Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mark Shea and the politics of personal distraction

I've noticed an interesting thing happening on Mark Shea's blog lately. I have a feeling it happens on lots of other Catholic blogs, too, but I've just been noticing it at Mark's, so I'd like to share it here.

Early this week Mark had posted a link to a Pure Fashion show, for instance, but altered the post when a commenter pointed out that Pure Fashion is a Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi creation. My longstanding post in which I try to keep up with the names of various Legion ministries was kindly linked to, and I popped in to the comment box to explain that I do try to keep the list current, and am happy to update the list when a group, say, is no longer a Legion associate. Needless to say, someone showed up to wave the "uncharitable" flag by insinuating that I didn't care that various apostolates were faithful to the Magisterium, etc.: I was just "naming and shaming" them based on Legion affiliation.

Resisting the impulse to answer with that ever erudite expression, "Well, duh!" I explained that I was naming them because the Legion is so coy about admitting their associated works for reasons which are totally inexplicable, and that as to shaming, it really all depended on whether you thought that there was anything to be ashamed of in having been founded and run for years by a now-deceased man who fathered children while a priest and also molested young men, some of them children, or whether you thought the Legion's actions since those revelations are the actions of a fully contrite and humbled order dedicated to a period of quiet reflection and a new mission the prime objective of which is to discover what the Legion's charism actually is.

The point of the "naming and shaming" comment, though, I suspect (though I admit I don't know for sure) was to confound me into confusion and make me look like an uncharitable person...for keeping a list of Legion of Christ/Regnum Christi affiliations. Which is not, itself, an uncharitable thing to do, but that tends to get lost in the comment box shuffle.

While I was still pondering this little experience (by which I mean that I'd totally forgotten about it) Mark himself got tagged, rather hysterically, by a different politics of personal distraction group. His crime? Failure to find Medjugorje to be the source and summit of all Marian apparitions, and--horrors!--being one of several male (sinister!) Catholic writers to be guilty of this failure!

I'll let you have recourse to your smelling-salts bottles before I continue.

You see, the charge made by Medjugorje supporters is that anything less than full-throated enthusiasm for the belief that Mary is appearing there with frequent lengthy messages to the faithful despite the disapproval of local bishops is the same thing as attacking Medjugorje (and possibly Mary herself). One is not allowed to be cautious about Medjugorje, or to be indifferent to it, or even to say that one is unconvinced that Mary is appearing there--there are only two choices: approval or denigration. And the detractors, according to the supporters, are part of a Vast Catholic Internet Conspiracy to keep the truth of Medjugorje from being known, when everybody knows that everything Mary has reportedly said so far and everything about the lives of the seers etc. is--wait for it--faithful to the Magisterium.

At this point I began to notice a little pattern.

The thing is, someone or something Catholic can, indeed, be apparently faithful to the Magisterium yet not be all that worthy of support. Some groups which have started out faithful to the Magisterium in Church history have sadly not ended that way--and some groups which started out unfaithful had real conversions and joined to the Church. But no one would fault a contemporary of a dubious historical group or apparition for steering clear of it until the Church spoke definitively about it--that's just common prudence. And no one could fail to feel sorry for a group that went from fidelity to the Magisterium to separation from the Church, though that has happened too in two thousand years of Church history. The point is that a group's apparent fidelity to the Magisterium taken in a snapshot of time does not tell us whether the group (order, apparition devotees, etc.) is going to remain in good standing with the Church; there are other things to look for when deciding prudently and responsibly which Catholic organizations and so on are worthy of one's time, efforts, and support.

As it happens, I've got a terrific example to illustrate this point from (of all places!) Mark Shea's blog. Mark posts these two posts detailing Michael Voris' supportive interviews with E. Michael Jones, a man who apparently believes that the Jewish people are behind every bad thing that has happened to Christians over the last couple thousand years, give or take a few, and who associates with people who also practice this brand of anti-semitism.

So, predictably, the first commenter under the first post asks what "anti-semitism" means anyway--the idea possibly (again, I'm speculating) being to derail the discussion from the outset by making it look as though Mark Shea is being a big meanie to accuse people of hating Jews simply because they wish to raise (to them) thoughtful and sensitive questions about whether or not the Jewish people planned the attempted airplane shoe bombing, were responsible for the Fukushima disaster, and are secretly promoting world atheism--because these are perfectly rational questions for Catholics faithful to the Magisterium to spend their Holy Hours pondering.

Um. Not.

The common thread running through all of these posts and comment box conversations is this: people who promote and defend groups, apparitions, and even individual Catholics whose goals or ideas are of perhaps less than rock-solid status have a defense mechanism that is starting to be easily recognizable when they--the devotees, that is--feel as though their pet group, apparition, or Catholic new media star is under attack. That mechanism is to attempt to make anyone who disagrees with them look like a dissident Catholic who doesn't have to be engaged with or argued against--because we all know (or do we?) that the only way to treat dissidents is to dismiss them entirely. One or two pertinent combox questions of the "But have you stopped beating your wife yet?" variety is all they need; and you can just about bet that sooner or later they will raise the "Magisterium" flag, in order to be able to say later among their friends and confidants, "I called that Shea fellow (etc.) out and reminded him that the Legion/Medjugorje/Voris/Jones/etc. is fully faithful to the Magisterium, and he shut up pretty quick." The implication being, of course, that Shea (or whomever) is a flaky heretic who is comfortable attacking, if not the Magisterium itself, at least those Magisterium-faithful groups and people Shea (or whomever) secretly hates and would probably destroy if he (or whomever) could.

And that's a pretty insidious tactic, given, as I mentioned above, that outward fidelity to the Magisterium is only one of several important things to look for in any group or public Catholic figure. For instance, the Magisterium doesn't cover whether it's okay for Catholic groups to engage in high-pressure, guilt-laden fundraising tactics that stay just a bit to the right side of honesty; the Magisterium doesn't specifically mention what to watch out for in terms of a group becoming too clique-like or single-focused or, shall we say, near-fanatical about something the Church herself is mildly enthusiastic about in a balanced sort of way; the Magisterium pretty obviously doesn't condone anti-semitism and can define it quite well, thank you; and the Magisterium is clear that when it comes to apparitions, Catholics are pretty free to pay no attention at all even to approved ones, but that when one hasn't been approved it's a good idea to be mindful of the duty of obedience to the proper authorities.

Bottom line: taking a fellow Catholic's concerns about a group which may indeed be (or may not be) faithful to the Magisterium as a sign that that Catholic dislikes the Magisterium and/or willfully hates groups that are faithful to it is nothing but the politics of personal distraction, in which an attempt is made to distract readers from the gravity of the issue at hand by raising false suspicions about the fidelity of the Catholic writer himself. With the Legion of Christ, we saw this tactic time and time again, until the Vatican finally spoke--and even afterward, there are still those who equate criticism of the Legion with criticism of the Magisterium and the Church. The same thing is true with Medjugorje, with Michael Voris and/or E. Michael Jones, and with hosts of other things. Yet while the Magisterium is itself infallible, there's no guarantee that fallible groups or people who merely intend fidelity to the Magisterium will be--and it's a dangerous mistake to think that the two concepts are the same.


Kirt Higdon said...

I didn't read the theme about the Pure Fashion show since I'm about the polar opposite of fashionable or fashion conscious. But isn't there a difference between that example and the others cited? Questionable visions or attacks on the Jews are contrary to Christian faith and charity even if those who promote them are or try to be faithful to the Magisterium or at least are in communion with the Universal Church. Pure Fashion on the other hand (I'm assuming this means modesty in dress) is considered virtuous no matter who is pushing it. Would it have made any difference if the show was put on by Mormons or JWs or pagans for that matter?

Anonymous said...

Yes. I have noticed that same thing in other areas too - not just Shea nor this subject.
The progressive Catholics, you will see everyone as a bigot who sees the Bishops as political leaders and you will be deemed as being behind in the times. Of course, they don't pull the magisterium trump (as they did with you and Shea) card because, what magisterium? I understand what you are saying.
As was the seen by the LCWR sisters who thought that dialouge meant the subject was still open for debate.
I was happy to see Shea correct a wrong understanding of how he viewed the scripture on Onan. That is something you do look for in people - humility - self correction. When they are REALLY wrong tho.
It makes you want to have a forever "comments closed".

Rebecca in ID said...

This reminds me of the homily our priest gave this morning; he had read an article entitled "The Church Militant vs. the Church Belligerent" and kind of juxtaposed Paul before his conversion (belligerent; honestly convinced of The Truth and willing to eliminate anyone who said otherwise) and then after his conversion, willing to suffer martyrdom but not out to eliminate the competition. All the fighting among Catholics about these kinds of things and the demonizing of opposition or even questioning, has got to have the devil laughing. Not that we should cease addressing important topics but as you say, assume others are of good will and be willing to have a reasonable discussion and perhaps even agree to disagree in an amicable way.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Kirt - By way of background, Pure Fashion has traditionally been a recruitment tool for Regnum Christi, the lay group associated with the Legionaries of Christ. Pure Fashion has not always been upfront about their affiliation with Regnum Christi. I was in Regnum Christi, and left as I became more and more aware of the cultishness of this group. There are about 6-8 dioceses in the US where the L of C has been banned. Google Regnum Christi and Legionaries of Christ.