Mea Maxima Culpa: An Upstart Blogger Eats Crow

There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his Tygers heart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you; and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrie.
~ Robert Greene, The Groatsworth of Wit, 1597

Robert Greene’s oft-quoted smackdown of a rookie Renaissance playwright, generally assumed to be one of the first public references to William Shakespeare and a reflection of Greene’s envy, is written across my forehead this morning as truth. Yesterday, in posting on some problems with the way America magazine and Fr James Martin, SJ were interpreting statistics on women’s vocations to religious life, this upstart blogger violated her own comments policy, not to mention the bonds of charity.

I imputed manipulative intent, rather than wishful misreading, to Fr Martin’s interpretation of the statistics as supporting his contention that progressive women’s communities (defined in the study as those affiliated with the LCWR) are attracting vocations in the same number as communities with a more traditional structure and lifestyle. And then I accused him of covering it up by deleting comments from and unfriending those who pointed out his misreading. I went on to an egregious misreading of my own, failing to catch that in linking to the findings of a National Religious Vocations Council study that showed a trend toward more traditional communities, Fr Martin was acknowledging a challenge to his own preconceptions.

Publicly maligning the motives of someone I disagree with is bad enough, but I went further. With even less than a groatsworth of wit, but obviously dazzled by my own conceit, I took some very cheap shots at Fr Martin’s public persona. In doing so, I not only sinned myself but provided an occasion of sin to commenters who took the liberty of indulging in ad hominem character assassination, presuming gleefully that I was on their side. I have deleted those comments, and will not publish any new ones in that vein. I left up the comment that said, “You are a bit on the bulldog side. Where is your peace?”—that one will be my prayer of repentance today.

Here’s the thing about this blog business, and the painful lesson I learned today through the kindness of the more experienced bloggers with whose borrowed feathers I attempt to beautify myself: public persons are persons, and words have the power to wound more deeply than sticks and stones. One of those experienced bloggers who schooled me was, by the grace of God, Fr Martin himself, who reached out to me. I’ve asked for, and received, his forgiveness, and we’re praying for each other. It helps that he knows firsthand what havoc we can wreak when Writing While Irish—allowing the ferocity of our passion for the Church we love to fuel impatience, disdain, and the black arrows of sarcasm toward those who do not seem to love Her in the way we would have them do.

I should know better. A couple of months ago I announced that I would never again link to Fr Z’s blog because he had indulged in ad hominem attacks on Fr Martin over this same issue of the LCWR v CDF. In yesterday’s attempt to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you, I went there. So now I am asking Fr Z’s forgiveness, too.

I’ve edited yesterday’s post to remove what we used to call the low chops, but I’m leaving it up because I stand by the substance: that even—or especially—when the data contradicts what we want so much to believe, we need to pay attention to it. Fr Martin learned that lesson (though I didn’t credit him with it) when he looked at NRVC’s “myth busters” web page, and I pray for the grace to be able to do the same when the numbers go, as they will, against what I deeply believe. And the point I made at the end of the post, the point upon which Fr Martin and Fr Z and I agree even when we agree on nothing else, bears repeating:

In all of this, there’s really only one damned lie, and that’s that the Church and the world have no need of women strong, courageous, prophetic, and humble enough to consecrate their lives to Christ.

There is room for all our voices, passionate and divided as they are, but there is no room for the circular firing squads by which we take one another down—whether with brazen cheap shots or passive aggressive innuendo or silencing or mockery—in the process. This week America magazine ran a piece by Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines that lays out a sensitive, compassionate framework for Catholics to transcend partisan political divisions in the service of the common good. Bishop Pates’s advice applies to Church politics, too, and it is an excellent reminder that we are “In This Together”:

Political positions should be judged by how well they express the values and truths of the faith, not the other way around. This requires examination of conscience and individual conversion. It requires Catholic voters honest enough not to ignore principle in favor of partisan preference. It requires legislators brave enough to risk the acceptance of their caucus and support among their constituents. It also requires a significant increase in trust and acceptance of people’s good will at face value. In a scorched-earth political climate, partisans seldom raise a concern or value of the other side unless it is to denigrate it (call it socialist, anti-woman, etc.) or to say why it should not matter.

For my participation in scorching the earth, for my failure to accept good will at face value, mea maxima culpa. I ask your forgiveness for ratcheting up the vitriol, and beg your assistance in keeping me honest. That’s one of the best things we can do for one another as we, upstart crows all of us when it comes to grace, seek to do the will of God.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Joanne, I want to be like you when I grow up. Thank you for giving us so much to chew on — and not just crow.

    Deacon G.

  • Jill

    Humility is a beautiful thing to witness, because it reminds me of what I need to strive for. I haven’t read your blog before but I plan to start now. Well done.

  • Bill M.

    Writing while Irish . . . well, there’s another blogger here on the Patheos Catholic Channel who does that, and she’s as indispensable to my morning routine as you have become.

    Admitting that you’re wrong is hard enough, but doing it publicly is something else. Props to you, and to Fr Martin.

  • James Martin, SJ

    Thanks for this kind message.
    When I deleted your comment, it was in the middle of deleting a great many of them (perhaps twenty or thirty) that were uncharitable (unlike yours, which was reasonable) and I apologize for deleting your comment as part of the general “clean up” of the combox. I too stand by my analysis of the piece, but appreciate your kind column today. We’re all on the same side after all. (Better yet, I’m Irish too.)
    Always good to reconcile with one another.
    Peace to you and to your readers.

  • Michele

    This post makes me want to be a better person. Thanks to you, Joanne, and to Fr. Martin for this public witness of reconciliation.

  • AM

    Writing while Irish. . . that’s why I have a self imposed 24 hour waiting period before hitting the send button on certain emails.

    • joannemcportland

      Ah, dear AM, I did impose a wait. Imagine if I hadn’t! :)

  • Diane K

    JOANNE!!! God bless you. That is all.

  • Melody

    Thanks for the update, Joanne. It is encouraging to everyone when reconciliation happens, it took a lot of courage for both you and Fr. Martin. The Catholic Reality Show gets a little nuts sometimes.

  • Marilyn Crawford

    A great post from a great writer and great lady.


  • Rick

    Classy response, and a great example of repentance and conversion. You have my prayers and admiration.

  • Manny

    As someone who has had to eat crow many times – it doesn’t taste like chicken – I know how hard it can be to do that publicly. God bless you for being such an example.

  • Mary Ann Kreitzer

    I didn’t read your original post, but I’ve read many of Fr. Martin’s articles and find them often to be dishonest. It is hard to imagine how a priest can promote actively dissenting nuns like Sr. Joan Chittister, Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, etc. out of ignorance. A Jesuit who has such a long theological formation should easily recognize when someone is promoting heresy, i.e., rejecting one or more doctrines of the Church. That Fr. Martin can scandalize the faithful by endorsing these women (Donna Steichen outed them years ago in her book Ungodly Rage) is, to my mind, indefensible. Of course, we should always act in charity, but if someone promotes an error there are only two possibilities: he’s ignorant or he’s lying.