Monday, September 2, 2013

A family quarrel

Catholic Circular Firing Squad Redux. And, perhaps not that strangely, Michael Voris is once again the mainspring of the matter. Fortunately, Mark Shea is not involved, having avoided the controversy neatly by hieing himself and his brood to his vaunted hidden island redoubt, so this is the only time I’ll mention him.

Fraternal correction is a difficult enough task for any Catholic to undertake, especially when the brother to be corrected is a person whom you really don’t know. Even in the relative goldfish bowl of the Catholic blogosphere, we may have each other on Facebook and Google Plus, but we’re still mostly strangers to one another. But it can be done, and even result in some good dialogue.

However, when it’s done on the Internet, the correcting party has automatically invited everyone to participate. And when it’s one “celebrity” (we have celebrities?) correcting another, fans get partisan very quickly. Lest you doubt, let me say two words: John Corapi.

It started Thursday with an episode of “The Vortex”, in which Voris accused Catholic Relief Services of kicking AKA Printing Services to the curb because of its connection to the American Life League (here’s the story in LifeSiteNews). In the process, Voris revealed that several major figures in Catholic media, particularly Karl Keating, Jimmy Akin and Tim Staples of Catholic Answers, pull down salaries of over $100k per year; “in the interests of transparency”, Voris said his own salary was about $40k. The substance of his charge was that the big names were wary of going after corruption in Catholic Relief Services and the USCCB because their ministries (and salaries) depend to a certain extent on recognition and support from the bishops.

Now comes Fr. Dwight Longenecker into the fray. Ignoring the business about CRS and AKA Printing, Fr. Dwight rightfully pointed out that: 1) the salary figures by themselves tell us little to nothing about the various media figures’ financial lives, and 2) there is no doctrinal or Scriptural reason why a Catholic should not make a decent salary serving the Church. Father Dwight also had a further concern:

… [T]he most worrying thing about Voris’ attack on Catholic Answers, EWTN and others is that it seems like some kind of sick revenge thing. So the guys at Catholic Answers had just one program criticizing the lunatic fringe of the traditionalist movement and a counter attack is launched? For what end? To destroy Catholic Answers and EWTN? To bring down Al Kresta? Within Voris’ video I sensed a kind of gloating glee that Catholic Answers was in financial trouble and the implication that they were down because of their criticism of the traditionalist movement and that it was because traditionalists had withheld donations that CA was going down.

Father L’s correction was public because Voris’ actions were public. Because it was public, though — and perhaps because Fr. Longenecker led the post off by calling Voris a “self-appointed prophet” — traditionalist bloggers like The Eponymous Flower, The Tenth Crusade and Connecticut Catholic Corner joined together in a beatdown. Voris, for his own part, tried to minimize the emphasis he’d put on the salaries of the “Catholic establishment media”; his point in even referring to them, Voris claimed, was not that they were “making too much money” but that their paychecks could somehow be threatened by criticizing the American hierarchy.

Rather than go through an overlong fisking of everyone’s contribution to the dogpile — and believe me, I haven’t gotten all the reactions here — I’ll merely content myself with some shots of my own:

  1. It was a mistake on Voris’ part to even mention Catholic Answers’ financial problems because it didn’t contribute to his main point. CA isn’t about discussing The State of the Church in America Today but rather about defending and promoting the universal Church’s teaching. I really don’t know how much if any of their current crisis is due to the show in which they allegedly made fun of traditionalists, but it was never really relevant to the argument.
  2. Even taking CA out of the equation, Voris’ argument — the salaries of people who work for EWTN, Ave Maria and Relevant Radio are somehow contingent on the goodwill of the USCCB — is farfetched at best. Instead of conjuring up base motives for Catholic media outlets’ reluctance to criticize the American hierarchy, why not simply call or email the appropriate people and ask them about it? If you’re supposed to be a journalist yourself, then ask yourself, “What Would Mike Wallace Do?”
  3. Granting causa argumenti that Fr. Dwight’s label for Voris of “self-appointed prophet” was uncalled-for and detracted from the reasonable tone of the rest of his post, I must still purse my lips and remark how strange it is that traditionalists would speak disrespectfully of a priest, even in the interests of justice and fraternal correction. (“Self-appointed celebrity priest”, TTC? Two oxymorons for the price of one?)
  4. For some reason, some people hold that to be a “professional Catholic” is a bad thing. As a logophile, it immediately occurs to me that the opposite of a professional is an amateur — which can mean merely a person not compensated for his work, but which is fraught with overtones of inexpertise, superficiality, even incompetence. Do they really wanna go there? There’s simply no way you can spin the “professional Catholic” label without painting yourself envious and picayune.

Going back to the video where it all began: Elizabeth Scalia (of the so-called "Patheos crowd") muses,

In a way, this Church Militant movement reminds me a little of the constant state of grievance in which Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson reside. They focus almost solely on the fact that the racial situation in America is still imperfect, and seem unable to acknowledge that, yes, things have gotten better since 1963. It is wholly legitimate — and important — to continue to address racial problems in the country, but not to pretend that, for example, requiring a photo id [sic] for voters would mean a return to Jim Crowe [sic] and poll taxes.

More to the point, to paraphrase Sir Bernard Ingham, most acts of the bishops that Voris and his disciples attribute to corruption are just as easily — and more charitably — explained as cock-ups. CRS’ partnership with CARE is just such an imprudent decision (didn’t I just say the Church tends to be at her least effective when her leaders try to be pragmatic?), and I wish Bishop Gerald Kicanas, CRS’ chairman of the board of directors, would just admit it and explain if/why they can’t back out rather than lashing back at critics. However, as Brandon Vogt reminds us, “Immoralityis always wrong, without question. Imprudence, though foolish, is not always evil.”

Then again, if CRS’ relationship with CARE is so corrupt, why didn’t AKA Printing owner Hugh Brown — husband of ALL’s Judie Brown — pull out of the printing contract from his end?

You see, this is the kind of game that no one can win. After all, this is a family quarrel. And family quarrels can be the most vicious and ruthless of them all.