What is an “Orthodox” Catholic blog?

Rachel Zoll’s article for the Associated Press, “Catholic loyalists take to their blogs to defend teaching” has been widely republished over the past week, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, from MSNBC to Yahoo! news, normally under the new headline “Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters.”

I am quoted several times in this article, and I’ve responded to how I think my positions were somewhat mischaracterized in the final version. I also said that I think Zoll is over-hyping the situation. The next point I want to make is that I don’t think the subsequent discussion over the claims made in the article are helped at all by the fact that I am quoted along with Michael Vorris and the “Bryan Hehir Exposed” blog.

While all of the individuals discussed in the article may broadly be described as “right-of-center”, it’s unfounded for my body of writing to be categorized as wholly in-step with theirs. There is as much variety among our side as there is between the authors of America Magazine and Joan Chittister at NCReporter (I hope!) on their side.

Margaret Cabaniss at Inside Catholic injects a little bit of sanity into the discussion:

“Enraged,” “unsettling,” “dissecting,” “hunting” — strong language for a story about… blogging. Even the title — “Catholic bloggers aim to purge dissenters” — gives the impression of some shadowy cabal of extremists who are slowly taking over the Church… when the crux of the story is essentially, “Some Catholic bloggers get fired up about things they don’t like.” Which describes 99% of bloggers, period.

Okay, so besides the article being somewhat hyperbolic – why does this topic and Zoll’s article in general get so many liberal Catholics so steamed?

I think the answer has to do with the label “Orthodox”. For the record, I don’t have a particular attachment to it. Instead, I think of myself as simply a “faithful Catholic” – a papist. In other words, someone who follows the teachings of the pope and Magisterium faithfully. From the outside, this position is often described as “Orthodox.”

Surprisingly enough, a militant atheist blogger gets the point about Catholic identity and orthodoxy quicker than most – I’ve edited his language a bit for my courteous audience:

If the Pope says something and you just dismiss it, how “Catholic” are you?

… if I were Catholic (and took it seriously), I’d be p***ed off if people did exactly the opposite of what my church taught but still clung to the label.

I wouldn’t describe myself as “ticked off”. “Ticked off” would be an emotion, and emotions fizzle out. Instead, this is an intellectual attitude: much of what I debate on AmP is precisely about what it means in reality to be Catholic, to be a joyful member of a faith with objective teachings and norms. When I take up strong positions, my claim is not a modest one: often times I’m not saying my interpretation of the faith is this way, I’m saying my faith leads me this way. (Arguments welcome.)

A commenter using the handle “budida20″ puts it this way on the dotCommonweal blog: “I am disappointed that the [Associated Press] has fallen into the language of only calling certain Catholics (Peters in the this article) ‘orthodox.’”

Where liberal Catholics want a “big tent” Church that allows their position alongside an “orthodox” one, “orthodox” Catholics believe in an objective faith, in indisputable norms and irreplaceable teachings. Where liberal Catholics want to see shades of gray, papists see black and white. I understand that’s annoying to liberal Catholics. But instead of railing against how inflexible this is, how about arguing about if it is right or wrong?

James Martin, SJ of America Magazine makes the most sustained attempt to take the Associated Press article and turn it into a through-and-through condemnation of conservative blogging. He does this by lumping good conservative blogs in with, well, bad ones. But let’s see how my writing stands up to the Martin critique, because if my writing does, the writing of many of the Catholic bloggers I admire will fare well also.

1. Fr. Martin says many bloggers write anonymously. I never do. Check.

2. Fr. Martin says many bloggers betray little theological knowledge. It’s true, I don’t have a PhD or STL/D in theology. I do, however, have four years of graduate studies and two Masters’ degrees in theology under my belt. But let’s remember, it doesn’t take an advanced degree from the Angelicum to be able to say with confidence that Nancy Pelosi sounds more protestant than Catholic when she discusses her faith, and that the Church has definitely ruled against female ordination and condemns abortion, for instance.

3. Fr. Martin says the the focus of many bloggers is risibly narrow”, and lists “homosexuality, abortion, women’s ordination, birth control, liturgical abuses and the exercise of church authority, then asks “Is this really the sum total of what makes us Catholic?” Of course not, Fr. Martin, but imagine if the Church and our culture were united in our understanding of these issues? Wouldn’t the world be a better, more just place? Or should we spend more of our time asking if Homer Simpson is Catholic? I’m confused. Isn’t it more likely that these are simply a set of topics that Fr. Martin is tired of seeing actively debated, especially if he doesn’t like what he witnesses being said?

4. Fr. Martin says our attacks do real damage to real people, and calls this “McCarthyism at its worst”. First, I’d like to see a list of the “real people” who have had real damage done to them, and ask next if that damage was deserved. Honestly, if you are an official in the Church or at a Catholic organization, and you have done things that deserve firing or censure, you should be fired or censured. Is this a red herring or is Fr. Martin unhappy that faithful Catholics have discovered people who have been spouting heterodoxy for decades, and have decided to ask their superiors if they endorse this?

5. Fr. Martin says we show little desire to speak to our targets. I’m not sure how Fr. Martin is measuring this. If you say something in public you make yourself open to public criticism. That’s the way the world works – not just blogs. In my experience, attempts to have a private dialog are often rebuffed. At any rate, public falsehoods ought to be followed by a public apology. The damage caused by public comments to the faithful require this. That said, my email address is proudly displayed on the sidebar, and always has been. I’m literally seconds away. How many liberal Catholic bloggers do this?

6. Finally, Fr. Martin trouts out the “charity” argument. We’re not charitable, he says. I come across this all the time. “Charity” has become the Catholic pablum for “tolerance” in the public square. However, correcting the error of others is a charitable act, if done properly. Fr. Martin, moreover, apparently sees no contradiction between calling for more charity, while simultaneously beginning his article with John Allen’s phrase “Taliban Catholicism” (describing us) and later accusing us of “McCarthyism.” Evidently, just as you must be tolerated but need not show tolerance, Fr. Martin must be shown perfect charity while arguably not practicing it perfectly himself. I’m not saying we don’t need more charity, I’m saying the ones who shout for this the loudest seem least inclined to practice it perfectly first themselves.

Jeff Miller at The Curt Jester has made similar points when it comes to this “charity” question and Tom at Disputations actually lists all of Fr. Martin’s choice words about us:

“Taliban Catholicism;” “both craven and cowardly;” “little theological knowledge;” “someone barely out of college;” “McCarthyism at its worst;” “devoid of any sense of Christian charity;” “they don’t seem particularly Christian.”

If you set aside the “charity” argument, Fr. Martin’s critique of us – the liberal Catholic critique – is that we are an anonymous, uneducated, narrow, hurtful, hypocritical group of people. Which I would argue is just five different ways of saying we don’t agree with many of his conclusions about the Catholic faith. So how about we just stick to the disagreements, and cease getting stuck on the personalities?

More will be accomplished, and who knows, we may even discover the truth.

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24 thoughts on “What is an “Orthodox” Catholic blog?

  1. Robert Gusnowski says:

    Hi
    My name is Robert Gusnowski and I am writing you this note to ask for your help and prayers to bring people to a forum I have just setup to build a sense of community among all Christians. In particular, I am reaching out to the Catholic and Orthodox community, but I believe that faith is a journey not a destination. With open minds and open ears, we can all learn and grow in faith
    http://apostolictradition.org
    The Guiding Principles I have set out are below:
    This forum has been created expressly for Christians of all faiths to meet, discuss, teach, and learn. Other than sections of the forum provided for specific internet communities, the intent is to be as open and uncensored as possible. Truthfully, can anyone in good conscience say they truly understand the mind of God? Please treat each other with the respect due to all of mankind. This isn’t about agreeing on everything, but it also is not about being disrespectful, unkind, or condescending. Ad hominem attacks are NOT acceptable. You may disagree with what someone says or believes, but criticize the idea or belief, NOT the individual. Keep this in mind: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” Luke 6:37

    The reality of starting a forum is that finding enough people to participate is a challenge. No one will visit a discussion forum that is dead without people posting and being part of an active community. It is like the chicken and the egg. Who wants to join an empty discussion forum? How can a forum come to life without building a community?

    So I reach out and ask you to visit, register, and participate. Please share your faith. Please help me build a community by passing this message on to others.

    In Christ’s name…..

    Thank you

    Robert
    http://apostolictradition.org

    MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

    - Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

  2. Samwise Gamgee says:

    It’s likely the authors are more concerned that the most vibrant young Catholics are far more orthodox and right of center than their parents’ generation. That fact interrupts the downward spiral many who hate the Church hope for. Their comment could be summed up as follows: “Why can’t the young bloggers just be libbie relativists like the rest of their age range.”

  3. AJT says:

    Bravo Thomas!

  4. Manny Acosta says:

    I am what you consider a “fallen away Catholic”. I was born, received the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation and Anoiting of the Sick within the Roman Catholic faith. I love Christ, and I loved the Church.
    I am gay – openly. I am true to myself. I know I am not intrinsically disordered. Since I was 17 (am now 54) I’ve known that the problem with homosexuality within the faith, indeed with most problems of dissent within the Church ALL stem from the theology and doctrine of human sexuality; no sexual acts outside of the Sacrament of Marriage – and those within must be open to procreation.

    According to the Magisterium I must live a celibate life. I’ve no vocation to a celibate life and 20 years ago I used to joke that if the Magisterium and and Canons require that I live a life of celibacy against my will – that I should at least receive Holy Orders for my troubles. That flippant remark of course was said at the time to mask the pain and sorrow of being on the outside looking in.

    According to the Magisterium the doctrine will not change, so dissent and discussion are pointless and moot.

    Therefore, for my own life, I willfully reject for my own well being and peace of mind the authority of the Magisterium.

    I still attend Mass regularly (haven’t been barred from that yet) but, don’t worry. I play by the rules – I don’t receive the Eucharist nor Penance – much as that hurts.

    You see, I do believe in the “grey areas”. I have my love of Christ, and I know He loves me. The Magisterium and papal decrees can’t take that away from me.

    Manny Acosta

    1. Hibernian Faithful says:

      Yes the Trinty loves you and they do not want you to sin. The keys were given to Church. Yes it is hard, in this day and age to understand your situation, but it is your choice to reject the Teachings of the Christ created Church, not the Church’s fault for accepting your sins. You are always accepted and loved. I pray for all my Brothers and Sisters in Christ and that most assuredly means you. I want all of my Brothers and Sisters in Heaven, not for my benefit but because you are, like me, a beloved and special creation of the the Trinity. I could think of nothing better than standing next to you for eternity praising the Trinty. That is why I stand for the Church and the Magisterium and that the apostate hip trends of this day and time.

      May God Bless my Brother,

      The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. – Chesterton.

      1. Hibernian Faithful says:

        Sorry for rush blogging at work,here is the edited text:

        Yes the Trinity loves you and they do not want you to sin. The keys were given to Church. Yes it is hard, in this day and age to understand your situation, but it is your choice to reject the Teachings of the Christ created Church, not the Church’s fault for refusing to accept your sins. You are always accepted and loved. I pray for all my Brothers and Sisters in Christ and that most assuredly means you. I want all of my Brothers and Sisters in Heaven, not for my benefit but because you are, like me, a beloved and special creation of the Trinity. I could think of nothing better than standing next to you for eternity praising the Trinity. That is why I stand for the Church and the Magisterium and reject the apostate hip trends of this day and time. May God Bless my Brother. The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried. – Chesterton.
        God bless.

    2. Chris says:

      Manny, though I’m just a reader here and not one of those bloggers under scrutiny, I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your story and thoughts. I admire your integrity in respecting the discipline of the Church regarding reception of the Eucharist: it speaks highly of your love of Christ in the Eucharist, something sorely lacking from many of the faithful these days. I think you are quite astute in your observation that “most problems of dissent within the Church ALL stem from the theology and doctrine of human sexuality; no sexual acts outside of the Sacrament of Marriage – and those within must be open to procreation.” This connection of most instances of dissent to the Church’s teaching on sexuality and sexual morality is, I think, too often overlooked by those who genuinely wish to address and ameliorate those sources of schism and ‘falling away from the faith.’

      It is my experience that dissenters on this crucial teaching of the Church rarely, if ever, are able to demonstrate authentic understanding of that teaching. For example, I most frequently hear a condemnation of prohibitions against gay sex take form as a rant against Leviticus, and that if the Church really believed Leviticus to be a source of objective moral truth, then she would equally prohibit the eating of shellfish. Such dissenters betray a profound ignorance of Scripture and Church teaching—the words of Christ, who spoke always out of Love, repeatedly condemn adultery and fornication (which covers every sexual act outside of marriage as well as contraceptive sex in marriage); St. Paul echoes these moral truths on sexuality in unambiguous terms throughout the New Testament; Pope Paul VI offers further clarity and explanation in Humanae Vitae; and Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is a radical exposition of the deep mystery and beauty of human sexuality as the image in flesh of the eternal self-giving creative love within the Blessed Trinity. Somehow, these texts never get the thoughtful consideration the deserve from Catholics who are trying to navigate between the mutually exclusive views of the World and the teachings of Mother Church. It is simply not enough to disagree because we would rather believe otherwise. The real issue at stake here is more likely: who gets to decide what is morally virtuous and what is sinful? If we wish to justify the choices we make regardless of what the Church teaches about ‘doing good and avoiding evil,’ then certainly we will claim for ourselves the authority which belongs rightfully only to the Author of the Moral Law. The faithful Catholic acknowledges that the Church acts in these matters on the authority of Christ; the dissenter has only himself, and him alone.

      1. Bruce says:

        VERY well said, Chris.

  5. Francis says:

    Hmmmm, well, having read Fr. Martin’s article, I can see that he does have some points that are worth a second look.

    First, McCarthyism – anyone who did not agree with McCarthy was automatically a Communist. Here, anyone who does not agree with the prevailing tone of the blog (Thomas) is usually referred to as “Catholyc”. Or, in Hibernian Faithful’s post, we see “Faux Father Martin” or “Rev.” in quotation marks, when he actually is Father Martin, whether you agree with him or not. Either a person agrees totally with what is written here, or they are branded a dissenter, no matter how cutesie the label.

    Narrow selection of topics. Check. I had been away from this blog for months, and returning I find that I have not missed much. The same topics are rehashed in detail.

    Little charity is evident. Check. All you have to do is re-read any post about anyone who does not agree with you (Obama, for example) and it is quite clear that you do not bear this non-Catholic individual any charity. Suppose he read anything that was written by the regular commentators here – what would EVER motivate him to want to become a Catholic? Not much. In the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.”

    Do any of the regular commentators ever discuss the role of conscience in moral decision making? (I can almost hear them screaming: WELL FORMED conscience!) Right. Well, even a well formed conscience can sometimes be at odds with the teaching of the church. Does a person have an obligation to wrestle with that and try to come to a deeper understanding of the issue at hand? Of course, but conscience is almost never mentioned here. Yet, being true to our conscience is extremely important in living a moral life.

    Regarding Cardinal-designate Burke, he has been recorded (by Randall Terry) making uncharitable comments regarding his fellow bishops.

    Anonymous bloggers – the “regular” contributors are named, but the majority of writers on blogs are those who make comments. Most often, they (we) are relatively anonymous, and for good reasons. If people put their true identity out here, there is always a risk of some unsavory individual making some unsavory advances, or some other such nonsense. At the same time, the anonymity of the blog makes some people feel that they can just say pretty much anything they want. I particularly dislike the thumbs up/down buttons. They offer no redeeming value.

    1. Hibernian Faithful says:

      First, I do not diminish the fact that “Faux Father” was a father, but so was Luther, and other heretics and apostates. It is not uncharitable, rather it is very charitable, to call out an apostate to whom the faithful seek the correct teachings of the faith and point that he is (a) not what he appears and (b) in significant matters is either wrong, or cowardly in his defense of the Father. I suspect that there are areas of agreement that we have, and I would ready support him in those, if he would articulate them. But I see no evidence of such from the “Faux Father.” Does he believe in the apostatlic succession and the authority of the magisterium? Does he believe that the central tenant of the faith is not the “feel good” nature, but the recognition that Christ died because we are sinners and he wanted to save us? When I see evidence I will support the “Faux Father” supports the Church, I will support him. Does the “Faux Father” believe that it is role of the faithful, not the force of Ceasar, to do the work of charity? Does the “Faux Father” recognize that in addition to not doing God’s work, Ceasar, through its confiscatory taxes, anti-Church and anti-Faithful regulations is systematically working to eliminate the ability of the Faithful? I suspect that the “Faux Father” either does not know, does not care or believes he will be in an exalted position and that he and the other modern day Pierre Clergues wile be able to make the Church more “hip.”

      Being “true to our conscience is extremely important in living a moral life” as used by you is heretical and apostate double speak for being a Catholic in name only and it gives you license to ignore the teachings of the Church. It does not take any real examination to know that the promotion of the SINFUL ACTS of adultry, abortion, contraception, homosexuality and fornication, and alteration of the sacraments is not consistent with a moral and faithful adherence to the teachings of the Church, nor is it uncharitable to say so; because discontinuation of such action and repentence for such actions is the route to salvation to my Brothers and Sisters who have committed such SINFUL ACTS. There salvation and redemption is my interest, not hatred, like the “Faux Father.”

      One last note, has the “Faux Father” condemned the various members of his own Order who presistently (and to much appropriation of the anti-Catholic “elites”) refused to accept or follow the doctrine apostatlic succession or the authority of magisterium?

      1. Francis says:

        HF, thank you for so clearly illustrating my points.

        1. Hibernian Faithful says:

          If you refuse to believe, when you hear, that is your responsibility; my call is to help my Brothers and Sisters by knowing, loving and serving God and sometimes you have to say the truth no matter how much it is not what they want to hear.

          As to those to whom with I disagree, I sometimes do have rage and anger, that is my cross and I am aware of that I called not to sin in that way; but if I was the “Faux Father” I would say to the Church to let me adopt it as a lifestyle. As for the President, he is a unrepentant promoter of abortion, an intrinsic evil – is calling him out – uncharitable? I do not think so.

          Please explain why you do not seem to have any problem attacking Catholics (imperfect humans) who defend the Faith, yet coddle those who would destroy it.

          Sorry – “A liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel”

          God bless – that is meant in the most faithful way possible (see my comments to Manny below)

          Finally, I care a prayer that I composed to ask the Noble Martyrs and Saints to pray for me to receive the help me be more loving, it is with me everyday, because I need it, I wish I did not need, but I do.

      2. Hibernian Faithful says:

        Sorry for rush blogging at work, here is the edited text:

        First, I do not diminish the fact that “Faux Father” was a father, but so was Luther, and other heretics and apostates. It is not uncharitable, rather it is very charitable, to call out an apostate to whom the faithful seek the correct teachings of the faith and point that he is (a) not what he appears and (b) in significant matters is either wrong, or cowardly in his defense of the Faith. I suspect that there are areas of agreement that we have, and I would ready support him in those, if he would articulate them. But I see no evidence of such from the “Faux Father.” Does he believe in the apostolic succession and the authority of the Magisterium? Does he believe that the central tenant of the faith is not the “feel good” nature of the so-social justice “seamless garment,” but the recognition that Christ died because we are sinners and he wanted to save us? When I see evidence the “Faux Father” supports the Church, I will support him. Does the “Faux Father” believe that it is role of the faithful, not the force of Caesar, to do the work of charity call for by Lord? Does the “Faux Father” recognize that in addition to not doing God’s work, Caesar, through its confiscatory taxes, anti-Church and anti-Faithful regulations is systematically working to eliminate the ability of the Faithful to do such charity work? I suspect that the “Faux Father” either does not know, does not care or believes he will be in an exalted position in the “elite” ruling class and that he and the other modern day Pierre Clergues will be able to make the Church more “hip.” Being “true to our conscience is extremely important in living a moral life” as used by you is heretical and apostate double speak for being a Catholic in name only and by which you believe you have license to ignore the teachings of the Church that does not fit the “hip” image in which you want to remake Church. It does not take any real examination to know that the promotion of the SINFUL ACTS of adultery, abortion, contraception, homosexuality and fornication, and alteration of the sacraments is not consistent with a moral and faithful adherence to the teachings of the Church, nor is it uncharitable to say so; because discontinuation of such action and repentance for such SINFUL ACTS is the route to salvation for my Brothers and Sisters who have committed such SINFUL ACTS (that includes me). Their salvation and redemption is my interest, not hatred, like the “Faux Father.” One last note, has the “Faux Father” condemned the various members of his own Order who persistently (and to much appropriation of the anti-Catholic “elites”) refused to accept or follow the doctrine apostolic succession or the authority of Magisterium?

        God bless.

  6. Chris says:

    Thomas, again, thank you for your unwavering courage in standing by the Catholic Faith in the face of deliberate public misunderstanding and outright slander. You are an inspiration and a relief to those who, like me, may not have the wit, alacrity, and time to defend and proclaim the truths of the Faith that we hold so dear, that define our very lives (or so we try). Please know that you and the brethren on the front lines of the new media evangelization (especially here at Catholic Vote and that happy band of brothers at The Catholic Thing) are succor to an embattled soul (I teach in public schools), and though I may not join you in words, I stand with you in constant prayer. Vivat Jesu!

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