Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society

Last week, Mark Shea wrote a piece defending Michael Voris and his employee Simon Rafe from some allegations of financial irregularity and the impropriety of one of Mr. Rafe's hobbies as reported by the Catholic News Agency. The result, predictably, was a comment box brouhaha.

This week, Mark Shea has written a piece criticizing Michael Voris and some of his supporters for the way they chose to spin the first matter (as proof that a secret cabal of their secret enemies secretly met and secretly agreed to make secret anonymous reports to CNA until CNA looked into things, at which point the secret enemies of Voris rubbed their alleged hands in secret glee. Secretly...). The result, predictably, was a comment box brouhaha.

Which proves nothing. Except that the word "brouhaha" is ridiculously fun to type. Go ahead; try it. I'll wait...


While these things don't prove anything, they do suggest something. To me, anyway. They suggest that the temptation to believe that one is somehow part of the Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society (TTSCPS) and is carefully and heroically preserving the Faith from bad bishops, liberal priests, pantsuited nuns, squishy lay volunteers who do tons of work at the parish yet (one is somehow sure) doubt the Real Presence, the sinfulness of abortion and contraception, and the utter necessity of voting for Republicans is just as prevalent today as it was back a couple of decades ago, when I was an enthusiastic member of the TTSCPS.

Yes, I was a part of the heady movement to Take Back The Church From The Bishops And Other Evildoers back when we met in parish basements (with the full permission of the Right Sort of pastor, of course), drank ridiculously good coffee in actual cups (not to be environmentally friendly or anything suspiciously liberal like that, but because that's what the parish had), got the business of a shared rosary and an edifying talk from someone at Catholics United for the Faith out of the way, and then settled into a comfortable griping session about our horrible bishop and the horrible chancery and the horrible feminist nuns and the horrible music at that church across town and the horrible way most Catholics received the Eucharist as if He were popcorn and anything else that would let us fixate with deep intensity on the "fake Catholic" splinters in the eyes of our perceived enemies, without ever noticing the huge plank called "Unholy Pride" jutting out of our own.

The story of how I eventually realized that this sort of thing wasn't actually good is a long, convoluted, and not particularly edifying one. And in some senses it's not over; I still have to fight my knee-jerk "blame the bishops!" reaction on occasion, along with my "If this dreadful music would just go away!" reaction (which is pretty ironic considering I'm in the choir and am one of those singing it). But the choir was actually one of the keys to my understanding just how wicked I'd become in my heart.

It was at our previous parish, when we'd joined the choir there. I had planned to sign up alone; our dear late director was the one who invited the whole family, even though the girls were still pretty young at the time. We attended our first practice, and for the most part I enjoyed it. Then Pat, our director, turned to lead us in prayer at the end.

I braced myself for the usual, happy-clappy sort of prayer intentions. Prayers for the rainforest or the plight of the immigrant would not have surprised me at all. No such intention came up--but the whole choir prayed together for respect for human life and an end to abortion.

And I was surprised. Shocked, even.

And then I was ashamed of myself.

Had I really decided that these nice people, these fellow Catholics, these members of my parish family would necessarily be soft on abortion or even in favor of it? Because they were the choir? Because they were not "Us" but "Them" in the time-honored TTSCPS way of looking at things? How horrible was that, of me? How much evil had I allowed to take up residence in my heart, in the name of tribalism and of believing that I was one of the handful of elite select Catholics who knew without knowing how that there was an inevitable link between felt banners, communion in the hand, bad music, and grave moral evils such as acceptance of abortion?

I felt pretty awful, and I felt worse when I realized, as we got to know this choir, that this particular intention was a "regular." Other prayers would come and go, but until the last choir practice of his sadly short life Pat always, always, ALWAYS prayed for an end to abortion, and his dear wife and all the other choir members solemnly added our prayers to his.

I'm not completely over my impulses to slip back into TTSCPS mode. Maybe I never will be. Maybe because I grew up during the post-Vatican II silly season it will take me a long time not to see a nun in slacks and have my first thought be to thank God for her service instead of to wonder how much of a dissident she must be. Maybe because I sat through guitar-and-tambourine Masses back in the late 1970s I'll sigh every time I hear these instruments in a church building instead of finding out from the choir after Mass how hard it has been to do anything since the old organ died and Father can't budget for a new one when they're trying to build a new church...and maybe, just maybe, I'll never find it in my heart to call the dismissal of children for Children's Church anything other than the Rite of Sending Forth the Children so They Can Go Color Things--even though I admit that the lady who runs that program at my parish is a holy, patient, faithful woman whose kindness and generosity are known to all who know her.

But at least I know that my desire to consider myself one of that elect number of the Truly True Secret Catholic Preservation Society members was never a good or laudable thing. Deo gratias.


Geoff G. said...

True story, and one which leads me to still respect priests and makes it impossible for me to completely give up on Catholicism (even if it has given up on me):

Many years ago, when I had just graduated from high school and had just arrived in Toronto with my parents to settle into the Catholic college at the U of T, my parents and I went out to dinner with an old friend of my father's who was a priest and a professor at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies there.

We spent a very agreeable evening lingering over a nice dinner, and I was feeling oh so sophisticated and adult and mature and civilized in that insufferable way that only 17-year-olds can manage.

As we were walking back to the subway, I saw a small group of teenage boys hanging out with their skateboards and doing the sorts of things that teenagers do. And feeling so smug about myself, I looked at them and thought how superior I was to them and how terrible it was that such obvious hoodlums were allowed to roam the streets at night.

Father caught sight of them too, and I was fully prepared for him to validate my unvoiced opinion when he said something completely unexpected: he watched them skateboarding for a moment and then said how impressed he was with the skill they were displaying.

It was just a comment in passing, but it really stuck with me, right to this very day, because it illustrated the difference between a saintly man (and, while he's gone now, I came to know him well enough to know he was the real deal) and me: he saw the beauty and the good in everyone and responded to that, while I saw an opportunity to denigrate others in the hopes of flattering my own ego.

The other lesson it's taught me is how the smallest comment, the merest trifling small talk, can have a huge impression on someone's life. I'm sure Father forgot about the incident almost immediately. But it's stuck with me now for more than 20 years, and been considerably more formative than any number of moral lectures.

I've never lived up to the example he set that night. I still think far too much of myself and too little of others for my own good. But the gift he gave me was setting a high bar for my personal conduct that I still struggle to live up to to this day.

JMB said...

I once complained to my pastor about the Religious Ed program in our parish, specifically, the DRE and after he listened patiently to my litany, he said to me "It's a good thing the Church doesn't rely on you for her future!". Honestly, I wasn't expecting a slap down and I deserved it. But it taught me a lesson that day: the Church will survive without my opinions. Thank God for that!

LLMom said...

Nodding my head in agreement. This similar to what I have found many traditionalists do; I was caught up in the "movement" for too long and saw (and sadly participated in) and the stuff you mention is exactly spot on. Since I have seen the light, I am amazed by the number of charitible, good people out there. And I was so prideful, I look down on them and thought, how could they do x?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

It is wonderful to know that someone I profoundly disagree with on some points (and profoundly agree with on others) have graduated from the Truly True milieu to write such a mature analysis.

My version is secular in nature, but parallel. I was covering a community meeting featuring a newly elected Republican state senator (who, I can state in a completely nonpartisan spirit, is a complete airhead -- there are other Republican state legislators who do not merit that description). The meeting was more crowded than expected, mostly with people who were furious at her down the line support for Governor Scott Walker's legislative agenda. (Did I mention before which state I live in?)

Now nobody should expect her to have voted any other way, she made her loyalties quite plain when campaigning. That doesn't mean a constituent can't ask her a tough question. But I particularly recall the man standing near the door with a sign saying "I Support Governor Walker." About fifty two percent of those who voted last November felt that way at the time, which means another fourty-eight percent did not. Even based on polling since Walker took office, better than forty-five percent of the people in the state still feel that way.

I wiggled my way through the crowd to tell him "I can't say I agree with your sign, but you're holding it very well." He said, "Thank you." Neither of us left with any sense of being "truly true," but we both knew that in this neck of the woods, someone on your very own block sees things very differently than you do, even some of your friends.

Charlotte said...

Erin, I'm still in process. But I am glad that this has been a relatively short process of discovering what you have, rather than many years or decades. I can thank Catholic blogs for that; it has quickened things up quite a bit.

Magister Christianus said...

Geoff G...thank you for sharing that story. Despit being in my 40s, I am far too often the insufferable 17-year old. Oh, no one woul ever know it, mind you, but many times I have played judge, jury, and executioner of those I, in my infinite wisdom, had dubbed fools or worse, all from the cowardly privacy of my mind.

Thanks, Erin, for writing a post that has prompted such honest reflection and confession from your readers. May God use this as an opportunity to guide us into true repentance.

romishgraffiti said...

A commentor at Dr. Blosser's blog said that he suffered from scrupulosity and that traditionalist material really aggrivated it. Dr. Blosser's response reminds us traditionally-minded folk that it is not self-evident to people unused to hearing it:

I agree that there is abundant material in EWTN and Evangelical Catholicism that can change people's lives and bring one into an experience of His grace. I also agree that traditionalists can sometimes be all-too-negativistic, though you may overstate yourself regarding Ferrara a bit, who has done some OTHER work that is in fact very commendable and insightful.

I also agree that the occasional negativism and sour-puss disposition of some traditionalists hurts their case. But I do think that many traditionalists have a case that is important to hear and understand.

I do think, though, that there's a difficulty with the traditional case, and it is this: it's not something transparent.

Take Christianity in general. It's not something that's transparently true for someone not used to thinking in Christian terms. Take Catholicism. Neither is it something transparently true for someone used to thinking in Evangelical Protestant terms. Well, traditionalism is the most extreme case: it's something that's not the least bit plausible to someone not used to thinking in traditionalist terms. But I assure you there are some very important considerations there.

Psychological-emotional issues are another matter. Even traditionalists understand that you give St. Francis de Sales to someone in your condition rather than another saint's writings who stresses the fear of hell. One can win the heart with honey, as St. Francis de Sales says, better than with something repulsive. On the other hand, I think you will agree that most of us are dying of an overdose of "we're-all-going-to-heaven" indifferentism today than fear of hell, and that, as the writer of the Book of Proverbs says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

See relevant entry here.

freddy said...


The writer of the article to which you linked accuses Mark Shea of being, "unable to even mortify his own corpulent flesh...," full of "jealousy and hatred against Michael Voris...," and being an "upset and unbalanced man...."

The author, who calls himself "Ioannes," offers no proof of his ugly claims, but he does illustrate perfectly Erin's point, no?

Mark P. Shea said...


God bless you. FWIW, I had no plans to writer further about Voris, but when he offered a) his video on communion in the hand followed immediately by b) his graceless and passive-aggressive reply to CNA, I felt obliged to say something.

Also, FWIW, I've been in conversation with Simon Rafe (who I think a gracious man) and Michael Voris and I will be having a chat soon on the phone, I hope.

Oh, and I've lost 55 lbs, since you seem to think "You're fat!" is a serious and adult thing for a Catholic to say.

Thanks for volunteering to illustrate everything I find troubling about Voris' methods and their effect on his fans.

freddy said...

Well, Beth, you must have a different dictionary than I do, which has very different meanings for words like "unbalanced," "obsessed,"
"smeared," and "toxic."

As a Catholic, you should have real proof of something and others should have a real need to know it before you share information. If you have no proof, it's just your opinion; and sharing your opinion of someone's personality without facts or need is calumny or detraction, both of which, I'm sure you know, are sins.

Perhaps you have not read Mark Shea's articles for the Register very carefully: no where does he assess Mr. Voris's personality; only his style. Yes, there is a difference, and an important one. It's like saying, "freddy talks way too fast -- it drives me crazy!" and "freddy's a chatterbox nutjob!"

This is getting a little long, so I'll continue below -- after I get the kids bathed!

Red Cardigan said...

All: I've deleted "Beth's" posts, because they violate my rules of combox civility. Civil discussion, even disagreement, is fine. Bashing people is not.

Beth, you may post if you wish to discuss the blog post. If you wish only to link to armchair psychoanalysis about Mark Shea or to sling mud in his direction, go back to your spider-jar type blogs and do so there. That sort of thing isn't welcome here.

freddy said...

Okay, Beth, I hope you'll be patient with me, but I want to take a look at each of the words you used regarding Mr. Shea.

1. unbalanced. Maybe you don't have real experience with people who are truly unbalanced. I have. It's very sad, but it's really impossible to confuse with mental health. The unbalanced person truly has difficulty functioning in normal society. Generally the unbalanced person can not hold an job, let alone write coherently to deadlines and raise a family.

2. obsessed. Someone who is truly obsessed can focus on little other than their obsession. Unless you've found that Mark Shea has a secret website somewhere, his writings concerning Michael Voris balanced against the rest of his writings this year only show that Mr. Voris has only a small percentage of Mr. Shea's time.

3. smeared. A smear usually involves discussion of someone's personality, taste, looks, digging up anything negative from someone's past, and often plays fast and loose with the truth. You might not like Mark Shea's understanding of Michael Voris's tactics and policies, but you cannot say that Mr. Shea has lied or gotten personal, or discussed anything that Mr. Voris hasn't actually said.

4. toxic. Something that is toxic has a detrimental effect. We could argue about that, though a quick trip through the comments on Mr. Shea's latest Register piece reveal that the most toxic comments come not from Mark Shea's supporters, but from Mr. Voris's. Of course, it's also sloppy and the extreme of uncharitable to describe a person as being "toxic." For example, I beleive that "Lady Gaga's" music is toxic, but I would never describe her, a child of God, as "toxic." I assume you were (as I often am!) in a hurry and meant to perhaps describe his writing, not himself.

I hope, Beth, that you won't be angry or think I'm attacking you. When all we have are words, I think it very important that we choose them carefully and interpret them generously.

freddy said...

Sorry, Erin: I didn't see your comment: feel free to delete my responses to poor Beth.

Red Cardigan said...

Everyone, Beth has now been banned from commenting at And Sometimes Tea. Since I don't have any automatic banning tools (short of shutting down anonymous commenting, which I would dislike doing as it would stop valued commenters from being able to contribute), I will have to remove his/her comments manually. This may take time, because I don't always see comments instantly. If you see something from "Beth" from here on out, please just ignore the comment until I can delete it.

Red Cardigan said...

Hmmm. Is this like the first time I've ever actually banned anybody for sheer obnoxiousness? If not, it has certainly been a long time.

John E. said...

Never heard of the guy - is he some modern day Feeney or something?

Mark P. Shea said...


Do you ever stop to listen to yourself or can you not hear it over the sound of how righteous and Truly Catholic you are?

Red Cardigan said...

Sorry to anybody who saw Beth's latest four-letter-word missive. I'm going to turn off anonymous commenting for the time being, for the sake of Beth's mental health as well as for a tranquil evening.

Charlotte said...

Wow, I missed it. Dang!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Since someone mentioned Calvinism and someone else mentioned the fear of hell, even though I may have mentioned it before, this seems a good time to observe

"You may be a closet Calvinist if you find yourself objecting to the hymn, "When We All Get to Heaven."

Mercury said...

romishgraffiti, I was the one Dr. Blosser responded to. But after that, did you happen to see the guy who left te lag 2 comments? He basically proved my point by calling EWTN "pop and candy" and then indicating that people actually DO go to hell for dancing, wearing swimsuits or shorts, and going to bars (and I had made it clear I wasn't talking about night-clubs, miniskirts and boozing). He then "diagnosed" my weakness and said that Catholics really do need to take the more extreme statements of the saints VERY seriously. He mentioned St. Peter Damian who would scare me to death, and said we need more of that. The problem is, some Saints have said things that are simply out there ( more than one major medieval saint said it's a mortal son for married couples to make love without specifically intending procreation with each act).

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Mercury, I sympathize with your objections, but who cares what some long dead saint said? If you have put your hand on a holy book and averred that whatever a given church teaches you hold to be true, its hard to wriggle out of it, and if you have not, the saint is just an ornery old man expressing his opinion -- unless it turns out that the RC church IS the annointed successor of Christ on earth, in which case, God will do whatever God chooses to do about it.

Mercury said...

Siarlys, I am not quite sure what you mean. I DO believe all that the Church teaches is true. I just struggled with the fact that some of her greatest saints and some of those closest to Christ saw sin, even mortal sin, in things that are in themselves either good or at the very least morally neutral.

Mark P. Shea said...


I implore you, do not let the unbelievably bitter and loveless Ralph Roister-Doister tie up heavy burdens, lay them on your back and not lift a finger to help you. He is, almost without parallel, one of the bitterest, coldest, angriest people in the Catholic blogosphere. Establish a relationship with a good priest confessor, talk about your scruples with him, *receive* the mercy of God and then let all the poisonous junk Ralph tries to put on you fall off your shoulders and into God's hands. The saints are addressing very different people from the sort of man you are. And they are not the magisterium of Holy Church, nor responsible for your pastoral care. I beg you, do not let a heartless Pharisee like Ralph Roister-Doister crush you. He is the absolute last person on earth you should apply to for pastoral advice.

Mercury said...

Thank you, Mr. Shea. The distortion comes when people take all the harshness if what the saints say and ignore the good, the hope, and most importantly, the love.

And I know not all traditionalists are like this, not even a majority - but the ones on te Interbet just scare the crap out of me.

Of course, when the call Mother Angelica and Fr John Hardon liberals (as well as Fr Groeschel, it goes without sayings), it's quite clar who has the problem.

Red Cardigan said...

Mercury, Mark is very wise, here.

One thing to remember is that saints are saints not because of everything they ever said or admonished others to do or not do, but because of how they lived their own lives as examples of heroic witness to the Lord.

I recall, for instance, some pious tale being told of a nun who after her death appeared to some saint or other and confessed tearfully that she would spend many years in Purgatory for having treasured a pen. A pen! What hope is there for any of us, etc.!

But details matter. Which saint was it? (The account was vague, and I've heard similar 'beyond the grave' incidents attributed to many saints). Just how valuable were pens in those days? Was the deceased nun in question a cloistered nun, forbidden to own anything but required to share all in common under her vows? Was the saint, perhaps, giving a homily to similar nuns of the same order, perhaps admonishing them to turn inward and not assume that their mere presence in a convent and vocation saved them, if stubborn disobedience to their vows had taken root, etc.? Was the story even *meant* to be taken as true, or was it a parable? Finally, is the idea that a particular saint or holy person witnessed this 'beyond the grave' confession *meant* to be taken as a true story, or was it a pious legend, recognized as such by the hearers?

The person tempted to scrupulosity seizes on the idea that owning and treasuring so much as a PEN could make us spend untold centuries in the fires of Divine wrath and retribution--because it feeds his disordered pride and temptation to despair which are always at war in his soul. And a SAINT said so, so it must be true! The other, saner, more realistic details disappear into the mists of time.

[Which means, of course, that if by God's tremendous grace I am ever a saint in heaven and if by His tremendous sense of humor He sees to it that I'm canonized, that stupid pen story will now be attributed to me. The dangers of blogging...just kidding.] :)

As far as the dear Cure of Ars goes, there are three important things to note:

1. Though he did hate dancing and attribute many evils to it, his severity in general relaxed as he grew older, and he no longer denied absolution to sinners except in extreme cases (not just for dancing).

2. Part of the reason he hated dancing was because of the general laxity of the people toward their Sunday Mass obligation, to which dancing and other profanations of the Lord's Day significantly contributed.

3. The Cure lived from 1786 to 1859. The quadrille was popular by 1815 and the waltz soon afterward; though we may think of the waltz as a tame, sedate sort of dance today it really wasn't in its earliest days, until the novelty of dancing so close to a member of the opposite sex wore off. And another dance introduced in France in 1822 was the can-can: not a "modest" dance by anybody's standards, and perhaps the sort of dance performed in the "taverns" against which the Cure also railed.

So, again: the details matter.

Mercury said...

Erin, thank you.

So I'm not going to hell for liking the Waltz? :) Actually, I'm a terrible dancer, but I think the Waltz is beautiful, and the music for it (especially Strauss) among the best.

Anyway, I love how you put things in historical perspective. Of course the rad trads will accuse you of rationalizing, but then again, though they hate to admit it, they themselves are a product of reaction to the modern world and not an organic development of Catholicism.

What do you think guys like Evelyn Waugh, GK Chesterton, and JRR Tolkien thought of dancing? And they were quite Catholic. I guess many of our grandparents would be an example of that hermeneutic of continuity as well.

And yes, context is ALWAYS important. St. Alphonsus Liguori recommended that engaged couples meet each other only once or twice before marriage, that that should suffice. Even the raddest of rad-trad defenders of TRVTH (who started that, you or Mark Shea?) would agree that that's a bit much. We've got to be careful applying statements based on limited time, place, and culture, as eternal truths.

So I guess the question of what St. John Chrysostom would have thought of women wearing swimsuits is essentially moot? :)

Red Cardigan said...

I think Mark started "TRVTH," though it could have originated elsewhere. :)

But yes, St. Alphonsus Liguori's advice to engaged couples or what St. John Chrysostom thought of swimsuits is not the most burning issue of Christian life. Where some rad-trad types make a mistake is to say that because the virtues of modesty or chastity never change, the specifics about how to practice these virtues also never changes, and thus arranged marriages with two brief meetings before hand are *still* the gold standard for safeguarding chastity, and sleeves to the wrist or elbow, skirts to the ankle are the only way for women to safeguard modesty.

In other words, they mistake the principle for one century and culture's way of applying the principle. Which creates a lot of stress and strife for those who struggle with scrupulosity.

Mercury said...

Well, you sure nailed that. I am well aware of how moral theologians have dealt with such issues - I've read some stuff from the 50s taking to task the people who quote statements out of context to condemn individual fashions - you know the standard "proof texts" people use. They pointed out even then that this was an erroneous application or moral principles.

The result is that scrupulous people then start seeing "darkness" in places where it wasn't, start having issues with certain articles of dress that were never a problem and so on. Once you learn that exposed shins or knees COULD be construed as sexual, it's hard not to see it that way - for a scrupulous fool like myself. Other people have expressed similar problems.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Mercury, just a brief note that way back up there I didn't mean to imply that you are not a faithful son of your church, but to sympathize with what appeared to be the assertion that some words from some saints were less than authoritative, or even worthy of praise and emulation. I agreed. You may not.

John E said...

The Catholicism Mercury describes sounds rather grim. I like the sound of this one better:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,

There's always laughter and dancing and good red wine.

At least I've always found it so,

Benedicamus Domino!
-- Hilaire Belloc

Mercury said...

John E, as much as I agree with you, my problem is that I cannot see such a Catholicism in the works of the Saints. All I see is Puritanism, and especially a hatred of sexuality and high-spiritedness (unless it's religious high spirits).

This is certainly a problem with me, a failure in my understanding, but it's real enough.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Now we are back to my original point:

Maybe those puritanical saints were wrong.

John E said...

Mercury, please enjoy the innocent pleasures of life and don't worry yourself about such things.