A few months back, George Weigel wrote a column about the phenomenon of the anti-Catholic Catholic on the Left. It is a familiar narrative and quite true. There are, on the Left, numerous voices (one thinks of Maureen Dowd, James Carroll, numerous contributors to the Reporter and so forth) who regard the teaching of the Church–notably with respect to the Pelvic Issues with contempt and who labor to attack the Church and the Magisterium on a number of points pertaining to these and a few other matters.
When I entered the Church in 1987, I naively assumed I understood the landscape. There were Faithful Conservative Catholics who treated the Magisterium and the bishop with respect and then there were the Maureen Dowd types, who looked on the Church’s teaching and her teachers with disdain. It was all so simple back then.
However, these days I’m realizing things are more complex. For there is also a growing contingent among self-identified Faithful Conservative Catholics[TM] who likewise are coming to somehow regard it as a mark of fidelity to True Catholicism to hold the Magisterium and the bishops in contempt. Witness, for instance, the huge amount of bile and suspicion flung at Bishop Mulvey for his crime of doing exactly the right thing and calling the rebellious, fraudulent, and lying Fr. Corapi to heel. For his troubles, he got implicated–on the basis of nothing whatsoever–as somehow being a member of a shadowy gay cabal by Real CatholicTV. Some will say, “The bishops brought this on themselves with their coverups during the abuse scandals!” But this is, how to put it?, insane. If the problem was bishops refusing to confront corrupt and abusive clerics under their watch, then why in blazes was it wrong for Bp. Mulvey to do precisely that with the corrupt Fr. Corapi?
No. The real issue–tellingly–was that Michael Voris and the mob of yammerers who took his cue and started attacking Bp. Mulvey spoke as though it was self-evident that “the bishops” could be dismissed contemptuously and the “real Catholic” faith was to be found with Conservative Catholic Folk Heroes. Similar patterns played out repeatedly through the past decade with people like Maciel and Fr. Euteneuer, as well as others.
Now we have arrived at another similar (but not identical, since there is no hint of sexual scandal) situation with another Conservative Folk Hero, Fr. Pavone. Not a few of his defenders have, once again, taken the position that it is self-evident his bishop is corrupt, evil, a servant of the devil and is to be regarded with suspicion and contempt. Indeed, some self-identified “faithful conservative Catholics” have started to mouth the language I distinctly remember from Progressive Dissenters I remember when I was entering the Church. So, for example, I had this topsy turvey conversation with a woman I know; a self-described “liberal” and revert to the Faith, who recently had the bizarre experience of trying to talk some Fr. Pavone fans into docility to an orthodox bishop in good standing. She wrote of the video I just linked:
This is SO horrible. I didn’t think my jaw could drop further. I was wrong. The disrespect for the Bishop—“a ‘real man’ wouldn’t have done this,” “this guy,” “his idiotic letters,” “his ego”—is shocking.
She then continues:
Well, I never thought I’d be spending a Saturday afternoon trying to convince “Catholics” that there’s no such thing as “the magisterium of the laity”(!) and that it probably wouldn’t be such a good idea if the Church reshaped itself to align with the “divinely inspired” American principles of democracy.
Where do people GET these notions? Oh. I forgot. Generations of lousy catechesis. My fault.
The astounding thing is that it’s no longer the fuddled members of Voice of the Faithful or We Are Church who are leading the charge on such things. It’s the “orthodox” who adore Conservative Folk Heroes who talk this way.
And they say there’s no such thing as evolution.
To which she replied in astonishment:
I know! That’s why I’m having such whiplash—I *am* the fuddled liberal who’s supposed to be in the streets demanding more rights for the laity. How’d I get here?!
And then there’s this:
“The bishop is probably sinning, and I’m a theologian so I know what I’m talking about.” Oy.
Sorry, but this is craziness. Bp. Zurek, like Bp. Mulvey, is acting completely within his rights *and* within his duties to see that Fr. Pavone properly discharges his priesthood and to see that he has a proper accounting for where all that money has gone. It is fantastic to me that laity who were enraged a decade ago about bishops who did not exercise proper oversight of their priests are now enraged that bishops *do* exercise proper oversight of their priests. Like the Bourbons, many on the anti-Catholic Right within the Church seem to remember everything and learn nothing. An ideological tribe that manages to make the hideously bad call again and again with Maciel, Euteneuer and Corapi does not persuade me that they have the discernment chops it takes to call Bp. Zurek a devil’s disciple and demand he “Free Fr. Frank”.
Speaking of which, I got this from a reader the other day. The next time somebody tells you that Fr. Frank is not actively participating in the guerrilla war against his own bishop, consider this:
I’m only on the Priests for Life mailing list. The only way I receive the following? Priests for Life has shared their mailing list with the Free Father Pavone people.
And his Facebook page indicates he’s traveling across the country for the celebration of the founding of PfL in San Francisco-that’s not solitary confinement.
Life Dynamics founder Mark Crutcher has released a video decrying what he calls the “outrageous” treatment of Fr. Pavone ever since he was summoned to the Diocese of Amarillo.
blah blah blah “imprisoned” blah blah blah “exiled” blah blah blah. I wonder how the nuns who *live* at the convent feel about hearing their home described this way?
In short, the letter turns out to be an ad for the video referenced above in which Crutcher rails against the bishop as not a “real man”, “idiotic”, etc.
Who is Crutcher? Along with his daughter, he is one of only two paid employees of something called Life Dynamics. Sources inform me they list an in-kind contribution of $46,000 from Priests for Life for Fr Frank’s services as a co-host on their monthly video updates. Not sure how they figure that, since Fr Frank gets no salary from PFL. But suffice it to say it’s that sort of thing that makes Bp. Zurek’s concerns understandable and Crutcher’s attack video against the bishop also, in it’s own way, understandable.
Meanwhile, for my part I say this: Fr. Pavone, by sharing his mailing list with this guy, has lost me as even a troubled sympathizer. He is in rebellion against his bishop and he is teaching more Catholics on the Right to be anti-Catholic Catholics just as MoDo teaches Catholics on the Left to be anti-Catholic Catholics.