Saturday, July 14, 2007
Dynamite in a Bottle
This week has brought another catfight in the Episcopal blogosphere. It began with a post from Elizabeth Kaeton, a priest in the diocese of New Jersey who happens to be both rector of a parish and head of the Standing Committee in said diocese. In other words, this is a person with administrative experience whom one would hope possessed the quality of good judgement.
What she wrote on her blog managed to enrage a lot of people. It was directed at another female priest who is married with three young children and a fourth on the way; in her original post (hastily taken down and edited after a few hours) Kaeton compared this woman to Andrea Yates and Susan Smith, two mothers who murdered their children. I'm not going to repost the entire story, which has been covered in great detail on multiple blogs, but a good summary of the episode is here with further analysis in a later post. (Full disclosure: one of the main bloggers on Stand Firm is Matt Kennedy, who is married to Anne Kennedy, victim of Keaton's original post.)
Kaeton's motivation for this rather appalling act was apparently based on a single blog entry from Rev. Kennedy, from back in March. In it she discusses her messy house and that she's too tired to clean because she and her husband have just found out that she's pregnant with their fourth child. It's not a desperate or incoherent post; it's actually rather cheerful. Read the post and see what your take on it is.
Now consider this. Kaeton responded to the outrage that greeted her post with another entry in which she apologized. Unfortunately the apology consisted of the following:
I need to say to you, however, as gently and lovingly as I can, that there are growing numbers of us, lay and ordained, mostly all in "the helping professions" including psychiatrists and psychologists, doctors and nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners, social workers and those whose speciality is in domestic violence and child protection, who grow increasingly concerned and check in on your blog with some regularity.
In other words, Kaeton implied that she had contacted the Kennedys' bishop specifically to state that she felt Anne Kennedy might not be capable of holding down her job and implied further that Rev. Kennedy might be an unfit mother, emotionally unstable, or both. Further, she threw in the threat of continuing to watch Rev. Kennedy's blog specifically for the purpose of gathering evidence to this effect.
And she did all this based on a single blog post from four months ago without ever posting in Rev. Kennedy's comments and, apparently, without even emailing her, a fellow priest, to inquire how she was doing or if she was okay or needed help. (To clarify, I will add here that I've read all of Rev. Kennedy's entries and the blog's comments for the last four months. I find nothing in the blog to warrant this sort of reaction from Kaeton.)
This is beyond irresponsible and beyond unprofessional. It is unconscionable. Consider the following situation for perspective. Let's say someone who is caregiver for a parent or other relative with Alzheimer's has a blog. In it they write about how difficult it is to be a caregiver, how tired they are, how frustrating it is to try to communicate with and take care of their relative. The blog is their safety valve, if you will, and allows the writer to contact others in the same situation (for instance, anyone interested could post a comment, which most bloggers allow). It is not evidence that the relative is being mistreated. It cannot and should not be used as a warning sign.
Now let's say that someone who doesn't like this person - perhaps they're angling for the same job, perhaps they're of an opposing political ideology, perhaps it's another family member who wants access to the relative's money or property - uses the information in this blog to call Adult Protective Services and file a complaint against the caregiver. "See?" they say self-righteously, "It's all right there on the Internet! She admits she can't handle taking care of Dad, she said so!"
Kaeton's "answer" to her critics holds a very real threat to Ms. Kennedy: the potential to destroy her career. Being investigated by CPS is the sort of thing that tends to remain on one's record, and when it comes to applying for a job... would you want to ask a bishop for a recommendation when the bishop in question had been dragged into a messy child-protection case involving your children? No matter how innocent of the charges you actually are?
Kaeton has set a dangerous precedent here. The appeal of blogging is the ability to write about oneself, one's life and interests, like casting a bottle on the ocean with a message in it. It's disconcerting to think that someone might open the bottle and use the information in it to come after you.