In Defense of Mark Shea…

Here is an article by my friend Mark Shea in which he apologizes for being nasty to people.

I appreciate Mark’s public contrition. However, I’m not sure it’s necessary. Here’s why: plenty of us like the argumentative style. We appreciate the heat under Mark’s collar, and the passion with which he argues. His blog has juice and he has guts.

Furthermore, readers should understand that, to a certain extent, the writer develops a style and a tone that is a “voice” he assumes to make his point. A good writer blusters. So what? Readers should not take it all so personally.

I find that I have a reputation for being “a courageous priest” because of the content and tone of what I write. I am uncompromising and shoot straight. However, people who know me realize that Dwight the man and Fr Dwight the priest and Dwight Longenecker the blogger, writer, speaker are not always consistently the same person. Me courageous? Not when I look in the mirror, and probably not to my parishioners, friends and family. Writers are often like actors. We play a part.

Mark Shea’s part is that of the Hilaire Belloc de nos jours. He is a controversialist. He stirs things up on purpose. He takes extreme views to make a point. He argues passionately and wades in to defend the truth. Okay, sometimes he’s like a bull in a china shop. Who cares about china? Use Tupperware if you don’t like it.

In saying that, Mark admits that some of his attacks ended up not being against error, hypocrisy and sin, but against individuals. He’s admitted it and said “Sorry.” That’s big of him. Real Big, and maybe he could use a dash more of Chesterton’s robust and cheerful optimism to balance his bellicose Bellocian tendencies.

Finally, this problem is one of the joys and difficulties of the new media. In times past a writer and his work were more distant from the readership. It was easier to maintain the useful fiction of the writer assuming a voice to make his point. Now we have Facebook and Twitter and Instant Messaging and com boxes. The writer can interact with his audience. He’s not so far away. The audience can see him more clearly warts and all.

Writers should remember this and be sensitive.

Readers should remember this and either be a bit more thick skinned or tootle off and read the Disney blog.


  • Theresa Ostendorf

    Well said Father. (loved the tupperware comment!)

  • schmenz

    To compare, in any way, shape or form, Hilaire Belloc to Mr Shea is a bit ridiculous, Father, with all due respect. I hardly need point out the differences between Mr Belloc’s brilliant, cultured and manly Catholicism, and astounding erudition, with the superficial writings of Mr Shea.

    • Newp Ort

      So then you would say the comparison is hilaireous?

      • Fr. Duddleswell

        That’s really good!

  • Paul Lereau

    As far as the Catholicism of a Mark Shea is concerned, he would make a great Gofer for the Personal Assistant of an ewe brewed banker, member of the lowest rank of the B’nai B’rith.
    This Fifth Column group of yours is on Fire in mutual support which is why I avoid, for the Very Most Part, this blogger site.

    Stick to the dispersion of The Sacraments ‘Dwight’, they are for you a rarity as they are actually Valid, but for the Validity of certain Dogma is that a fact.

    The best thing a Mark Shea type could do for the fate of his Eternal Soul is to give up the idea that he is a writer, even less a writer representing The Church and he should perhaps take-up some Fiddle lessons, up upon a roof somewhere.

    Next time you write to your ‘buddy’ Shea, remind him of the Free Mason Priest that is a Priest no more. ‘He’ll’ get the jiff of it!!!

    • Newp Ort

      But you gotta love that beard.

      • Paul Lereau

        My tiny french-canadian village was located but a ten minute drive from a major mennonite centre called Steinbach, all this to say, I’ve seen that type of beard many a time throughout mine life.

    • Barbara Bowman

      Obviously, Mr. Lereau, kindness isn’t your strong suit. Your posting is the very example of what you are criticizing in others. I suggest that you remove the moat in your eye…

      • Paul Lereau

        Can’t handle the Truth Mrs. Bowman? Not my problem now is it?

  • Julie Dooley

    Thank you, Father. I love both Mr Shea and you … entirely different styles preaching the same Truth. With unity in the essentials and diversity in the points of prudent judgment.

  • michael

    If the Holy Spirit lead him to to contrition why would you say it’s not necessary? I doubt the man suffers with scrupulosity or he would be apologizing more frequently. Just saying

  • Tired of it…

    I suppose it’s one thing to have an argumentative style within an article, but it’s completely another thing to be nasty to individuals, which is one reason I stopped reading Mark’s articles… I don’t have time for un-Christian-like behavior (which seems to be more prevalent among Shea’s peer writers these days), for that I can pick up anything in the secular media…

  • jasper

    “Readers should remember this and either be a bit more thick skinned or tootle off and read the Disney blog.”

    Are you really a priest?

  • Raphael Walker

    My goodness. It’s okay to be loudly obnoxiously persistently wrong for years, engaging in a private magisterium pronouncing excommunication here and sainthood there, because, hey, all writers bluster. Belloc was a controversialist, therefore Mark Morford is the Belloc of our day? (Sorry, neglected arch simper dans une langue autre.) (Oh, look, I simpered! Wow, I’m the Belloc of our day too!) In these years of scandalmongering nonsense (“bluster!” and “courage!”) Shea has dragged down the reputation of the Register, CWR, and anyplace else his screedalism-I mean his Chestertonian, even Ciceronian, bluster-has appeared. I will tootle off and stick to reading orthodox explications and defenses of the faith. Bloggers chummily defending the indefensible are not utterly unlike bishops passing pedophile priests back and forth: “I got your back, bro- truth be damned.”

    • Eric Williams

      Wow. I want to both up- and down-vote this comment at the same time. Hmm…

  • Romulus

    I am a fan of Mark Shea, but no longer post on his blog because he’s made it clear I am unwelcome. In my opinion his apology is long overdue. My admiration of Mr. Shea has much to do with his robust, forthright style. I have no difficulties at all with that. My complaint is that Mr. Shea dishes out the robust, pointed commentary far, far better than he is willing to receive it. He has allowed his views to calcify in certain areas not pertaining to morality (I am NOT thinking here of torture or Live Action stings), to a degree that spirited opposition, no matter how careful to avoid personal animus, is simply not tolerated. I regret no longer participating, but he is one of those blog hosts whose exceptional gifts come with exceptional, un-nuanced prickliness.

  • Christine Niles

    Please do not ever, ever, ever compare Mark Shea to Hilaire Belloc.

    And yes, Mr. Shea’s contrition is absolutely necessary–and he needs to back it up with actions–including reparation of harm he has caused to people’s reputations.

  • Kieran Schultz

    Well said Mr. Walker! Mr. Shea’s bluster is just compensation for his lack of qualifications. He has no theological training and yet he accuses those much more qualified than he of being unable to “see the bleeding obvious.” I suspect he is smart enough to be capable of much more than what he peddles but after spending the MAJORITY of his adult life as a Catholic, he still seeks to sell an unexceptional conversion story. Well, this is CAL, EWTN etc.
    I used to hold the same opinion of Michael Voris but I’ve witnesses in him far more growth in the past 2yrs than I’ve seen in Shea in 15.

  • chezami

    I appreciate Mark’s public contrition. However, I’m not sure it’s necessary.

    Oooooh! Ooooh! Me! Me! I can answer that! I know that guy! He’s married to my wife. And I can say with some authority that, yeah, it was necessary. :)

    I do appreciate your magnanimity though. God bless your work in the Vineyard!

    • bj


    • Romulus

      I know that guy!

      You need to know him better.

  • Mary

    I think it was important for him to apologize both for his own sake and for the sake of those he hurt. I’m not sure why you think that the apology was unnecessary when his conscience told him it certainly was. I read the article you mentioned and it was very clear that this was the case. Plus, we have to remember he blogs for God, not for himself, and some very ungodly things went on over there. Yes, Mr. Shea is a gifted man but he strayed very far from using these gifts well at times. As for me, I’m thrilled that now the Church can REALLY benefit from his gifts without him sabotaging himself and others.

    • Joan

      Oh, if only Todd would have his courage. :-) but that will be a cold day in hell when he apologizes!

      • michael

        Good idea he could hide behind a fictional character and be nasty all he wants. It’s all in jest, right?

  • Augustine

    That’s one thing, but Mark would outright ban people for espousing different political opinions from his, even when the argument was civil. So, yeah, some apology is in order… and reparation, like unbanning those posters.

  • David Finkelstein

    Mark has been generally solid on content, but too brittle in presentation for me. I stopped reading him long ago.

  • Fr. Duddleswell

    I think perhaps, Mark is engaging in a little bit of intellectual plea bargaining. To wit, plead guilty to a lesser crime so as to avoid being held accountable for a larger one. He still hasn’t apologised for slandering his co-religionists, something he’d never do to others.

    • Ronald Orso

      If he’s good enough for Fr. Dwight, he’s good enough for me! :-)

      • Jerry Wilson

        I wonder if Mark would be as rude to a rabbi as he is to some priests.

  • Jim Russell

    Well, I am one who thinks it very good to have a clear acknowledgement in the Catholic blogosphere that the dignity of the human person is deserving of respect and worthy of charitable discourse. This is a good step and a great reminder to all of us. Looking forward to anything that brings about greater grace in the wild west…er…Catholic blogosphere…
    God bless you,
    Deacon JR

  • Andy

    I just read any of these comments – I would hope that having read some of them that people plan on a good confession. My stars a man says he screwed up, that he is trying to make amends and people attack. Please rather than condem Mr. Shea look in the mirror and examine your consciences. Not that he needs it.
    The question to Father – are you really a priest is beyond contemptible. My question – do you have manners or a conscience?

    • Phil Steinacker

      I agree with your second point but you evidently have not read Mark sufficiently to realize people are quite correct to observe the insufficiency of his apology given that reparations are required for his past offenses against those he banned and whose reps he sullied, as well as full cessation of the behavior itself.

      Surely you have encountered enough insincere or otherwise false apologies in your life to hold your tongue instead of pronouncing judgment upon that which you do not understand.

  • Dash Riprock

    Eh. It ain’t the style that’s the problem, it’s the fact that Mark can’t engage honest arguments honestly. In that little series about how to argue he is writing, he might take a minute and look at the strawman fallacy, ’cause it’s his best pal. Seriously, they took a long walk to see the Wizard together, back in the day.

    The problem is he ain’t honest with other people’s viewpoints. I don’t think he gets it.

    • islandbrewer

      It’s more than that. He regularly deletes and bans commenters who present cogent arguments against him. This is a regular and repeated complaint against him.

      It’s not for vitriol or icky “bad” words, just an argument that effectively makes him look wrong. He really is afraid of honest debate.

  • Martin

    These were my sentiments. Whatever Mark does it is from a position of strength so in this case he’s a good role model for leadership.You do have to be as hard as copping driven nails as public Catholic these days so good on him for not taking nonsense. If he is able to do public repentance (even if it’s perhaps not really necessary) then, again, he is showing secular politicians how things are done.

  • Eric Williams

    “Readers should remember this and either be a bit more thick skinned or tootle off and read the Disney blog.”

    Is there nothing to be said for being “all things to all people”, in the model of St. Paul?

  • Laramie Stewart

    Isn’t he just a mouthpiece of Sauron, err, the USCCB?

  • dabhidh

    I do appreciate Mark’s bold, confronting style and I think that it does take some courage to take some of the positions that he does. I suspect that he does not arrive at all his conclusions conveniently, but actually tries to follow a line of logic and go where it leads. However, I do think his apology was necessary because sometimes he can seem very stubborn, unyielding, and un-generous in one on one conversation. He has at times seemed not willing to make concession to the wisdom of others’ opinions at even the least level if it seems to challenge a point he has made or a position he has taken. Nevertheless I for one will think better of him now and in the future because his apology demonstrates a profound humility and a teachable spirit. Some writers and commentators in the realm of faith seem so fixed and arrogant that one doubts that even God can speak to them, but what Mark has written says to me that God does speak to him on occasion and he is willing to listen. So even if I have a big argument with him in the future or see him argue with other people and think he’s being stubborn, I will remember that he has shown himself to be at heart a humble and gracious man, and that is no bad assurance.

  • Cassandra

    While Shea’s apology is a good start, it needs to end with his removal of his private blog. He’s demonstrated definitely that he sorely needs an Editor to prevent catastrophic posts.

    To begin, he lacks the intellectual chops to be making arguments on his own. He lacks precision in using terms and the ability to make distinctions. An example is his use of the term “civilian” in his diatribe against Santorum. The Church does not use the term “civilian” in its just war theory, but rather “combatant” and “non-combatant”. Using “civilian” is sloppy right out of the gate.

    He apologizes to Lila Rose for not first contacting her. His greater blunder is not having a qualified moral theologian first review his argumentation for validity.
    Noteworthy here is his reference of Scripture (mt 18) in his diagnosis of error.
    Fundamental to Shea’s deeper apologetics issues is that while you can take the convert out of Protestantism, it seems near impossible to get the Protestantism out of the convert. In other words, like most of the Evangelical to Catholic converts, he maintains a Protestant mindset in his approach.

    Secondly, in regard to converts such as he in general is that while a married man can make a living in Protestant ministry, he can’t in Catholicism (Anglicans notwithstanding). So having made their living from the gospel, typical converts think they can just immediately turn to pumping out Catholic theology and talks without realizing they need to go through Protestant detox first. With families, they are under the pressure to publish or starve, so they’re cranking out books and talks to pay the bills. Just because you were a Protestant minister of some type doesn’t mean God has annointed you as a Catholic apologist.

    St Francis is worth mentioning here. Noteworthy for his humility, he never aspired to the priesthood, and yet consented to the diaconate. Why be presumptious about his worthiness for that? I suspect that he was convinced by others that it was unfitting for a layman to be preaching the Gospel without access to the graces of ordination. All laity should reflect on that. We called to be *witnesses* of the Faith, not preachers of it.

    I also find the incestuous recommendations among the “elite” apologists of each other’s books to be troubling. Recommending the lastest book of someone who helped the sales of one’s own book smacks of publishing kickbacks.

    Finally a word on “Catholic” blogs. Canon 216 says “…no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority”. Yet how many bloggers out there like like Shea slap “Catholic” on their sites presuming consent without first actually asking permission. “Catholic” websites should post a PDF of the letter granting such permission.

    • Augustine

      Unfortunately, that’s an attitude that I see in many converts. Not only do they bring carry Protestant lens but also their Protestant prejudices. Many, at least implicitly, think that Catholics are ignorant of the Scriptures just because they know it contextually and not chapter and verse. Many feel authorized to lecture Catholics on their newly embraced faith, even to the point of feeling deserving some sort of office.

      Never do they mention the Catholics that they apostatized to their heresy – “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin…” (Mt 18:5) – and their will to do penance for it, which I think that three years of obsequious silence – even in the blogsphere – to assimilate the Church whose head is Christ and who gave them the Scriptures would be quite appropriate.

    • Lynda

      One doesn’t need a “qualified moral theologian” to discern that Mr Shea’s attack on Lila Rose was unjustified and demonstrated great ignorance and recklessness on his part.

      • Cassandra

        You’re missing the thrust of what I’m saying about that. I concur with you that it doesn’t take a qualified theologian.
        Shea said his error was not talking to Lila. His real error is in the whole post, but not being able to see that himself, had he consulted a qualified moral theologian, it would have been pointed out to him.
        Fundamentally, Shea fails to see that he lacks the proper formation to be pontificating publicly (and quite frankly privately). His books and NCR posts are subjected to the scrutiny of an Editor. In his private blog posts, his lack of clothes in all its ugliness is exposed for all to see.
        Shea should consider how his ranting reflects on those he names as references like Dr. Scott Hahn. I find it difficult to believe that Scott would be very comfortable with the content of Shea’s private blog, and it reflects poorly on Hahn’s reputation for those posts to be going on.

  • Cassandra

    Oh, I forgot.
    Writing off Shea as offering some value because he is a “controversialist” is the same argument that blasphemous artists use when defending their work. “Oh, I’m just trying to create ‘Dialogue’”. Rubbish. Controversialism is the cheap way to get attention.

  • Joanne

    I got turned away from Mark’s blog because of his “doesn’t play with others” attitude. Not because I am thin skinned (didn’t take it personally) but because it overshadowed some good points he could be making. And “tootle off to a Disney blog”? Really, Father? That’s a real insult to some of us who want to glean some real meat from the Catholic blog-world. You need to take your own advice, and “remember this and be sensitive.”

  • jaymis

    By any other name you want to use, Mark meets the qualifications for a bloviating Jackass. He great! Just ask him. A very thin skin for sure. It’s a fatal flaw when you specialize in “stirring things up” Quit reading him long ago. A waste of time to engage and feed the ego of a professional chain puller.

  • Hopey

    Some authors/writers I prefer to not know personally. Shea is his own worst enemy. I have received his personal attacks before. He has apologized and I accepted. It isn’t that we should read Disney, it is that Shea has not learned his lesson as he keeps doing it. He won’t stop till he has people stop associating till he gets it together. Even twain knew himself enough to know his wife was needed to proof his complaint letters as those gifted with writing can cut to, unnecessarily. He tends to be abusive and needs to stop.

  • Will

    “Readers should not take it personally.”

    That is very hard.

  • Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh

    I don’t even get any of this. I’ve read Mr. Shea’s blog for a few years now and while his style is robust I certainly don’t find it uncharitable. Mr. Shea makes a regular practice of apologizing on his blog, hardly the characteristic of a rabble-rouser. His books have also been very important to me in the formation of my faith and my understanding of the perpetual balancing act of orthodoxy. And what theological qualifications did G.K. Chesterton ever have?

    I’m literally baffled as to what all the fuss is about.

    • Ron Turner

      jaymis answered that question in two words.

  • Skay

    I first went to Mark’s blog because of it’s name–Catholic and Enjoying it. Although I like Mark as a person and the wonderful family stories that he shared–I realized that I would come away quite angry about some of his posts . Not all of course–but quite a few.
    It is his blog, his views–and I was a guest–so I just choose not to go back. I have found other Catholic blogs that I enjoy better–like this one for instance.

  • islandbrewer

    An argumentative style is not really that big a concern. It’s the dishonesty associated with, as Dash Riprock points out, his profuse employment of straw men, as well as his consistent deletion of those who disagree, without vitriol or swearing, and present cogent arguments. These he deletes and bans.

  • Sebastian

    Mark goes off the handle and hurts his arguments, the Church’s arguments, and people who are seeking the truth. Just telling people to be more thick skinned misses the point.