the turf they've carved out for themselves as Sole Defender of the Pope Emeritus.
But for me: I'm tired. I started the 'fan club' in 2000, fresh out of college. And even in 2005 I could have tolerated it. But at nearly fifteen years later: I'm married now, with two kids, and at 40 years of age and with a realization of how precious time is -- I'd rather spend what little free time I have left from work and familial responsibilities playing with my kids, or reading, or engaging in some other (what seems to me) far more worthy pursuit than playing "referee".
The Future of the Forum
I could have ended it. And I'll admit the temptation is out there sometimes, born of sheer exasperation. But the forum remains out of respect for everybody who has with what I presume to be good intentions contributed to it over the years of Benedict's pontificate with their posts, and in deference to those who may still see some worth in continuing participation. (And contrary to my characterization of the forum, there is certainly good content in the forum as well: posts and conversations which would encourage ongoing friendly participation. After all, there must be something which encourages people to apply for membership on a monthly basis).
The forum remains open.
Those who apply to become members are approved in good faith. The only reason I still exercise some control -- namely, the ability to ban -- is as a final means of defense against those who become members with ill intentions. For example, we had an instance years ago of gay activists posting pornography in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the forum shortly after his election, which was a chief motivation for me to exert some authoritative control. Apart from egregious examples like that, I'm quite content to let the forum be as open and unmoderated as what we typically refer to as "the public square."
And whether that public square is a vehicle for civilized conversation and dialogue -- and I remain hopeful that it can be such, even if you do not particularly like each other as people, or hold differing opinions on this or that -- or merely grounds for a free-for-all exchange of insults -- is up to you.
Somebody that I believe each of us claimed to follow once said:
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
Well, prove it -- collectively -- those of you who consider yourselves participants of this forum.