Michael Voris, Austin Ruse and The Problem of Detraction

slander

Yesterday, Michael Voris published a mostly very moving post in which he reveals that his past sins are homosexual. Voris and I had something of a tiff several years back over my review of his Homosexuality FBI documentary, so I’ve had several people ask me what I think about this surprising revelation. The answer is that Michael absolutely has my prayers right now, and I will happily be defending him against any detractors in the days to come. Also, that this is not really a shock to me — because I’ve had reasonably solid evidence of it for years.

When I originally published my criticisms of Church Militant back on my old blog, I had a moderated com-box — nothing got posted unless I had approved it first. There were several comments submitted from gay men who were aware of Voris’ past, including one of his former partners. I didn’t publish them in spite of the fact that the commenters themselves were confused as to why they were being censored, why their story could not be told on my platform.

The answer lies in a teaching of the Church that is too often forgotten in the world of internet journalism: the teaching that people have a right to their reputations. We’re all aware that it’s a sin to spread lies and rumours that are demonstrably untrue, or that have little substantiation. But it’s also a sin to assume the worst of another person, even if there’s reasonable evidence that the worst could be true, and it’s a sin to publish other people’s private business unless there’s a grave reason to do so.

As much as I would have liked, at the time, to see Voris embarrassed by these revelations the fact was that the comments constituted detraction: nobody reading my blog had any right to know about his sexuality unless he chose to make it public. Pressing the “publish” button would have constituted co-operation with detraction.

Now, I really wanted to do it. To be honest, I really wanted to do some hard investigative journalism, get in touch with the ex-partner, and do an expose. Voris had made some scurrilous (and as it happened, untrue) speculations against me on his radio program, and it really felt like turnabout would be entirely fair-play. My conscience pricked, however. Not that I had the moral fortitude to just let it go on my own — I wrote to Ron Belgau, and he confirmed my suspicions. Yes. It was co-operation with detraction. No. I shouldn’t do it.

Respect for reputations, and the obligation to make charitable assumptions, is sadly one of those virtues that is too often missing from Catholic internet journalism. As a (very minor) case in point, I woke up this morning to a gem of an article over at Crisis where once against Austin Ruse is leveling spurious attacks at the Spiritual Friendship crowd. For some reason he seems to be under the impression that a group of gay Catholics who are committed to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality must be disappointed in the Pope’s new exhortation. I mean, we haven’t written anything about it. The only possible explanation for this is that we are disappointed, right?

In my own case, apparently it can even be presumed that I’m angry with Pope Francis for the paragraphs about gender ideology. I wrote a blog post talking about why bathroom laws are not actually a good way to protect women from sexual assault, outlined several much better ways, and gave it an admittedly potentially scandalous title — which is my bad. From this Ruse derives that I am probably angry about the encyclical.

See, this is the thing about detraction, calumny, spurious speculation, the presumption of guilt and all of the rest of those sins against reputations that are condemned under the 8th Commandment in the Catechism. They lead us to say things that are contrary to both charity and also untrue.

The real reason why I have not commented much on Amoris Laetitia is very simple: I haven’t finished reading it. The Pope specifically exhorts readers to read it slowly, to take time, to read the whole thing, everything in context, without simply skipping to the bits that concern their own particular pet issues — and I haven’t been able to do that yet. I have seven children, it’s dance competition season, I’m currently in Denver attending the Q Conference, I’ve been trying to get my special needs child enrolled in the school system, writing a book proposal, and arranging my baby’s baptism.

Now, Ruse had no way of knowing any of this — but if he had attempted to do so, it would not have been hard for him to come up with possible explanations for my blog post (and indeed, for the more general lack of comment on Amoris Laeitia from SF writers) that were more charitable than assuming we’re motivated by disappointment or anger with the Pope. Silence is a blank screen: you can choose to project onto it what you like. And if what you like to project is another person’s sin, this is a problem.

In this case, Ruse’s speculations are not true. But even if they were, publishing them would still be the wrong thing to do. If I had outed Voris all of those years ago, it would not have been good. His supporters would probably have rushed to insist that my sources were lying. There would have been a firefight. Voris himself would have been placed under horrible stress.

It would also have deprived him of the dignity of being able to tell his own story, in his own words, from his own perspective, when he decided that it was time to do so. It might have prevented the outpouring of mercy and support that we’re seeing today from both his fans and his critics. An opportunity for healing and reconciliation would have been lost in order to score a meaningless victory in a meaningless war — a war in which egos are bolstered at the cost of communion in Christ.

 

Image Credit, “Vintage Ad #1417: Slander” reproduced by Jamie, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
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