Mea Culpa: Michael Voris, Leah Libresco, and Giving Scandal in Social Media

Today the Anchoress made us Patheos Catholic bloggers aware of a lovely post Terry Nelson wrote about the Pope’s message for the 47th World Communications Day. She was drawing our attention toward his concluding paragraph, where he specifically mentioned Patheos.

I’m very impressed with the Pope’s address and the commentary I’ve read from others. He recognizes the need for cordiality and friendly discourse. It would seem to me the Holy Father would actually praise the Catholic presence on Patheos – in fact it seems to me, *Patheos is a useful model for Catholic bloggers in the new “agora”.  I mention Patheos in this context because there was criticism of Catholics who signed on with the site despite the presence of advertising and policy statements which were more or less non-Catholic yet inclusive, and ‘stuff’ like that.

(Read the rest here)

There exists not a small amount of animosity toward Patheos in the Catholic blogosphere, so it really was gratifying to read that. But although I tried to ignore it, while I was reading the post I got that sick, sinking feeling in my stomach.

Hey, self, said myself. Terry’s not talking about you. Cordial? Nope. Friendly? No way. Guess what you’ve been doing? Here’s a hint, straight from the only Pope you’ve ever known:

“In the digital environment, too, where it is easy for heated and divisive voices to be raised and where sensationalism can at times prevail, we are called to attentive discernment.”

That’s not fair, said I to myself. I’m almost always cordial and friendly. I’ve tried really hard to be patient and not divisive or heated. And if you’re talking about that Michael Voris thing, that doesn’t count. Come on! He deserved it! Plus, sometimes a girl just needs to rant, you know?

No, said my stupid, honest, irritatingly square conscience. You don’t need to rant. You just want to. And fine, go and do it in a closet or something. But don’t do it in an online platform that reaches thousands of people a week. All you are doing is causing scandal and tarnishing the name of Patheos, not to mention the name of Christ whom you claim to represent to all in an inter-faith forum. That’s to all, yo. Even Michael Voris. 

I hate my conscience. Being snarky is fun! I love snark. I love me some Bloggess and some Electric Venom. I love to write snark. A wise editor once told me never to be snarky. That is advice I hold fast to sometimes and try my best to ignore other times. It’s just that snark is so much fun. And people eat it up. They love it. Just like I love it.

Until it’s turned on me. I’ve been the target of some pretty snarky blog posts, comments, and entire forum threads. It’s not fun to be snarked at. But it’s even worse when they’re right. It’s worse because it takes twice as much time to get yourself to admit that yes, you’ve been a total asshat, because you’re so hurt and angry about the asshats who are laughing snarkily at you.

I was exhilarated when I published that Michael Voris post. It was so much fun to write. The words came easily. I enjoyed myself tremendously. I felt some conscience-twinging before I put it up so I passed around the Catholic Patheosi to get reactions. Then I mostly ignored the negative ones and published it. It was a solid post, I told myself. Maybe not the most charitable, but a post, and I didn’t have any more time to blog that day. Whatever. I can’t be charitable all the time, you know, I told the Ogre. Sometimes I just have to tell it like it is.

In the post, I couched my rant in terms of “this is really a public service announcement, you know, just so that non-Catholics don’t think we’re really this deranged.” That was completely disingenuous, and not even cleverly so. It was a weak excuse to foam at the mouth, throw someone under the bus, and stir up a hornet’s nest. I don’t actually know if that was a consciously-formed intention, but I sure did refresh the combox gleefully that afternoon. I was even disappointed that there weren’t more angry commenters.

I’m sure that Michael Voris didn’t see that post, but if he had, it would have had the same effect as walking up to him on the street and spitting in his face. I made no coherent argument. There was no true concern and not the slightest hint of charity. I do think he was wrong. The video did upset me. The mature, charitable, Christian thing to do would have been to write a post laying out an argument, pointing out errors, and attempting to open up a dialogue. Instead, I laid on the virtual floor and kicked and screamed like my toddler sometimes does. She gets sent to time-out for that, and has to come back and apologize.

So this is is me, coming back and apologizing. In no way did anything I wrote in that post contribute to fruitful dialogue in this virtual reality. I do think that video is wrong on so many levels, but throwing a public hissy fit about it only caused more division, strife, and anger-the very things I was upset about Michael Voris doing.

I talk often about how much I love my alma mater, the University of Dallas. I love her primarily for freeing my mind enough that I can see what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful. Since my college days, I’ve gone from just seeing the good, true, and beautiful to pursuing it. So these words from our Papa hit me like a punch in the gut. I’m pretty sure I actually said, “ooof!”

Given the reality of cultural diversity, people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful.

There has been some controversy lately over Leah Libresco working through the Church’s teachings on sexuality and marriage on her blog. Many are of the opinion that her words will lead other young, impressionable Catholics or would-be Catholics astray. She has been advised repeatedly to work through this privately lest she give scandal.

What I did last week was scandalous. Writing that post, gleefully stirring up animosity and even hatred among faithful Catholics, that was scandalous. I’m only 28. I’m still young enough to understand what causes doubt and casts aspersion upon faith for this young generation, who carry on debates and seek knowledge in virtual places. It’s not Leah, trying to work through all the teachings of the faith she accepted with a good heart and an open mind.  It’s me, pulling out the pitchforks to go after a polarizing figure who is, nevertheless, my brother in Christ, just because it’s fun. Leah is seeking virtue. She’s offering what she possesses of the good, the true, and the beautiful to the blogosphere. That will never turn people away from Christ and his Church. But me, adding to the ugliness of the internet, literally subtracting from the truth, goodness and beauty at Patheos…that will turn people away from the Church more quickly than just about anything else.

I’m sorry for writing that post. I’m sorry for disappointing my readers, my fellow Patheosi, and the people who look to Patheos bloggers for charity. I’m sorry, Michael Voris, for being a snarky asshat instead affording you the respect and charity of an actual argument and an attempt at a friendly dialogue.

And thanks, Papa B, for the letter. I needed to read it.


  • Beth T.

    Having posted a few snarky memes on my Facebook page before, I identify with this problem, too, and strongly. But I <3 our German shepherd – what a great reminder!

  • Stephen

    “It’s me, pulling out the pitchforks to go after a polarizing figure who is, nevertheless, my brother in Christ, just because it’s fun.”

    Voris is indeed Catholic and what is more his critique of the current state of the Catholicism in America is resonating among a good many who despair of the drift and decline of this church. I have loved and studied and struggled with the Catholic church my whole life and it is only now that I am trying to get through the RCIA program. As someone who is very well acquainted with the history of Catholic spirituality and its expression through art, music, liturgy and popular devotion, I am deeply saddened by what I experience every Sunday and terrified of what will become of a church that inspires so few vocations. I have felt the terrible temptation to quit the RCIA process several times but I have persevered in my journey because Voris advised me personally to stay with the church, at all costs. He gave me that heartfelt advice knowing I don’t share his politics and I certainly don’t believe everything on all the Vortex programs.

    Perhaps some of the intense personal dislike that many here have for Voris is that he is so committed to the church and has jot left to join the SSPX, or some sedevacantist cult, or start his own virtual religion. He certainly does not have contempt for converts nor has any traditionalist I have ever meet, or talked to, or read. Michael Voris is a faithful Catholic, as I aspire to be, and he is my brother in Christ.

  • Michelle

    This is why I like reading your blog. You aren’t afraid to come back and say, “Hey, I shouldn’t have done it that way…” and apologize and I think that makes it easier to move forward.

  • Christine

    Very beautifully said. Making our way in the digital age is an interesting thing. Sometimes we say too much, too quickly. A very moving post.

  • Maria

    I have to say, while I wasn’t one of the ones who was initially skeptical of Patheos, I have become so after reading many of the Catholic blogs here. It seems to me that the desire to not appear deranged, some bloggers on Patheos are willing, as you’ve pointed out, Calah, to be very snarky and even (although I’m not necessarily suggesting you’ve done so here) suggesting that traditional Catholics/conservative Catholics are somehow not Catholic. I’ve trying to continue reading Patheos, if only to get a different (and non-Traditional Catholic) view of things, but slowly, I’ve reduced the number of blogs I read here to this one and Elizabeth Scalia’s. I think though, with all respect, that the time has come for me to cease altogether. While there are certainly good articles, so much of the sentiment here on Patheos seems, perhaps unintentionally, devoted to causing scandal/denigrating fellow Catholics/dismissing out of hand the concerns of those Catholics who want the Church to be filled with orthodox, faithful laypeople and priests. The amount of disdain shown for traditional Catholics on Patheos is astounding, and the snark directed at us is really wounding. I have really enjoyed quite a lot of your writing, Calah, and I hope you continue, but not in this vein.

  • Sally

    Hmm. Interesting post by Maria just above. I would have thought this blog and others on Patheos were indicative of conservative (almost ultra) Catholicism what with all the attention given to absolute NFP – considering all of the many, many Roman Catholics in this country who disregard it and practice contraception.

  • Jocelyn

    Thank-you. I was a little saddened by the other post. God bless!! :)

  • Jo Flemings

    This really gives me hope. Beautiful, and well done!

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  • Maryette

    Oh my. Where to begin? That Michael Voris post was my first exposure to your blog, and I must admit, it didn’t leave me with the highest opinion of you. Not that I’m a fan of Michael Voris (didn’t know who he was before your rant, don’t know much about him now), but your rant didn’t make you look very good. (Sorry, and I am completely aware of the multitudinous planks sticking out of both of my eyes and probably my ears and belly button.) Anywhoo, you were consigned to the really angry at traditionalists (yawn!) corner of my brain, and I didn’t think much more of you or your blog. (Full disclosure: I am a traditional Catholic in the sense that my deceased parents would be absolutely thrilled that I returned to the Church, make it to Mass every week, have stopped using birth control, and manage to pray a Rosary once in a while—but no one in the ‘traditional’ camp that I see discussed on the internet would ever include me their ranks. ) So, I had no dog in the fight, but I was turned off by your post.
    So, tonight, one of my friends posted a link to your ‘Why I Am Catholic’ post, and I liked it very much indeed. Then I started plowing through lots of your stuff, and, wow, your blog is pretty great. The icing on the cake is this post. I’m so glad that you had the courage to apologize. All’s well that ends well—and, if Michael Voris did hear of your rant (he probably did, it was a bit famous in the Catholic blogosphere), I guess that he must now forgive you seven or seventy-seven times, or something like that.