Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Last week I wrote a defense of Michael Voris and Simon Rafe (a defense I stand by, despite what follows). Catholic News Agency was, I felt, jumping on the story a bit prematurely and critics of Voris and Rafe were, it seemed to me, being rather hasty both in seeing something sinister in his failure to keep up with complicated paperwork and in their demands that a penitent Rafe be punished for writing a role-playing game with a few rather ambiguous naughty bits. I say “ambiguous” because we simply don’t know how the game proceeded. If you write a game in which a character you are playing does something you know you shouldn’t do and you get rewarded for it, that’s one thing. If you write a game in which evil choices ultimately lead to bad consequences or to repentance, forgiveness and redemption, that’s another. Many readers were quite ready to huck Simon Rafe under the bus merely because of a pull quote in a story, devoid of information about how the rest of the game went. Worse, even with his apology, contrition, and promise of firm purpose of amendment, a number of Voris fans were not satisfied. They wanted Rafe fired or punished in some way. I thought the accusations against Voris and Rafe were a bit breathless, so I spoke.
This week, however, there is a different pattern emerging that I find equally disturbing, and frankly, related to Mr. Voris’ standard methodology. Consider these quotes, pulled from various comboxes:
Interesting to see AmChurch liberal Catholics calling the kind of modesty we learned in imitation of the Blessed Mother as “puritanical.”
God bless Michael Voris. He has opened the eyes of many Catholics (and is trying to open your eyes as well) who have been confused for far too long a time, who have had horrific catechism (or lack of, or distorted “kumbaya”, modernist, liberal nonsense).
As for Mr. Voris, he has finally earned his stripes. He now has a bona fide wolf pack after him. I think I shall give him a donation as a token of my esteem for his excellent taste in enemies.
It is sad and disturbing that most of this probing and scrutiny will continue to come from the duplicitous who care less about fidelity to Christ and more about digging up dirt to silence Voris — a thorn in their side.
The only reason Voris exists is the complete lack of spine of almost every other “Catholic” institution, and self appointed “news” service.
We find ourselves in the day and age where any call to Orthodoxy is openly attacked by cafeteria Catholics as one of the worst sins imaginable. Tolerance for the sake of tolerance itself has become the ultimate “commandment” for too many “catholics.” Tolerance has effectively rendered the Ten Commandments into The Ten Suggestions. It has recast the Truths of the Church into the mere medieval opinions of an out-of-touch power-hungry Magisterium that should be overthrown.
[W]e are indeed commanded to help our brothers and sisters by pointing out their serious sins. And that surely pertains to the outright rejection of many of the Church’s fundamental truths: Abortion, artificial contraception, the grave disorder of homosexuality, the definition of marriage, etc., etc.
I’ve been immersing myself in Catholic news sources and blogs and other intra-Catholic discourse on the web and elsewhere. I was immediately taken aback at all of the glad-handing, PC enforcement, demonizing of outspoken orthodoxy, and propagation of modernism jumping off paper and screen. I’ve been studying the art and science of effective propaganda, marketing, and public relations for years. From what I’ve analyzed so far, a good portion of “Catholic” news is, at worst, direct subversion of Catholic faith and true Christian fidelity. At best, it serves as clever misdirection and diversion of Catholics and is extremely divisive in it’s effect. Ultimately, this all works to hinder the ability of faithful Catholics to respond to corruption and crisis within the Church in any unified and meaningful way. These “Catholic” news providers and pundits are using the same playbook as those in the secular media and achieving the same result: polarizing and perpetuating the multitudes of confused, distracted, uninformed and apathetic. It will be interesting finding out who is funding this “Catholic” propaganda and why.
Cowards like CNA and all those others paint a picture as if Voris is doing this to make more money out of it. Those ‘people’ are so lost. And they must feel that way because they are threatened by Voris’ style of defense. He defends what is true. It seems the coward stricken individuals are the ones who turn to anger and madness when they hear Voris speak.
In the last year Mr. Voris has been attacked by different publications and bloggers who identify themselves with some sort of Catholic identity. Since these attacks by said ??Catholics?? I have wondered what their own personal motivations are in not only tarnshing Mr. Voris’ reputation and credibility, but his St. Michael’s Media staff members as well.
God bless Michael Voris! He is ethical and he is doing important work, work that many, including our clergy and hierarchy, fail to do. He is telling the truth and the truth upsets many. He is not acting like a victim. The real victims are the girly-men, libs and progressives and dishonest people who hate what he says about Catholic doctrine. They hate the message so they aim to shoot messenger.
Micheal is much appreciated for his exposure of liberal (often 60’s throwbacks) “Catholics” working within the church management and at the USCCB who support abortion, gay marriage and a host of issues that are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO CHURCH TEACHING. It sounds like you are either 1) of that CINO group, 2) socialist who believes in “collective salvation” and not in the dignity of the individual, or 3) just really uninformed about Michael’s good work ...
What strings together all these analyses is the same basic narrative. Michael Voris is a brave and staunchly orthodox truthteller locked in mortal combat with evil leftist dissenters who all want gay marriage, abortion, communion in the hand, women priests and various other indiscriminately listed horrors. The liberal Catholic media that favors these things is part of a shadowy cabal of liberal CINO’s who hate the Faith and who should have no right to approach the altar or call themselves Real Catholics[TM]. All Real Catholics[TM] understand this and recognize that any criticism of Mr. Voris—any fault-finding of any kind directed at Mr. Voris—is simply and solely due to the malignant forces of Progressive Dissent in the Church who hope for unlimited abortion, homosexual marriage, women priests, no fault divorce, National Socialism, clown Masses and a permanent Obama dictatorship.
Here’s the disconnect: When we speak of “progressive dissent” in Catholic media, it’s not a secret where to look for that. You can find it in various diluted forms in places like America or Commonweal or the Tablet, or in places like the Washington Post or some other MSM source (or, alas, diocesan paper) that regularly publishes the musings of Fr. Richard McBrien, James Carroll, Rosemary Radford Ruether or other Usual Suspects. You can find it in more chemical purity in the National Catholic Reporter. So how has, say, the Reporter contributed to the alleged progressive dissenting conspiracy to destroy Michael Voris?
It’s pretty horrific. They (and you may want to sit down for this), urged that he be allowed to speak!:
The Diocese of Scranton and Marywood University recently cancelled a speech planned by Michael Voris, an obnoxious rightwing personality who runs the outfit “RealCatholicTV.” Earlier this year, a bishop told me, “Funny thing is that his show is not real and it isn’t Catholic.”
Now, it is puzzling to me why anyone would invite the spewer of right-wing agitprop to rant on campus in the first place. But, censorship is not the answer. Let people hear Mr. Voris’s paranoid fantasies about unorthodox bishops and the USCCB’s supposed collusion with the Culture of Death. There is nothing attractive about his rants. The best way to expose a scoundrel is to shine the light of day on him.
Admittedly, not the warmest defense ever written, but it points to an interesting fact. The truth is, the commonly accepted narrative from comboxes all over the conservative Catholic blogosphere overlooks a crucial reality: namely, there is no campaign being conducted against Michael Voris by leftist dissenters in the Catholic media. That blog entry in the Reporter was about all I could find on him in the Lefty Catholic press. Nobody at the Reporter or other Progressive Dissent watering holes pays much attention to him because, yes indeed, they do regard RCTV with disdain — so much disdain that they just don’t talk about Mr. Voris unless there’s some bit of news like “Voris banned from Scranton.” And though at least one nameless bishop appears to be not so keen on RCTV, that doesn’t really establish a coordinated conspiracy all that well, given that the point of the tale is that the Reporter blogger thinks that Mr. Voris doesn’t so much need to be destroyed as to be allowed to destroy himself.
And yet Voris defenders perpetually talk as though it is leftist zealots for abortion and gay marriage, secret cabals of relativists bent on destroying Holy Church, and legions of radical feminists (plotting to put hemlock in Pope Benedict’s beer and then anoint Sinead O’Connor as Popessa as they stand on his twitching corpse) who are trying to bring Mr. Voris down.
What’s going on then? Only this: Voris and his defenders in the comboxes are not really attacking Progressive Dissenters in this and several other contretemps. They are, by and large, attacking faithful Catholics in conservative Catholic media and labeling them as Progressive Dissenters.
Consider: How else can we explain how a defense of Michael Voris could possibly be labeled “AmChurch liberalism”? Does a scribe for Commonweal describe somebody as conscience-haunted as Simon Rafe as “running wild”? No, it is a combox fan of Voris who does that. Would any normal healthy Catholic say that the Catholic News Agency is staffed by people devoted to “PC enforcement, demonizing of outspoken orthodoxy, and propagation of modernism”? Could any sane person talk as though the Register is dedicated to the protection of “libs and progressives and dishonest people who hate what he says about Catholic doctrine.” Only people who either cannot think or cannot grasp minimal standards of honesty and decency can say that CatholicVote.org is staffed by CINOs and socialists who “support abortion, gay marriage and a host of issues that are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO CHURCH TEACHING.”
Seriously, people need to think about how absolutely ridiculous that looks to any normal healthy Catholic. So why do so many Voris fans fling such wild charges despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence for them?
Answer: They write such things because Michael Voris urges them to think and say such things. For it is his perennial habit to declare that his mission is to trap and expose “lies and falsehoods” — not mistakes, differences in taste or approach, or well-intended but poorly executed prudential actions: lies and falsehoods. In short, he begins by characterizing those he criticizes as heretics, enemies of the Church and fifth columnists who must be “exposed.” Yet he often does so in such a way as to give himself a backdoor for denying that he is poisoning the well.
Exhibit A: Mr. Voris’ analysis of the Fr. Corapi scandal. Short story for those who missed it: Fr. Corapi was a popular priest who, as investigation showed, was behaving in ways which made him “unfit for the priesthood” as SOLT put it. His bishop (Mulvey of Corpus Christi) and superiors in SOLT took a whole lot of abuse from fans who refused to consider the possibility that Fr. Corapi could possibly be in the wrong. Eventually, Fr. Corapi abandoned his priesthood, was discovered to have been engaged in fornication and drug abuse (among other things), betrayed his vows, attacked his bishop as a libeler and a blackmailer and started the process of reinventing himself as the absurd superhero “The Black Sheepdog.”
How did Michael Voris respond? Referring to Corapi, he cast the whole thing in his standard Culture War template and suggestively told his followers who the real villains and hero in this drama were. Eulogizing Corapi, Mr. Voris declared, “He unabashedly talked about the angry homosexual subculture that controls so much of what goes on. He blasted unfaithful bishops ... meaning not only the obvious ones but also the ones who quietly and cowardly sit back and let heterodoxy and heresy spread unchecked. It isn’t a stretch of the imagination to conclude many of the enemies he made and noses he got out of joint among the bishops and their lapdog media lackies are glad to see all of this going on.”
Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the exact same scenario regurgitated in the combox entries cited above: Righteous Truthteller Persecuted by Corrupt and Sinister Liberal Cabal. Nor did the Corapians (as these sectarians now call themselves) fail to get the message. Mulvey and SOLT=evil. Corapi=Persecuted Saint. My comboxes (among others) swelled up and burst with denunciations of the persecution of Corapi by those horrid liberal bishops and their liberal media lapdog lackeys (meaning Mulvey, since he was the only one responsible for the investigation, and those in Catholic media who covered the actual facts as they emerged).
And emerge they did. It turns out Corapi was, in fact, unfit to be a priest and Mulvey and SOLT were absolutely right to call him to heel. Are there progressive dissenters who don’t much like Corapi? Sure. But was this, in fact, what brought Corapi down? No. It was Corapi’s own sins and rebellion against his bishop and superiors that did that. So why exactly did Michael Voris make the link with angry homosexuals and heterodox enemies if they had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject at hand? Because Fr. Corapi was a useful tool for doing what Voris always does: attacking the bishops as a shadowy cabal of liberals. It fit the template, so he ran with it and his audience, who believe every attack on a bishop Voris launches, ran with it too.
Only here’s the thing: Voris wound up siccing the angry mob not on “progressive dissenters” but on faithful Catholics who were concerned about the integrity of the Church’s witness — including Bishop Mulvey and the conservative and orthodox Catholic media who covered the story. In short, there was no cabal. There was only a brave orthodox and good bishop named Mulvey enduring tons of abuse from fans of both Corapi and Voris, but who stuck to his guns, thus exposing a fraud and a knave unfit to be a priest. Similarly, there were no liberal media lapdog lackeys. There was just conservative, orthodox, and faithful EWTN and the Register , which likewise caught an awful lot of flack from the energized followers of Corapi and Voris, who bought the complete myth that their entirely fair and just coverage of Corapi’s self-destruction was somehow part of a sinister liberal lapdog lackey conspiracy.
Bottom line: Mr. Voris’ picture, painted with the colors of hint and suggestion, that the story of Corapi was one of a Brave Truthteller vs. a Corrupt Shadowy Gay Cabal, was dangerously and recklessly false — and Mr. Voris has never noted nor retracted a word of it. Brave bishop Mulvey and the SOLT investigators (and the conservative Catholic press who covered the story) did the right thing with absolutely no thanks to Mr. Voris and the followers he egged on against a non-existent liberal cabal.
Exhibit B: This attempt to slime perfectly obedient Catholics as Priscillianist heretics:
Note the same strategy of hints and suggestion in place of reasoned argument: Mr. Voris suggests some sort of linkage between those who receive in the hand today and an ancient condemned heresy, then denies he is saying any such thing. The obvious question is “If Priscillianism has absolutely nothing to do with modern practices (which are approved by the Church), then why bring Priscillianism up at all?” And if you get rid of all the stuff about Priscillianism in the video, exactly what is the point?” That Michael Voris really likes communion on the tongue? Duly noted. I like chocolate. Some gnostics felt that all gustatory pleasure was an evil snare because the body is evil. But does that mean that those who don’t prefer chocolate are somehow kindred spirits with gnostic enemies of our Incarnate Eucharistic Lord? No it doesn’t. And neither, in the end, are those who receive communion in the hand where Holy Church permits it. So exactly why bring in the Priscillianist heresy?
Answer: To suggestively tar honest and faithful Catholics with the odor of heresy while denying he is doing it, that’s why. The entire suggestive digression serves absolutely no other rhetorical purpose.
But note the main thing: Once again, Voris is not attacking genuine dissent. He is not attacking pro-abort lefties, or people who hold the Church’s teaching on ordination or sex or the sacraments in naked contempt. He is attacking faithful orthodox Catholics who are disobedient to no precept and in dissent from no doctrine of Holy Mother Church. And he does it, yet again, by suggesting (but not quite saying) they are tainted with dissent or heresy.
Exhibit C: Mr. Voris’ response to the CNA story. It is really a missed opportunity, because he could have taken the high road. But instead, after offering his explanation about the messed-up paperwork (which I think any normal person is fully prepared to accept), he then says:
And furthermore ... with regard to not filling out paperwork with the state ... or being behind ... there is now information on various blogs which make the claim that Catholic News Agency or its affiliate is 4 years behind on its own filings. We are not reporting this because ... frankly ... we don’t care.
Mhm. Why does this inexorably remind me of the politician who says, “My opponent is rumored to have once been a heroin addict, but I will not bring that up here because I don’t care.” Please, Mr. Voris, if you are going to bring it up, then just deliver the manly poke in the eye without the passive-aggression.
But if he is going to poke CNA in the eye, he should at least be sure of his source. So, for instance, he should clarify that “various blogs” appears to actually mean “one unsubstantiated Reactionary dissenting blog”. He should also find out if there is anything to that blog’s claim by calling CNA, just as CNA called him. Otherwise, when he throws his passive-aggressive punch of retaliation, he can find himself in the embarrassing position of bearing false witness against his neighbor, which is a poor way of making a sincere apology. For, in fact, CNA does have a reply to the rumor Voris chose to pass along:
The host of “The Vortex” noted that he did not count CNA among his purported “enemies.” He did, however, call attention to “various blogs which make the claim that Catholic News Agency or its affiliate is 4 years behind on its own filings,” one of which he cited in the video’s official transcript.
That claim, however, rests upon a misreading of state documents showing that CNA’s nonprofit group, in some cases, received notification that its annual reports were overdue. The same documents show that each year’s reports were later filed with the state in a matter of weeks or months.
But that bit of rumor-mongering is just the start. For Mr. Voris then delivers himself of exactly the same “Righteous Truthteller vs. Shadowy Liberal Cabal” narrative we saw regurgitated time and again by his fans above, followed by an identical denial that he is attacking the people he appears for all the world to be attacking:
I have communicated to management at CNA that I think it was unfair to publish the story when they did. The reporter called me here in Madrid, Spain during a very hectic time of production for us ... sprung a series of questions on me of which I was incapable of answering at that moment ... agreed with me that I needed time to get to the bottom of things ... and then published an article. We think that was unfair and portrayed us in a bad light.
During my conversations with the Catholic News Agency it has been revealed to us that they get all kinds of secret anonymous stories about either me or our work ... all trying to depict me or our work in a very bad light. The same is true with this story ... it came through an anonymous source.
The owners of the website realcatholictv dot com are aware that because of some of what we talk about in various programs ... we have developed enemies in the Church.
Sad as that it ... it is the reality. If the person who knew about these problems did not come to us first privately as a brother in Christ to point them out ... but went instead as an anonymous source to the Catholic media ... to gin up an air of suspicion about the efforts of St. Michael’s Media as well as the website realcatholictv.com ... then perhaps CNA should be investigating THAT instead.
Anyone who has spent anytime in the world of Church politics knows that there are some people who can be absolutely immoral in the way that they deal with others. Jealousies ... turf wars ... financial fights ... personality clashes ... lies ... vicious personal attacks ... thanks to original sin and personal sin ... all of these unfortunately mar the Body of Christ.
We are very aware that there are many people in the Church who have it out for us. We aren’t playing victim ... merely stating the reality that we confront almost daily and has now been confirmed for us by the Catholic News Agency.
In that respect we are not unlike many other groups on the web who are also maligned ... often by members of the clergy in Canada for example, who smear good and faithful Catholics with terms like “Taliban Catholics.” ...
If the genesis behind this anonymous source ... which we heavily suspect ... is someone with an axe to grind about reports we have done on lack of leadership ... or watered down catechesis or the questionable financial and theological positions of the Social Justice club inside the Church ... or any of a hundred other problems which need to be addressed and not ignored or covered up ... if the goal is to intimidate or malign us ... then thank you for finally showing your fangs. At least now ... many others can see what we have seen for some time now.
We sincerely wish all these people ... and we are NOT talking about the Catholic News Agency ... who consider themselves our enemies ... who constantly blather on about charity and tolerance and dialog would follow their own advice.
If they have a problem with us ... and again ... we’re aren’t talking about the CNA ... they should confront us like a man ... not some sniveling school girls who resort to tattle tales and smear campaigns.
We pray for unity in the Church. But unity cannot come at the sacrifice of the truth.
Beyond Mr. Voris’ transparently passive-aggressive rumor-mongering about CNA paperwork, there is, yet again, the classic suggestion of guilt by association followed by the immediate denial that any such suggestion is being made. He alludes to his enemies as sniveling school girls who resort to tattletales (i.e, anonymous sources). And yet, who can he mean but CNA, since it is they who are publishing these anonymous sources. They are in league with and providing a mouthpiece to shadowy liberals in the “Social Justice club” and are aiding and abetting efforts “to gin up an air of suspicion about the efforts of St. Michael’s Media as well as the website realcatholictv.com.” Indeed, Mr. Voris then says, “perhaps CNA should be investigating THAT instead” with the clear implication that they have it in for him and are ignoring the real problem. But at the end of the tirade?:“We are NOT talking about the Catholic News Agency” — merely about the evil liberal conspirators from whom CNA allegedly gets its information.
And the way we know all that? Because Michael Voris “heavily suspects” it. That’s it. No evidence is provided for the shadowy liberal cabal to whom CNA plays liberal lapdog lackey. Indeed, the only thing Voris knows is that CNA gets “all kinds of secret anonymous stories about either me or our work ... all trying to depict me or our work in a very bad light”—and has only followed up on one. So nothing is directly stated. Just suggestions. Associations. Rumors. Mr. Voris, once again, does not say that CNA is serving a hotbed of progressive dissent out to destroy a righteous truthteller.
And so, when fans follow the suggestion and go off on “Cowards like CNA” or blurt baseless claims that stories critical of Mr. Voris in an obviously conservative orthodox news site are the result of “‘Catholics’ working within the church management and at the USCCB who support abortion, gay marriage and a host of issues that are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED TO CHURCH TEACHING” we can be assured that they are, of course, not being prompted to do so by anything Michael Voris is saying.
However, all that noted, and troubling as it is, it is not this that troubles me most.
No, the line that bothers me most is the last one: “We pray for unity in the Church. But unity cannot come at the sacrifice of the truth.” Because it telegraphs my principal concern with Mr. Voris’ M.O: the unflagging cocksureness that he is the arbiter of Truth (certainly not the bishops he endlessly flogs as CINOs if not outright traitors to the Faith) and that anybody Mr. Voris chooses to attack is an enemy of truth for whom the unity of the Church can be swiftly and easily sacrificed. Whether it’s a brave bishop investigating Fr. Corapi, somebody who receives communion in the hand or, most recently, a conservative and orthodox news agency that, in fact, told no lies in its coverage of Voris and Rafe, the perpetual narrative emitted by RCTV is that disagreement with or criticism of Michael Voris, a request for a little charity, or a call to remember unity can only proceed from a deceptive desire to “sacrifice truth.” If Mr. Voris marks you out as a liar who must be trapped and exposed, a progressive dissenter, an enemy of the Church, somebody bent on promoting abortion and gay marriage, ordaining women, destroying Catholic faith and practice, and trying with might and main to advance the work of Satan, then that’s what you are. It is unthinkable that you are actually a faithful, orthodox, and pious Catholic who seeks to follow Holy Church but disagrees that Real Catholic faith is defined by Michael Voris and Michael Voris alone.
Nonetheless, I will say it: It appears that, as often as not, the main group of people within the Church who suffer because of Michael Voris’ tactics are not Progressive Dissenters who really do hold the Church and her teaching in contempt, but faithful orthodox Catholics (like Bp. Mulvey, like those who warned of and investigated Fr. Corapi’s perfidy, like the Knights of Columbus, like the many good and honorable bishops, like innocents who receive communion in the hand or standing with perfect piety, like people who happen to have a taste for “Amazing Grace,” and like the good people at CNA and other good Catholic media outlets) who all get tarred as fifth columnists by the fans who have anointed RCTV (and themselves) as judge, jury, and executioner of the faith and piety of their fellow Catholics. This inquisitorial subculture is poison and nothing good will come of it — least of all for Michael Voris who has, like all the rest of us, feet of clay.