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.
One of the more repulsive sorts of blood sport one encounters on the Internet is the cowardly game of “Let’s you and him fight”.
An example: A recent incident involving my friend Erin Manning aka Red Cardigan. Erin, you see, periodically contributes to Rod Dreher’s blog over on Beliefnet. She, like me, doesn’t agree with everything Dreher says. But she thinks enough of the “Crunchy Con” idea that she contributes to the conversation there. Well, for some years now there has been a small nucleus of people out there in cyberspace who, for various reasons, just really really really hate Rod Dreher.
Now I think Dreher does things worthy of criticism and, when I think occasion warrants it, I say as much. When I say so, I am suddenly transformed from the pain in the neck the Dreher Haters normally regard me as and hailed (for a minute) as the Wonder Prodigy of the Age by people who are eager find any stick that comes to hand to wail on Rod Dreher. The basic principle at work here is “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” apparently. But, of course, differences between my approach to Dreher (I think him a good man and a wounded man who committed a bad act in joining in the recent anti-Benedict feeding frenzy) and their approach soon emerges (they think him an irredeemably bad man whose every action and every word on everything should be ridiculed, treated with contempt, and derided).
So quite soon, the conversation among the Dreher haters passed from “Yay! Shea!” to “Shea is a contemptible coward because he doesn’t really hate Dreher with the purity of my hatred for Dreher” to “Hey! Let’s see if we can use Shea as a weapon to attack that Erin Manning chick for not wailing on Dreher!”
And so, a couple of days later, Erin (who had nothing to do with my interaction with Dreher) winds up with a troll in a combox on one of her blog entries. The blog entry has, in fact, nothing to do with Dreher (what it does have to do with we shall see in a second). But this does not stop the troll from dropping in a completely irrelevant comment:
Speaking of conduct “unbecoming a journalist”; What do you think of this?
He then dashes back to his little covey of Dreher Haters to report: “I sent Erin Manning the link of Mark Shea turning on Dreher. Let’s see what happens.” (The comment has now been deleted to cover Mr. Carpenter’s tracks. Four others of the cattier comments also went down the memory hole.)
Erin, not being an idiot, chose not to rise to the bait, for which I applaud her. My remarks about Dreher were mine. They were not a call to general insurrection against him, much less intended as a recruiting poster for the We Really Really Really Hate Rod Dreher Brigade, and still less as a tool in a game of “Let’s you and him fight” for the delectation of combox trolls. Once Dreher exhibited the good sense to give his unbridled remarks about the Pope a rest I was content. The Dreher Hate folks were, as is their custom, both skeptical and, in a weird way, disappointed. Breaking off his attacks on Benedict left them with one less excuse for hating Dreher, which was after all, the point. In short, I wrote seeking peace and was content when I got it. They write hoping for war and are disappointed when the object of their loathing gives them less reason to loathe him.
All of which brings me to my subject. Today, over on my Catholic and Enjoying It blog, I followed up on a little entry I had written yesterday, which took a look at Fr. Owen Kearns’ apology re: the whole situation with the disgusting Fr. Maciel. In my follow up, I looked at Erin Manning’s quite fair remarks on that apology to the effect that, whatever else may be the case, the simple fact is that what the Register did over the past decade in covering Maciel is not what we mean by the term “journalism”, because journalism would have meant chasing down the facts about Maciel, not circling the wagons to protect him. That’s just the sober truth and Erin was right to point it out. So I said so. I’m glad of Fr. Kearns’ apology and accept it (for what little that’s worth as somebody who is not one of Maciel’s victims of abuse, nor of the Legionary Smear Machine that labored for so long and with such success to shut victims and reporters up), but I think there is still a lot of work to be done to dismantle the machine Maciel built to protect himself.
Well. Almost instantly, I get a note in my combox which reads:
Mark, I’d’ be very impressed if the Register allowed posts like the one above on your Register blog site. So I posted on the same combox a question for Fr. Kearns:
I note that you publish blog posts by Mark Shea and that he has published comments elsewhere about this comment thread.
Does he need your invitation to be as frank on your site as he is elsewhere…
Let’s be honest. This is, once again, the game of “Let’s you and him fight”.
To be clear, I have, as far as I know, no restriction on what I can post at the Register, except for one thing. That’s why I can post this here now. Nobody’s breathing down my neck about what I write. I’ve never been ordered by anybody at the Register to focus on or avoid a particular topic. I’m a columnist and basically write about whatever happens to strike my fancy.
The one restriction that I face (as do all bloggers here) is frequency. With my blog here, I basically have three shots a week to talk about something. On Catholic and Enjoying It, I have limitless space to babble on about anything, so that no thought of mine, no matter how stupid, shall ever go unpublished again. That means I generally pick my subject here with a focus on catechesis, while on CAEI, it’s catch as catch can depending on the headlines and the mail.
So, a typical day at Chez Shea looks like this: I start by opening my mail and plowing through it. People send me stuff that usually constititutes much of the grist for CAEI. Then I look at a few random sites and, if something there hits me, I write about that too. That’s basically what sparked both entries about Fr. Owen’s apology. I saw the apology and wrote about that, then I saw Erin’s comments and wrote about that. Beyond that, I’ve been, in addition, crushed by deadlines for other stuff, as well as gearing up for my Excellent Videocasting Adventure. That’s why I haven’t filed anything for this space till today (normally my second piece runs on Tuesday). I simply haven’t had time to breathe. When I do get time to breathe and turn my attention to the Only Three Times A Week I Get to Blog Blog, I’m usually not thinking in the same space as I am as I plow through the mail. I’m thinking either, “How do I continue that huge long series about the Sacraments that I started last Fall?” or (since Easter Week) “What’s a good one-off piece of catechesis I can do in about 500-1500 words till I can resume the Sacraments series?” This means that it’s more likely that business involving the Situation will pop up first on CAEI (cuz that’s part of the morning news I plow through) and will only (as for instance now) turn up here when I think it makes suitable grist for some bit of catechesis.
My bit of catechesis here today is simple moral theology: One of the things that is neither compatible with Catholic teaching nor even with manly pagan virtues are games of “Let’s you and him fight”. The proper thing for my reader to have done was not assume “Why is the Register muzzling Shea?” for the simple reason that, had he bothered to ask me directly, “Does the Register forbid you from discussing the Maciel thing?” I would have answered, “Nope” and explained what I am explaining now. But instead, my reader felt that a good game of “Let’s you and him fight” would be just the tonic for a Thursday afternoon.
The silver lining? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to blog about for the Register today and I was suffering from sufficient mental fatigue after this tough couple of weeks that I wasn’t sure I had 500 words in me. Now I’ve filed my copy for the day! So it all works out. Next time, if any of my readers feels like playing “Let’s you and him fight” how’s about you just write me directly? I’m not a Legionary. I wouldn’t know Fr. Owen Kearns from Adam except that, somewhere out there in cyberspace, he runs a paper that has, I am grateful to say, been willing to publish whatever I feel like writing about (including this) for the past several years.
But when it comes to the Register itself, my chance to sound off in print about the Catholic faith has been unhindered by any demands by the staff that I not discuss Maciel, etc. Indeed, so clever and tech-savvy are the editors of the Register that they can even use a web browser to read CAEI and they do so on a regular basis. But despite my frank comments there, I have found no severed horse’s head in my bed, nor dark warnings not to talk about the egregious Fr. Maciel here. This space is generally directed toward catechetical stuff. Over the past couple of weeks (basically since Easter week) I took a break on a long march I’ve been taking through the Catechism to do a few more random and shorter pieces. The reason for that was simple: I was buried in other work and so was making my life easier here in order to do that. Next week, I hope to resume the series I was doing on the Eucharist and then proceed on to the other sacraments. But through all that time, no secret threats came across my screen from the Register, darkly warning me to stay away from Maciel, etc. I just had other things I was trying to do.
So: please. No more games of “Let’s you and him fight”. Sometimes you discover The Truth is Out There—and it’s kind of boring.
PS. I don’t know how I missed this at the time, but about a year ago Fr. Raymond de Souza wrote a piece for First Things called, “The Legion and the National Catholic Register”. I wish to, as they say, “associate myself” with the views expressed in that piece. He lays out, clearly and charitably, both what is wrong with the Register‘s history with regard to Maciel, the Legion, and its critics, as well as a pretty sound program for what the Register needs to do going forward and I sincerely hope they do it.