Like some ghoul in a late night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Paul Zummo stalks The American Catholic once again, frightening the heterodox Catholics and leftist agitators of the Catholic blogopshere. -Antonin Scalia, horribly paraphrased.
So what could have awoken me from a nearly year-long stupor to return to these pages? If you guessed interminable, poorly reasoned, strawmen-laden, intellectually dishonest, bilge spewed by certain Catholic bloggers furious about any criticism leveled against
the precious Pope Francis, you are not only right, you are eerily specifically right.
In light of continued concerns expressed by certain Catholics about the current pontificate, his most fervent defenders have fought back with well-reasoned, well-articulated, substantive rebuttals calmly and meticulously pointing out flaws in those concerns.
Wait, my bad. In fact they’ve engaged in baseless character destruction. The latest group to come under attack are those dastardly converts – you know, the people who have bravely answered Christ’s call to conversion, in many cases forsaking the religious faith of their childhood and of their families because they have discovered and embraced the truth. Well, it seems they are a bit of a problem.
Austen Ivereigh is the latest, spewing forth 1,200 words of bile against converts, who, because they bring with them the baggage of their previous faith (or lack thereof), have come to become foolishly critical of Pope Francis. Ivereigh takes his cue from the “sage,” Michael Sean Winters. Winters, model of Catholic living for all, had whined: “I am so tired of converts telling us that the pope is not Catholic.”
Ivereigh, though, assures us: “I don’t want to be seen to be sniffy and condescending towards people who become Catholic.” Naturally, he proceeds to be sniffy and condescending towards people who became Catholic for the remainder of his article. Here’s a sampling of his writing:
“But still, I hesitate even now to write about convert neurosis, and how it conditions critiques of Pope Francis.” – Convert neurosis is certainly a great way to show that one is not being demeaning in the slightest
“Now, Schmitz never actually said the pope wasn’t Catholic, but his narrative and that of many of Francis’s angry, vociferous critics adds up to something rather like it.” – Ah, the angry young Catholic convert, a touching image.
“The Church is missionary, and exists to spread the Gospel, and some of those it touches will want to become Catholic, and that’s wonderful. People who have thought and prayed their way to faith are special, and bring great gifts with which they have been showered. We love converts.” – Yeah, I don’t know how anyone could interpret that as condescending at all.
“But it is a lot more likely that their baggage has distorted their hermeneutic, and they are suffering from convert neurosis.” – There’s that term again: convert neurosis, with some additional baggage thrown in.
“A friend in Ireland writes: “I keep seeing people who seem to have converted mainly because the Church teaches things that match their ideological outlook, whereas when I came back it was a case of doing so because I thought the Church had historical authority to teach things even if they sounded mad or were inconvenient.” – Again, what is sniffy and condescending about alleging that many who convert do so for ideological reasons?
Of course not only is Ivereigh sniffy and condescending, he fails to adequately address what precisely is wrong with the criticism coming from converts and cradle Catholics. Oh, you didn’t know cradle Catholics could also be critics? Well, let’s not worry about our concerns because that would get in the way of this narrative. Ivereigh is also profoundly ignorant about papal elections:
And if the many retweets of my retweet of Winters’s complaint is anything to go by, many share his view not just that this stance is not just incongruous, but annoying, because rather than consider the possibility that there may be something deficient in their own view of the Church and its tradition, they prefer to assume that it is the successor of St. Peter – chosen by the Holy Spirit in a conclave free from outside interference – who is lacking. (Emphasis mine)
This is pure theological error, and it being spread in the pages of an ostensibly Catholic publication. (I guess new regalia is not the first poor decision made by the Knights). The Holy Spirit does not choose the pope. The Holy Spirit guides the Cardinal electors, but that does not mean they are incapable of error in their selection.
Unfortunately Ivereigh bases most of his attack on converts on the proposition that the Holy Spirit knows better than those ignorant converts. Indeed, his basic attitude is one of dismissiveness:
Conversion is an act of humility. It involves a renunciation of sovereignty, the idea that I know best. It involves trust – in Jesus Christ, and in His Church, and in the successor of St. Peter – even when they challenge my preconceptions.
Certainly all good Catholics should prayerfully reflect on all matters, and should not spout off angrily against the pope or against any prelate without carefully considering all arguments. Yet is similarly insufficient to reply to these criticisms with rhetorical hand waving. Pretending that converts were wrongfully being neurotic about the papal enclave, and using Amoris Laetitia as a cudgel to prove that neurosis is, well, rather odd considering the many problems with the document.
Ivereigh later posted an apology, but this is pathetically weak. Essentially he’s apologizing for using poorly chosen terminology. He doesn’t, however, recant of the substance of his remarks, rendering his apology meaningless.
Ivereigh and Winters are hardly alone in being suspect of converts. Mark Silk also offers up a bit of dismissive snark:
“Here we are getting really close to what really bothers Matthew,” scoffed Ivereigh. “He wants the red shoes. He wants the popes to be carried on a sedia gestatoria [the ceremonial throne on which popes were carried until 1978]. He wants a church which no longer exists.”
What’s new, this time around, is the readiness of conservative converts to come right out and criticize what principally distinguishes Roman Catholicism from the rest of Christianity — the pope. You’d almost think they were still Protestants.
Silk approvingly quotes Iverigh’s contention that what motivates certain converts is their desire for appropriate regalia, then misrepresents the position of Francis critics. Convert (and cradle Catholic) critics do not dispute the authority or legitimacy of the pope or his office. What distinguishes us from the ultramontanists is recognizing that the pope is not an infallible human being, and is thus capable – GASP! – of being less than perfect, and capable being wrong when he is not speaking ex cathedra. In other words, we are not Rex Mottram Catholics.
And where did I even find this Silk article? Why from none other than our good pal Anthony Annett, the artist formerly known as Morning’s Minion, who linked to Silk via his twitter page. I deleted my twitter account (again) in part because of the nastiness of, well, pretty much everyone (including myself). Twitter is just not a place for rational discourse. Yet Tony’s twitter page is especially full of nasty invective. A quick perusal of his twitter page that evidently detraction and calmuny are not sins, at least according to Tony, but failure to hue 100% to his environmental policies and/or working for Heritage are.
It’s odd that the biggest fans of Pope Francis – the pope who is supposedly bringing in all these converts due to his willingness to open dialogue – are so hostile to converts and their ability to engage in theological dialogue. It’s almost as if they have another agenda.
It also suggests that if anyone is demonstrating signs of neurosis, it is them.