I have a question for my fellow Catholics: when did mischaracterization, ad hominem, and scathing personal attacks become the qualifications for popular Catholic writers? When did it become acceptable for these so-called Catholics to use their platforms to sling mud at and besmirch the reputations of any brother in Christ who disagrees with them? Where is their interest in charitably engaging those with whom they disagree in an attempt to persuade them rather than abuse them? Why should they be empowered to try to force into silence any voice with which they find fault?
Is this how low our standards have fallen? Should we not expect more from those who act as ambassadors of our faith to the online world?
I’ve personally been on the receiving end of any number of cheap shots, mischaracterizations, and even unbelievably vulgar private screeds from certain well-known Internet Catholics. It started (insert feigned shock) when I dared to criticize the pope, invoking (quite respectfully, I might add) a point of disagreement with a certain popular Catholic mommy-blogger.
I’m not going to tell you that it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s certainly diminished over time, but no sane person enjoys being maligned, or treated as if they are the punch line of particularly humorless jokes. It’s become a fairly common thing for me to receive an email or a message from someone with a link to the latest vindictive, bombastic shrieking or mocking condescension coming from the direction of one or another well-known Catholic blog. And in a way, I’m thankful for the increased frequency of these attacks. This is because:
A) It tells me that I’m doing something right.
B) Nothing thickens the skin like repeated abuse. Like I said, after a while, you don’t even feel it much anymore.
The good news is that if people want to take a swing at me, rather than what I’m saying, they’re pretty much just wasting their time. Even if they get me blacklisted from Catholic media outlets, that’s not how I make my living. So I can say what I want and not have to worry about skittish editors or nervous benefactors.
Where I get agitated is when these wannabe Catholic celebrities violate the hell out of the Eighth Commandment by viciously and uncharitably attacking people who DO make their living doing this. As far as I can tell, these attacks are motivated by a vindictive desire to drown out ideological opposition. Experience shows that mocking, derision, and character assassination are the chief tactics employed in the service of making opponents irrelevant. No doubt because they fare so poorly in composing actual arguments in support of their positions. Like cultural progressives who scream about protecting free speech until they’re caught silencing dissent in the name of sensitivity and burning the books they find threatening, they don’t care who they hurt just as long as their worldview remains free of any significantly inconvenient challenge.
Enter the reason for my post. My long-time friend, Hilary White, who wrote a story for LifeSiteNews about Pope Francis concelebrating mass with and kissing the hand of Fr. Michele de Paolis, an Italian priest who is a well-known dissident, a leading clerical activist in favor of the homosexual lifestyle, and the founder of an organization which promotes the same. Though not mentioned in Hilary’s report, this event came directly on the heels of unqualified the reinstatement of Fr. Sean Fagan, an Irish priest formerly threatened with laicization by Pope Benedict’s CDF if he did not cease publishing books and disseminating opinions which directly contradicted the Church’s sexual moral teachings. Anyone who actually gives a flying fig about the integrity of the Catholic faith should find these public gestures, laden with potentially heterodox insinuation, at the very least moderately concerning. But this was not the case among some of the top bloggers at Patheos and National Catholic Register. Sharp claws and fangs were immediately unsheathed.
I don’t typically name names in what amounts to mostly petty disputes between the most common of modern creatures — online writers — but these people are playing for keeps.
Two sentences that make me turn on my bullshit detector: ones that start, “Guess what Pope Francis just did?” and ones that start, “According to LifeSiteNews . . . “
– Simcha Fisher
When Mark Shea (who says of people like Hilary and me, “God save the Church from the Greatest Catholics of All Time and their endless hatred for this good and holy Pope.”) posts this shriek of ignorance, insinuation, and error, and Simcha Fisher (who refers to the story in question as “that dreadful hit piece by Hilary White”) opens a 300-comment-strong echo chamber attacking Hilary and LifeSiteNews, and Thomas McDonald (who in the Fisher thread called Hilary “a nasty piece of work”) says this, and then the next thing you know, LifeSiteNews is (evidently) feeling pressured into writing this clarification on why they assigned the story in the first place…I have a problem with that.
I have a BIG problem with that.
Does Hilary have an opinion on Pope Francis? You betcha. She’s been covering him since day one, and she has shared some of those opinions publicly on her website. Of course, as any Catholic with a deep understanding of their faith has experienced, the pope has a remarkable tendency to induce instant heartburn almost every time he steps into the public eye. Can Hilary cover the pope without any bias? That’s a tall order. But that’s okay, because LifeSiteNews isn’t a neutral, objective, third-party media outlet covering life issues, bioethics, and Church news. THEY HAVE A BIAS, TOO. They fight for the pro-life cause and Catholic orthodoxy. Anyone who has read them knows that.
Of course, as any realist knows, journalistic objectivity exists on approximately the same level of plausibility as the tooth fairy. Conservatives talk about liberal media bias all. the. time. Conservative media outlets have arisen to combat the liberal press, and they have (wait for it!) CONSERVATIVE BIAS. Until the day that someone invents robot journalism, the people covering any given story are going to bring their own perspective to it. The larger question is not whether they have an opinion, but whether they choose to share that opinion with the public either before or after writing a story. Just being quiet about what you believe doesn’t mean you don’t believe it, or that it doesn’t color your work. That’s a shell game. And having opinions on a topic doesn’t mean that a reporter is incapable of writing on that topic with honesty and integrity. If you care about the truth, you follow it wherever it leads you.
So here we have this story by Hilary White — a story which presented factual information without interpretation about something the pope ACTUALLY did which was obviously (to the mind of anyone not knee-deep in Catholic normalcy bias) very odd. The facts were presented in a sensible order – the pope did something unusual, it raised eyebrows (and it did: many Catholics were astonished), and the reason it raised eyebrows is because the priest in question is very well known for his positions on the homosexual lifestyle. Such as the pull quote from one of his published books, which was used in White’s piece: “homosexual love is a gift from (God) no less than heterosexual.” It is reasonable to assume that a Roman Pontiff (or his staff) would do just a smidge of homework before concelebrating mass and spending considerable time with a priest on a given occasion. We are not entering into wildly speculative territory when we find that the facts of the story lead us to conclude that the pope knew what he was doing. Assuming he was ignorant is, frankly, a little insulting to his intelligence and the competence of his staff.
Of course, the facts of the story aren’t the problem. As far as I know, they haven’t even been disputed. They can’t be. Fr. de Paolis has an entire Facebook photo album showing some of what transpired.
But now LifeSiteNews is also being maligned as little better than the National Enquirer running stories about aliens and Sasquatch love triangles. Because apparently there was a misleading story about fetal tissue in Pepsi one time. Or some sensational headlines (in a publication that covers the greatest evils the world has EVER seen. Crazy, right?)
Assuming LifeSiteNews isn’t perfect — which seems fairly plausible — can someone please show me a publication which has done more to inform Catholics of the real warfare going on in the trenches of the pro-life, pro-family movement? Because I haven’t come across it in 20 years on the Internet. And Hilary’s dedication to reporting on these topics over the years has come at not insignificant personal cost. I can only imagine that the same can be said of her employer.
This reaction that is happening in the Catholic blogosphere doesn’t even resemble justified outrage. It’s a lynch mob. And it’s comprised of people who call themselves Catholic, but could really use a crash course in what that means.The Baltimore Catechism might be a good place to start, since it presents things simply and clearly and doesn’t “make a mess” of doctrinal certitude. I’m not even kidding.
I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up. It’s yet another reminder that Novusordoism and Catholicism are more different than they are the same.
And just because I know some of you are chomping at the bit to start typing your zingers into my combox about my outrageous hypocrisy, let me save you the trouble. I traffic in criticism of prelates at the highest levels of the Church. I do this because it is their moral duty to uphold, proclaim, and safeguard the truths of the faith, and it is a job toward which many of them have shown a shocking dereliction of duty. When the pope is out there smearing doctrinal lines and leading people to believe that everything is up for grabs and anything can change, that has a profound impact on those who feel obligated to try to follow him with docility and faithfulness but can’t reconcile their own more deeply-grounded understanding of what the Church teaches with his jarring words and actions. They need to be reminded that they are not alone, that their instincts are correct, and that they have every right to adhere to what the Church teaches and to ignore the novel spin a particular pope wants to put on it in order to advance his own ideological agenda. We are working through this crisis together.
You will be hard pressed, however, to find me making ANY personal attacks on my fellow Catholics. This post, and the anger I’m barely restraining, is about as far as I’m willing to take it. I will occasionally reference another writer in response to something they’ve done, but I believe in substantive criticism of ideas, not character-damaging calumny or detraction directed at fellow Catholics.
These self-serving, egotistical bloggers and their commenters should be ashamed of themselves, if they are capable of shame. Their reaction is the reason so few of the reasonable individuals I’ve spoken with at various academic and other Catholic institutions feel at liberty to come forward with their concerns. First, they fear that they will be maligned by the self-designated vigilantes of Catholic mediocrity. Then, they will lose their reputations, and eventually their jobs. Many have families. They can’t afford to throw away careers and livelihoods, so they are forced to keep silent. In a recent conversation I had with a man who has spent his life forming Catholic students, he whispered to me, “I have to be so careful about what I say.” These people should not be forced to live in fear of speaking the truth. GOD. IS. TRUTH.
I doubt very many of my readers bother to read the offending writers I’ve mentioned. Mostly, I hear from people who just can’t bring themselves to do it anymore. I would advise those of you who do read them to consider this: web traffic is the currency of the Internet. If you give power to those who seek to silence their opponents, they will wield it, the truth be damned. While I linked to their offending posts for informational purposes, you may find it of benefit to direct your traffic elsewhere. If you feed trolls, they grow large, and their appetites are insatiable.
For my part, I am not afraid of dissenting voices. I don’t care about disagreement. But I have a strong distaste for bullies and I want to see their power diminished. It would certainly be worth praying for them, but I can’t recommend that you patronize them. Maybe some day, they’ll see the truth.
It would no doubt also do some good to contact the editors of LifeSiteNews and let them know that you want them to cover these kinds of stories. I’m sure it would be appreciated if Hilary received some kind words as well. I don’t know about you, but I want people like her — people who care deeply about the health of the Church and the preservation of her teachings and traditions — to be the ones in the trenches holding those who don’t seem to care about such things accountable.
People always tell me they doubt me when I say a schism is coming. I’d say this kind of thing is evidence that it is already here.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.