Get the Knives Out

Last week Hilary White wrote an article for Lifesite News in which she reported on the fact that Pope Francis concelebrated Mass with and then later kissed the hands of an activist priest, Fr. Don Michele de Paolis, who has publicly spoken out against Church teaching on homosexuality. The priest also co-founded an organization, Agedo Foggia, that works to subvert the Church’s teaching. The article made no conjectures at all about the Pope’s motivation, nor did White at any point insert any editorial comment on the matter. She simply reported on the known facts – disputed, by the way, by no one – and then wrote about de Paolis’s previous work and writings. I repeat, White reported on the matter, and none of the facts she mentioned have been disputed by anyone. It is an accurate and well-sourced article.

The reaction to the piece was severe and swift. Soon after the article was published, and presumably in reaction to Hilary White’s article, Simcha Fisher intoned on her facebook page:

Two sentences that make me turn on my bull@#$% detector: ones that start, “Guess what Pope Francis just did?” and ones that start, “According to LifeSiteNews . . . “

Damien Fisher added in the comments: “If any lifesiter is reading this: You all suck at reporting and have no business pretending you are a news organization.”

By the way, at no point in any of their charitable screeds against Lifesite did either of the Fishers point out or specify any flaws in Hilary’s reporting. No, according to them Lifesite just sucks and you have to deal with it. Other comments on the thread were similarly lacking in anything resembling charity or substantive criticism.

Other denizens of the Catholic blogosphere weighed in with predictable reactions that I am not going to bother linking to, but you know where to look. Lifesite News itself issued this clarification that managed to offer up scores more conjecture than anything Hilary White offered in her article. First, Lifesite tried to backtrack the article:

LSN’s intention in publishing the story was to present the known facts about a public meeting between the pope and one of Italy’s leading Catholic dissidents – a newsworthy event in itself. However, in retrospect we recognize that in the absence of certain necessary clarifications and contexts the facts alone, as presented, unnecessarily lent themselves to misinterpretation.

What clarifications and context were needed, precisely? As usual, the Vatican spin machine offered no assistance, so all that was left for Hilary to do was report the facts as known to her.

LSN proceeded to propose several possibilities about what the Pope was up to.

Possibility #1: Pope Francis did not know about De Paolis’ pro-gay activism

In the first place, it is possible that Pope Francis was himself unaware of De Paolis’ pro-gay activism. As LSN’s original report stated, De Paolis officially met with Francis in his capacity as the founder of the Emmaus Community in the southern Italian city of Foggia, an organization that assists the poor and those suffering from AIDS – in other words, a commendable outreach. We do not know whether De Paolis’ other work agitating against Catholic teaching on homosexuality came up during the meeting. Pope Francis’ gesture in kissing De Paolis’ hands would in this case have been no more than a sign of priestly confraternity – a humble sign of respect from one priest to another. This view is given weight in light of the fact that Francis routinely shows respect for those he meets by kissing their hands. This week alone he publicly kissed the hands of the Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as a group of Holocaust survivors he met during his trip to the Holy Land.

However, even if the above scenario is accurate, it does raise some interesting questions about the Vatican’s vetting process. Why, for instance, of the many priests who would welcome the opportunity to concelebrate mass with the pope, did Francis’ handlers choose for this public honor a priest who is best known for his work opposing the Church’s teachings? On the other hand, it is possible that even they were they not aware of De Paolis’ background – a possibility that at first glance bears discomfiting echoes of that PR flub from Benedict’s pontificate, when the Vatican overlooked critical facts about Bishop Richard Williamson of the SSPX. Finally, given Pope Francis’ habit of mingling freely with guests at Domus Santa Marta, it is also possible that no such vetting process was applied to De Paolis, although this does seems unlikely, especially given that he was apparently given advance notice of his meeting with the pope.

Possibility #2: Pope Francis knew who the priest was, and was reaching out to him in mercy

On the other hand, it is possible that Francis and his handlers knew about De Paolis’ advocacy, but decided to arrange a meeting as an opportunity for the pontiff to reach out to the wayward priest as an act of mercy.

Some have compared the pope’s meeting with De Paolis to the famous meeting between the pontiff’s namesake, St. Francis, and a priest who was living in sin with a woman. After being urged by some local townspeople to go chastise the priest, Francis finally agreed. But instead of rebuking the priest as the townspeople expected, St. Francis fell to his knees and, without saying a word, began kissing the priest’s hands. According to the story, the priest repented.

The suggestion that the meeting between De Paolis and Pope Francis is similar is an attractive one. It is also given credence both by the pope’s love of St. Francis, as well as the strong emphasis of his pontificate on reaching out to the marginalized, and to bringing them back to Christ through kindness and mercy.

However, this interpretation runs into the difficulty that De Paolis himself has only spoken positively of the meeting with the pope. In his public comments he certainly has offered no indication that the pope either called him to repentance, or that he is considering abandoning his heterodox views after the meeting. Given the public nature of the meeting, this then raises prudential questions about the possibility of scandal, in the absence of a corresponding public statement from the Vatican or the pope calling De Paolis to repentance and conversion.

Possibility #3: Pope Francis intended the meeting as some kind of an endorsement of De Paolis’ work

The third possibility is that the pope knew of De Paolis’ pro-gay activism, but decided to meet with him anyway as a sign of respect either despite or even because of that activism. However, given the gravity of such an allegation, and how little is known about the meeting, there is clearly insufficient evidence to propose this as the best interpretation.

All three scenarios are certainly plausible (less so the third [I hope]), yet this is all complete guesswork. Hilary White did the responsible thing by offering up the facts as known to her through her reporting, and it would actually have been quite irresponsible for her to provide some kind of rationale for the Pope’s behavior based on educated guesswork. So she is experiencing blowback for failing to do precisely what she should not have done. Unreal.

I understand that we are living through some tense times, and there is a division developing between Catholics based on our feelings regarding the current Pontiff. I can respect the views of those who think the media and some Catholics have blown the Pope’s words and behavior out of proportion even if I think that some of the defense if fairly weak sauce. Yet what I cannot tolerate is this knee-jerk reaction against anything that might possibly cast the Pope in the bad light, especially when it is a straight news report in which the critics compile no substantive criticism of the reporting. It’s also especially galling that a faithful and talented reporter like Hilary White is mocked and derided on Facebook by people who can’t seem to compile an intelligent thought without offering up the intellectual equivalent of a loud grunt.

There’s also a delightful irony in the fact that the knee-jerk defenders are quick to resort to ad hominem attacks, such as mocking the “Cathowackosphere” before immediately making appeals such as “If you have a specific criticism, make it constructively, charitably, and reasonably. If you can’t, maybe you should just keep it to yourself.” Evidently this standard is to apply only to those who have expressed concerns with Pope Francis, and not defenders who can’t seem to handle any news story about the Pope without destroying the reputation of the person reporting the facts.

Update: Please read Steve Skojec’s blog post on this matter.

More to explorer


  1. I can’t go on FaceBook because my Top Secret, Bu!!$h!+ decoder ring burns out in two seconds. That leaves a mark!

  2. The Emperor looks great in his new clothes and any writers who state otherwise are self-absorbed promethean neopelagian ink-stained wretches!

    Killing the messenger is always one time honored way of failing to address bad news.

  3. I must add that when Francis fell to his knees and kissed the hands of the priest,
    Francis wept profusely. If Pope Francis had wept profusely, that too, would have been reported, even by the msm.

  4. Hilary White should not be criticized for reporting the facts.

    With Pope Francis, anything is possible. He simply cannot help himself. It is all about appearance: the humility of a pontiff kissing the hands of a mere priest. Surely there is a photograph in the MSM somewhere showing the wonderful self-abasement and open-mindedness of a now liberal and progressive and kind and nice and non-divisive and tolerant and understanding Pope from Latin America who is so much better than that old mean and hateful Benedict, a German!

  5. Thank you for this, including the links for me to read. LSN did a prolife piece on our family with kids with cystic fibrosis that we are so proud of. I was shocked to read the FB thread and wasn’t sure what to believe.

  6. Whether it be toward Pope Francis, Hilary White or with each other, the blatant lack of charity in the Catholic blog world is appalling. Christ the Lord stated that by two signs peoples would know He had come:
    1) our love for one another
    2) our unity
    Since when has “Catholic” been superseded by the tribalism and frequent exhibitions of rage to which we all witness?

  7. Pope Francis kissed the hands of this homosexualist priest.

    Problem #1. This priest should have been dealt with appropriately by his bishop.
    Problem #2. Pope Francis has no business meeting with him in public and kissing his hands.
    Problem #3. Pope Francis has pulled off another public stunt.

    I really don’t read LifeSite news much – not because I find it inaccurate, but because I fine the news to be sad and depressing. I hate Planned Parenthood, abortion and homosexualism – and they are all on the march. Yet, nary a peep from the USCCB as they want amnesty for illegal immigrants.

    Simcha Fisher’s writing has the same value as my two year old’s dirty diapers.

  8. While I agree the thread under discussion got rude and out of hand, FWIW I did see constructive criticism being made of the reporting featured on LifeSite further down the thread (hours later). My sincere question for ALL Catholic bloggers lately, whether it be Simcha Fisher or this site or anyone in between, is why is Catholic media spending so much time focusing on the shortcomings of others? I wish to see more writing about the magnificence of Christ and his Church, and less about what Pope Francis/Michael Voris/the ‘nuns’ on the bus/’radical traditionalists’/Simcha Fisher/LifeSiteNews said or did this week. What on earth is gained by bringing up these hurtful words and boneheaded actions rather than letting them fade? I am young and naive, but from where I stand It seems as counter-productive as ripping open a scab. This site is by no means the only place I encounter this focus, but to see it here makes my heart hurt. I fear that blogs and Facebook threads are more and more frequently tearing chunks out of the Body of Christ just to feed them to the masses that live for online controversy. I would hate to ‘log off’, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to forgo Catholic media for a while to keep myself from getting sucked into arguments that cause a sinful curiosity in me. I challenge you gentlemen to avoid getting mired in this dangerous mentality. I enjoy reading and learning from you very much.

  9. Ms. White simply reported facts in her article, and left it to her readers to
    form their own opinions about those facts. I believe that practice was once
    known as ‘journalism’. If others believe her reporting left out pertinent
    facts, they should point out those omissions. So far, I haven’t seen that happen.
    One observation: As I recall, St. Francis of Assisi was once told of a certain
    priest who was openly living with a woman, creating a scandal. Many of the
    faithful voiced doubts about the validity of sacraments celebrated by such a
    priest. St. Francis sought out the man, knelt before him, and kissed his hands.
    The saint explained that he did so because the man’s hands had held God– i.e.,
    St. Francis repudiated the semi-Donatist doubts of some of the scandalized
    faithful, and reaffirmed the Church’s teachings that the efficacy of a priest’s
    celebration of the sacraments wasn’t contingent on his own personal holiness.
    St. Francis never created doubt whether that priest’s actions were in fact wrong.
    Even in these times, I have no doubt that the faithful in Italy are scandalized
    by Fr. de Paolis’ public teachings, and rightly so. However, I haven’t heard that
    there were any neo-Donatist murmurings about the efficacy of the sacraments as
    celebrated by this priest. If Pope Francis chose to reverence the hands of a
    scandalous priest in the same way as his sainted namesake, he would really
    need to make his motive as crystal-clear as St. Francis did. Anything less simply
    sows confusion and deepens scandal. So far, I’ve heard nothing to suggest
    that my speculation about our Pope’s act is anything but that– my speculation.
    Getting the knives out over journalists that are simply reporting facts, creating
    a climate where inconvenient but newsworthy stories would be buried, isn’t
    going to get me the information I need. I’d like to think I’m not engaging in
    wishful thinking over this Pope’s hand-kissing, but if what passes for Catholic
    journalism continues, and this Pope continues to be as impulsive and incoherent
    as he’s been in the past, then it looks like I’ll just have to be content with my
    own guesses in lieu of clear teaching.

  10. “Since when has “Catholic” been superseded by the tribalism and frequent exhibitions of rage to which we all witness?”

    Judging from the history of the Church Botolph I would say fairly frequently. We live in turbulent times for the Faith and it is often difficult to strike a balance between the love with which Christ addressed all of humanity and the plain speaking he used on occasion to those who were opposed to His Truth. I am always in favor of good manners and charity. I am also in favor of attesting to the truth of Catholicism in season and out. Sometimes those two goals co-exist poorly.

  11. Elizabeth: I understand where you are coming from. As you can see I don’t blog much anymore, so for me to post something indicates that I was driven by what I deemed to be unfair and malicious attacks to write on this subject. I really wish we could get past this intramural squabbling, yet we also can’t ignore those actions and words – whether they be undertaken by the Pope, a Bishop, a Priest, or some Catholic blog writer – that we find troubling or simply wrong. Believe me, if I wrote a post every time a Mark Shea or somebody from NCR (either one at this point) wrote something idiotic I would not have time to do anything else, but what’s the point? And though I singled out Simcha and her husband here, really my beef is with a larger constituency in Catholic media, and so I was trying to address a more general concern of mine.

    All that being said, I do hope you continue to read and learn, and I promise I’ll try to be a bit more positive.

  12. Thank you for posting this. In “Evangelii Gaudiem”, Pope Francis himself repeatedly speaks of the want for discussion on various matters of the Faith. And as his approach to the Papacy is entirely different from the papacies of St. John Paul II and of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, it would appear to me that there is a lot of discussion to be had. It’s terrible that the Catholic blogosphere has been given over to satan as it has, in its lack of charity, and in its lack of reason.

    I love LifeSite news. They have actual news. I appreciate Patheos, yet I find their bloggers more… well, bloggy. That and I just don’t like Patheos… this blog is a reason why:

    However, a lot of Catholic bloggers are attempting to further their Catholic lifestyle through blogging, so I’m open to the fact that everyone has an opinion and is free to express it. I do find the Patheos bloggers in general more willing to bash those who disagree, to bully, than others.

  13. Seriously? The Mighty Fishers took the phones and tried to get Hilary White fired? And almost succeeded.

    Wow. It seems as if every time I turn around Simcha Fisher is on some Facebook thread being proudly nasty about someone, followed in short order by her husband Damien, who jumps in to defend Fair Simcha and turn his scorn on..well..everyone. They are a corrosive, egomaniacal pair. But it all comes down to this: $$$. Simcha needs to keep her profile and blog hits high so she needs to keep her name in the forefront, which she does by stunts like this. Mark Shea is cut from exactly the same cloth. Their game is not evangelization -it’s making a little money (added so Shea can’t go into one of his ironic “OH I MAKE SO MUCH MONEY” rants) by sneering at a computer keyboard. Thank you for writing what you did, Steve. This pope is so freaking divisive.

  14. Hiliary White is not biased from what I read of her. She has her eyes wide open to the danger involved with Pope Bergoglio. There should be no need to color the context to please those who want the ugly truth softened. This is the ecclesiastical era when full denial of reality is applauded because, if one assesses the crisis as clearly as Ms White does,what will it mean? Where will we turn? I agree wholeheartedly with the above comment of Steve Skojak. The Fishers are reactive and self righteous. Shame on them for their nastiness toward a capable colleague.

  15. Donald,

    I second your desire to witness to the truth of the Catholic Faith. I would maintain however, that witnessing to this truth without charity ( and I certainly don’t do this perfectly) eclipses or at least cast shadows over the Splendor of Truth.

    Over the years I have come to see that we do not possess the Truth any more than we possess Jesus Christ Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The Truths of the Faith are all united, in a hierarchical way, in the One Faith Of which Paul speaks in Ephesians. Baptized, we are called to the prophetic ministry by believing, witnessing to and sharing the Faith with others. In other words, I don’t see the truths of the faith as weapons to be thrown at others, nor do I see using them in an Inquisatorial way- which we see frequently in the blogosphere.

    Truth in charity, charity in truth, like marriage itself, are indissoluble

  16. I see your point Botolph but I do not agree with it completely. Many of our saints, Saint Jerome comes immediately to mind, expressed themselves very roughly indeed.

    Saint Athanasius on the Arians is a fairly typical example of a saint defending the Truth bluntly:

    “For what have they discovered in this heresy like to the religious Faith, that they vainly talk as if its supporters said no evil? This in truth is to call even Caiaphas a Christian, and to reckon the traitor Judas still among the Apostles, and to say that they who asked Barabbas instead of the Saviour did no evil, and to recommend Hymenæus and Alexander as right-minded men, and as if the Apostle slandered them. But neither can a Christian bear to hear this, nor can he consider the man who dared to say it sane in his understanding. For with them for Christ is Arius, as with the Manichees Manichæus; and for Moses and the other saints they have made the discovery of one Sotades , a man whom even Gentiles laugh at, and of the daughter of Herodias. For of the one has Arius imitated the dissolute and effeminate tone, in writing Thaliæ; on his model; and the other he has rivalled in her dance, reeling and frolicking in his blasphemies against the Saviour; till the victims of his heresy lose their wits and go foolish, and change the Name of the Lord of glory into the likeness of the ‘image of corruptible man ,’ and for Christians come to be called Arians, bearing this badge of their irreligion. For let them not excuse themselves; nor retort their disgrace on those who are not as they, calling Christians after the names of their teachers , that they themselves may appear to have that Name in the same way. Nor let them make a jest of it, when they feel shame at their disgraceful appellation; rather, if they be ashamed, let them hide their faces, or let them recoil from their own irreligion. For never at any time did Christian people take their title from the Bishops among them, but from the Lord, on whom we rest our faith. Thus, though the blessed Apostles have become our teachers, and have ministered the Saviour’s Gospel, yet not from them have we our title, but from Christ we are and are named Christians. But for those who derive the faith which they profess from others, good reason is it they should bear their name, whose property they have become.”

    I prize good manners, and I try to practice them in my private life, but I prize Truth more, and if I cannot defend the Truth without being rough on occasion in my writing, so be it.

  17. “…the blatant lack of charity in the Catholic blog world is appalling.”

    Where were comments like this when Pope Benedict XVI was being vilified and castigated and condemned?

    Where were comments like this when President George W Bush was being vilified and castigated and condemned?

    Oh, but it is a mortal sin to question the non ex cathedra remarks and behavior of Pope Francis.

    It is a mortal sin to question Dear Leader Barack Hussein Obama.

    Anything liberal and progressive has to be ever so nice and tolerant and kind and non-divisive.

    Anything conservative and orthodox is mean and hateful and intolerant and unkind and worst of all – not nice!

    Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ and the Supreme Pontiff, but when he isn’t speaking ex cathedra, then he is subject to the same scrutiny that anyone else should be. He is a fallible human being except in one very narrow and specific circumstance. And he is speaking and behaving very fallibly. Should we respect the office of Supreme Pontiff? YES. Should we pray for the Supreme Pontiff? YES. And should we give the Supreme Pontiff honest feedback? YES.

    How many prayed for Benedict? How many respected Benedict’s office? Yet all the liberal progressive Catholics were first in line to give him feedback and call themselves loyal sons and daughters of the Church because (not in spite of) their support for equal marriage rights and reproductive rights. And this current man kisses the hands of a known dissenter to the Faith once delivered unto the Saints! That’s as wrong as when Pope Saint John Paul II kissed the Koran. That doesn’t mean that JP II isn’t a Saint or wasn’t a good Pope (I love his writings!) – quite the contrary. But wrong is wrong, and where JP II made one mistake, this man makes a dozen!

  18. In general there is a fine line between lack of charity and bluntness, and it’s hard for some of us to be both charitable and blunt, but it’s certainly possible to be both.

  19. Paul Primavera,

    Since you are referring to my statement concerning the blatant lack of charity in the blogosphere, I will answer you.

    I was appalled by the so called progress I’ve Catholics castigating St John Paul because he was from Poland- in their minds some backwater insular Catholic world out of touch with their so called sophisticated view of things. Worse was the savage treatment I witnessed in their treatment of Pope Benedict whom they abused and misused-even among those in the Roman Curia. Now I am witnessing this samen type of judging, prejudice and abuse of Pope Francis. It was not right when progressives did it and it is not right when conservative Catholics/traditionalists do it.

    Left me be clear. Pope Francis can be criticized. However he is Peter and we owe him more than what I am witnessing by some in the Catholic blogosphere.

  20. When it comes to dogma and the teaching of the Church on a matters of Faith and morals, Being Blunt is being Charitable.

  21. I have had the honor of working with LifeSite for a few years. You will never find a more professional or honest group of people.

    Simca fisher is a Mark Shea wanna be who thinks she can increase her blog hits by attacking faithful Catholics

  22. I read the title as a description of an example of the prevalent means of (in)”tolerance” of an objective report. Is it unjust these days to refer to or to reveal injustice?

  23. Hilary’s article was accurate and needed nothing more. If the Vatican wants to elaborate, O.K., I’ll listen. But LSN has already used all the good stuff! And isn’t a wooden chalice a sign of defiance?

  24. “Who am I to judge” Francis has kept a disgraced homosexual priest in charge of the Vatican bank and lives in a residence run by him.

  25. Simcha Fisher had posted a defense of her position yesterday on this thread. I had wanted to post a reply to it, but it was deleted. So, I’m going to reply to a paraphrase of her post rather than direct quotes.

    Ms. Fischer had stated that LifeSiteNews “has carried some important stories that were carried nowhere else” but that due to sensationalism “they have no credibility”. I want to point out that these two statements are in conflict with each other. If a media source “has carried some important stories that are carried nowhere else” then that source has a credibility that exists despite any sensationalism.

    Another point I want to make is that Ms. Fischer’s example of sensationalism is subjective. She cited an article about a straight A college student from a troubled home who was employed briefly by pornographers and the committed suicide, and the use of two photographs of the poor woman as an example of sensationalism. In hindsight I can see how she might have reached such a conclusion, but I personally did not and still do not find this story to be overly sensationalized by LifeSiteNews. I think that stating that LifeSiteNews “has no credibility” on the basis of a subjective criticism is weak.

  26. I agree with Botolph. We have to be very careful of how we criticize any Pope. Don McClarey’s critical posts of Pope Francis are sober and measured, and I think that all posters here should follow his example.

  27. Don, I have to disagree with your line “But wrong is wrong, and where JP II made one mistake, this man makes a dozen!” that ends an otherwise fine post.
    In hindsight St. John Paul II made many mistakes (some very serious), but the biggest difference between him and Pope Francis is that most of JPII’s mistakes were not made in public. It’s an ‘apples and oranges’ comparison, and in any case only an historical perspective from a few decades hence can lead us to an accurate tally of each. If Pope Francis makes as many non-public mistakes as JPII then I think you will be right, but it’s too soon to tell.

  28. There is now an upper echelon of acceptable bloggers who have received an apparent pat on the head from the powers that be. And as such it appears they have now become no different than the left-leaning contingent that has infiltrated the Church: Do not question, criticize or otherwise cast any of our positions or suppositions in a negative light (even if it’s with facts or truth), or you will pay. It’s the new sub-set of the status quo. Is this evangelization? A person witnessing this from outside the Church would likely be horrified by this display from Catholics. I’m looking at it from inside and I find it pretty disturbing on several fonts.

  29. Why do people pay attention to Simcha Fisher? She’s always insulting people or starting something.

  30. Patheos has turned into a parody of itself. I’m sorry to say that. It’s gone from a potentially very powerful portal for evangelization and become a personality-driven (excuse the language) circle-jerk. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult not to think you’re God’s gift to the New Evangelization when you have fans and followers.

  31. I like Lifesite. They’re good about showing their sources and tend to give as much information as they have– no selectively leaving stuff out to support a view.

    I can see how that would make some folks claim they’re not reporters, though, given how it seems like half of the big name places can’t be bothered to do basic research or give information that might make folks think differently than they do.

  32. Many of the
    faithful voiced doubts about the validity of sacraments celebrated by such a
    priest. St. Francis sought out the man, knelt before him, and kissed his hands.
    The saint explained that he did so because the man’s hands had held God– i.e.,
    St. Francis repudiated the semi-Donatist doubts of some of the scandalized
    faithful, and reaffirmed the Church’s teachings that the efficacy of a priest’s
    celebration of the sacraments wasn’t contingent on his own personal holiness.
    St. Francis never created doubt whether that priest’s actions were in fact wrong

    Now THAT makes more sense.

    Oddly, the part where the Saint was telling people that a priest, even in a state of sin, could give valid sacraments wasn’t mentioned in the other mentions I read…..

  33. The problem with the St. Francis analogy is enormous: St. Francis was not the Pope!

    POPE Francis knelt and kissed the ands of the hands of a priest concerning whom he was obligated by God–for the good of souls–to silence for spreading serious error in the name of the Church.

  34. I don’t like fighting- some do. I have never read the Fishers, only rarely Mark Shea. Perhaps I should pay more attention to them, but I prefer Witherspoon, Ryan Anderson, Catholic Culture, Crisis, Catholic Stand and a few others. As I get older/wiser I think it a better use of my time to try to keep growing and learning ( I love to learn! ) rather than simply participate in stirring the pot.
    I love TAC. I appreciate the Rich and deep and profound look at history and at the efforts of earnest Catholics past and present.
    I regularly learn something here, from the variety of posts and from the conversations.
    Often it strikes that I am hoping some decision makers in our society are “listening in”. Maybe we TAC- ers can make a positive difference by our discussions.

  35. Simcha has The Sads:

    “I am pretty exhausted by the whole thing. I had something to say, said it on Facebook, didn’t blog about it, didn’t get involved in the comboxes. I was invited to have a phone conversation, and I spoke my mind.

    I’m convinced that something good may have come of my Facebook comment. I had a long conversation with the editor of LSN, and we talked about many things. I told no lies, I lobbied to get no one fired.”

    “What bothers me is that I said one thing on Facebook, five days ago.Never blogged about it. I’ve now had maybe half a dozen articles written *about* me, and because my name is out there and I’m getting quoted and misquoted a lot, it appears that I’m the one who’s prolonging some kind of unseemly, petty, neverending tussle.”

    *Just so she doesn’t get “misquoted” – from Scott Eric Alt’s Facebook. (Whoever he is)

  36. I note that her FB page is totally open to anyone who wants to see it. It does not appear that just anyone can comment on her posts, but her posts could be “shared.”

  37. Well, this is ironic. A few days ago I visited Simcha’s “I Have To Sit Down” blog, which I do occasionally, and came across a really funny post titled “Someone really needs to check on Oregon” (about the top Google search terms by state). I got a good laugh out of it. I always liked her stuff and didn’t see where she was exceptionally critical of others. But then again, I am NOT reading absolutely everything she posts, either there or at the Register — only the stuff that looks humorous or interesting to me. Nor do I read though every single comment on her posts.

    I knew nothing about this controversy until yesterday; up to that point I always thought of Simcha as just a somewhat eccentric but funny and observant mother of a large Catholic family. For what it’s worth, I also don’t use Facebook — every time I just about make my mind up to join, I hear some horror story about their privacy policies or someone getting fired from their job because of something they posted or someone else posted about them, etc. and I decide not to. So I totally missed that aspect of it.

    Also, last night Mark Shea was at a Theology on Tap gathering in Springfield, which I attended. It was very enjoyable, had a great turnout and he gave a well presented talk that did not delve into politics or unduly criticize anyone — it was titled “101 Reasons Not To Be Catholic — And One Reason Why You Should Be.” In person, and when he sticks to apologetics, he seems like a great guy with a good sense of humor, and not at all like someone who makes his living “attacking faithful Catholics.” The “real” Shea does not seem at all like his evil online doppelganger, and I would presume the same is true of Simcha and many other Catholic bloggers that are frequently criticized for being too harsh or reactionary.

    I guess we just have to accept the fact that there is something about the internet that makes otherwise rational and well-mannered people go nuts and revert to tribalistic attacks; and it takes considerable grace and self-control not to fall into that trap.

    It probably has a lot to do with the fact that 1) people don’t see whom they are attacking and can hide behind screen names so they feel as if they can get away with being much more harsh than they normally would; 2) an insult or snarky comment that, in the pre-internet days, would have been heard only by the person to whom it was directed or to immediate bystanders, is now “heard” by hundreds or even thousands of people if it goes viral. In the “old days” if you had gotten carried away in an argument and insulted someone, you could resolve it simply by apologizing to them. Today, however, that won’t suffice because there are still thousands of people out there “hearing” your original comment and taking offense at it. It’s like stamping out a stray cigarette butt dropped in the grass vs. trying to stamp out thousands of sparks being blown about in a 50-mph wind.

    Anyway, probably the best way to deal with it is simply not to spend too much time on the internet, never post anything online that you would not be willing to say in person, and don’t take what you see in comboxes too personally.

  38. In the “old days” if you had gotten carried away in an argument and insulted someone, you could resolve it simply by apologizing to them. Today, however, that won’t suffice because there are still thousands of people out there “hearing” your original comment and taking offense at it. It’s like stamping out a stray cigarette butt dropped in the grass vs. trying to stamp out thousands of sparks being blown about in a 50-mph wind.

    Except that people do stamp it out, regularly, by apologizing and not making a standard tactic of it. The “say sorry” stops being effective when someone uses it regularly, apologizes rarely or sometimes with apparent malice, and then keeps doing it.

    If you check the places that have facebook verified comments, you’ll find that screen names do little to nothing to make people behave better. It just hands the jerks more fodder to attack people with.

  39. The Catholic bloggers at Patheos all follow the lead of Mark Shea, in that caustic cyber-bullying, bomb throwing way of his. Of course they all think its acceptable because he likes to refer to himself in that oh so deprecating way as nothing more than a slob of a sinner, mea culpa mea culpa. It’s no surprise then that Patheos has taken such a negative turn since his arrival on the scene. His recent attempts to smear the good priest, Fr. Z, have been most despicable. And don’t think it doesn’t influence others under his spell to do the same:

  40. Tito, it’s along the lines of “…(Fr. Z) is a priest with absolutely no discernible pastoral responsibilities who spends all his time on line…endless blogging to complain about trivia in order to do just a little less than the bare minimum of the purpose for which he was ordained….” etc. His blog commenters are much more vicious in their attacks, which Shea does not prohibit, and indirectly encourages (imo).

  41. I differ with Ms. White on some issues within the Church, but she is an honest and scrupulous journalist who ought to be defended by anyone with a sense of fairness and respect for free discourse. The cyberbullying campaign to which she is being subjected is disgraceful. The fact that it might WORK just tells us how contemptibly low the level of debate has fallen in the Catholic world. Anyone who takes part in the piling on deserves to be written down and remembered as a fellow bully, and disregarded utterly from this day forward.

  42. Paul Zummo wrote: “…And though I singled out Simcha and her husband here, really my beef is with a larger constituency in Catholic media, and so I was trying to address a more general concern of mine…:
    If what unites the “larger constituency in Catholic media” is (i) that they are liberals/progressives, and (ii) that they attack conservative Catholic writers rather than countering perceived illiberal messages, maybe the best defense is to boycott that offending media. Don’t visit their websites or subscribe to their magazines. Money and advertising revenue matter. Consumerism can be used defensively as well.

  43. A few words about Fr. Z:

    Father Zuhlsdorf was once in charge of the message board at, which was one of the first places I found when I got hooked up to the Internet in January 1999. I found a wealth of information there – and there were plenty of combative threads even then, before the 2000 election, 9/11, the priest abuse scandal, the death of JPII and the election of Benedict, the Anglican Ordinariate, Summorum Pontificum, the economic meltdown, yada, yada, yada.

    Fr. Z moved off of catholic .org, and it wasn’t until years later that I found his blog. Fr. Z has always made it clear where he is incardinated and what his responsibilities are. Should others have problems with that, then too bad.

    Given that Rorate Coeli and Shea are mad at Fr. Z, I think it proves Fr. Z knows what he is doing and he is right.

    New Catholic and Shea in a Texas Death Match? I’d pay to see that.

  44. @Penguins Fan: “Given that Rorate Coeli and Shea are mad at Fr. Z, I think it proves Fr. Z knows what he is doing and he is right.”

    I can never see the if-both-extremes-are-against-me-I-must-be-right routine without chiming in: Not necessarily. One of the two extremes may actually be right. Or some other point between (or even beyond one of) the two extremes. There, now I feel better… 🙂

  45. In the first place, it is possible that Pope Francis was himself unaware of De Paolis’ pro-gay activism.

    Which leads to two further possibilities. Pope Francis is really not that sharp, or Fr. De Paolis sucks as a pro-gay activist.

  46. Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ and the Supreme Pontiff, but when he isn’t speaking ex cathedra, then he is subject to the same scrutiny that anyone else should be.

    Hmm. I think you could make a reasonable argument that, because of his position and influence, he should be subject to more scrutiny than at least your average Joe. Same would go for any others (e.g, presidents, prime ministers, sports and entertainment celebrities, moguls, etc.).

  47. I do have one question: If TAC’s view of Shea’s blogging practices is somewhat low, why is he still on your blogroll?

  48. Someone can be a jerk and still have valid points. Even be a jerk on some religious topics and be great on other stuff.

    I think he does more harm than good, but that’s because my primary focus is on harm done by those who represent their prudential judgement as binding teaching, and I despise the “well, those guys who are wrong will accuse me of only attacking them, so I’ll attack the opposite side even if I can’t find anything equivalent.”

  49. Trying to imagine how tiny the list of links would be if nobody who’s abrasive to at least one of the TAC folks was linked…..

  50. “If TAC’s view of Shea’s blogging practices is somewhat low, why is he still on your blogroll?”

    Foxfier is correct. The blog roll does not imply that a blog or site is endorsed by TAC but rather that we regard it as a blog or site that our readers might wish to be aware of.

  51. Someone can be a jerk and still have valid points. Even be a jerk on some religious topics and be great on other stuff.

    Seven or eight years ago, I could not help notice the difference in his substance and style you would see when you put his blog posts side by side with his articles in Crisis. I figured Brian St. Paul was one wicked editor.

    There are people who are acquainted with him personally who have none of his issues on line who’ve either done collaborative work with him or have had him as a friend at one point (Sherry Weddell, Fr. Rob Johansen, Fr. Robert Sirico, and Mrs. Dale Price). There are invariably disjunctions between the aspects people see when you write and the aspects they see when your carcass is in front of them. In his case, they are unusually difficult to reconcile.

  52. I like TAC, Fr. Z, Mark Shea, Simcha Fisher’s AND The Anchoress’ blogs and read all of them daily or nearly every day. Yes, I know that Shea is great for overstating his case but I have learned to expect that and adjust my interpretation accordingly. I rarely have issues with Fr. Z but I have to admit that some of his commenters are off-putting at times. If I don’t agree with something either of them said, or think they or their commenters are overlooking an important point, I leave a comment saying so — and to date I have never been flamed or banned.

    I approach every blog with the attitude that I will read what looks like it might be interesting or helpful, and ignore what appears to be excessively biased, not credible or degenerating into a combox war. Somehow I manage to like all these different blogs that are at war with each other. Is there something wrong with me?

  53. Wrong with you? No, just fortunate.
    Or perhaps you’re just really good at ignoring the garbage that the rest of us engaged, and got blasted for, since you mention you ignore the stuff that is off the rails; different strokes for different folks.

  54. Elaine, I used to read the Anchoress but found some of her positions cloying, so I stopped. Never read Simcha Fisher but I do remember when the Anchoress plugged her as a new addition to the blogging staff at Patheos.
    Over at Crisis Magazine (not a blog), I think going to war is a pre-requisite for all commenters. Quite startling at first, but then one sort of gets used to it.
    Sometimes it’s hard to separate the messenger from the message and one falls into the rather cowardly act of killing the messenger instead of logically disecting and refuting the message. This is something I am guilty of and I must exercise greater care.
    Your position is logical and makes sense. Keep your head down though when visiting Crisis. : )

  55. This was a pretty good post. While it didn’t pull any punches, neither did it resort to name-calling and mud-slinging.

    There’s only two pieces of advice I can give:

    1) Don’t feed the trolls. If there are bloggers you absolutely cannot stand, don’t visit their websites, don’t reference them, and please don’t talk about them. Shun them; avoid them. To paraphrase Flaubert, by dint of railing at Ugly, Awful Catholics, one runs the risk of becoming an Ugly, Awful Catholic oneself.
    2) Be sure it’s the language of the message that angers you, and not the message itself. Foxfier is right: “Someone can be a jerk and still have valid points. Even be a jerk on some religious topics and be great on other stuff.”

    No, wait. There’s a third thought:

    3) One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was in a rather mediocre short story: “Anger is a weapon. Who are you going to let hold the handle?” I’m discovering, as the years go by, that snark responding to snark just escalates the misunderstandings as two (or more) inflated egos try to puncture each other. (Yes, yes, I’m guilty of that, too.) When you respond to snark with huff, you’re letting the other person control your reactions. Remember Proverbs 15:1? “A mild answer turns away wrath.” So the third piece of advice is: You don’t have to respond in kind. De-escalate the argument by speaking mildly and respectfully.

  56. “De-escalate the argument by speaking mildly and respectfully.”

    Yes, so that we can say with St Paul (a paraphrase) that our actions do not shame us.

    That being said, in some cases, de-escalation does not work. Such is life.

  57. Good pieces of advice all around, Anthony.

    Remember, keyboards have delete and backspace keys. Sometimes the best advice is to use them when your temper gets away from you and you are tempted to reply in kind.

  58. Over at Crisis Magazine (not a blog), I think going to war is a pre-requisite for all commenters. Quite startling at first, but then one sort of gets used to it.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: