Not Firing Anyone: Kiss Hands Before Round 2

Sadly, while I did indeed bring everyone’s intentions with me to the Holy Land, I was not able to pray in the holiest of places. I was denied Jerusalem thanks to a case of pneumonia that sent me home and then quickly to hospital. But know I did pray, and even in a hospital bed, gasping for breath, I offered it up for your intentions. It was the best I could do.

I will write about Israel later, when I am well and stronger. Right now, I am forced to use this puny amount of energy I possess in order to address a breathtaking fog of stupidity that is poisoning the air of faith we all need to breathe.

In Israel my wifi was spotty, so I missed its inception, but an ongoing brouhaha has brought all sorts of requests into my email box from people requesting that I either “discipline” Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher, or “correct” them, or “get them to remove these Facebook posts” or “fire them.”

Well, I’m not going to do any of that. But I will explain why, as respectfully as I know how.

The issue is this:
On May 23, Life Site News (LSN) published a piece by Hilary White that — when taken in its entirety — amounted to, “Oh-my-gawd-the-pope-concelebrated-mass-and-kissed-the-hand-of-a-93-year-old-dissenting-priest-who-defends-homosexual-love-and-homosexual-and-isn’t-this-horrible-about-the-dissenting-homosexual-and-awful-Francis-and-homosexualists-and-homosexual!”

I like and respect LSN Managing Editor John Jalsevac and Editor-in-Chief John-Henry Westen, and as an editor I completely understand wanting to go to bat for one of your writers, but the White piece was nothing more than willful alarmism. It was fodder for the daily-outrage disguised as news; a heady fix for those who — since the resignation of the Pope Emeritus and the election of Francis — have become needful addicts of Catholic Angst and Agita.

That the pope met with a dissenting priest is news — certainly it was newsworthy when Pope Benedict XVI visited Hans Küng — that the pope kissed his hand is less newsworthy; Francis kisses a lot of hands. A better piece would have asked “why did Francis meet with him, to what end?”

I believe White knew this, which is why she “asked Vatican spokesman Fr. Frederico Lombardi for clarification as to the nature of the encounter but received no reply by press time.”

In that case, until a reply had been received, the piece should have been held, or edited down to the barest facts:

  • Fact: The pope met with and concelebrated mass with a 93-year-old dissenting priest known for his controversial stand as a gay advocate.
  • Fact: At the end he kissed the priest’s hand. The priest hugged him and wept.
  • Fact: We don’t know anything more about this event, or why it took place but will follow up.

Five days later, LSN editors — in the face of criticism on blogs and in social media, including long, not-pretty, critical discussion threads begun by Mark Shea and Simcha Fisherposted a follow-up:

LSN’s intention in publishing the story was to present the known facts about a public meeting between the pope and one of Italy’s leading Catholic dissidents – a newsworthy event in itself. However, in retrospect we recognize that in the absence of certain necessary clarifications and contexts the facts alone, as presented, unnecessarily lent themselves to misinterpretation.

The statement probably should have ended there, but the writers felt the need to outline three possible reasons (among potentially scores of them) for the pope’s meeting, all of them problematic, all of them sheer conjecture.

Since no one actually knows why the meeting and the mass and the hand-kiss occurred (and if we must sit around guessing about it) then shouldn’t we, as Christians, err on the side of charity — and what we know of Francis, thus far — and assume the best, not the worst motivations? I’ve read suggestions that Francis’ kiss was “honoring the hands of a priest” which seems like sentimental overreach to me and “an endorsement of the dissident priest’s policies” which seems like a kind of reverse-projection; I’ve read that Francis was honoring the laudable service to the sick and poor which the priest offers through his Emmaus Community. Meh. Okay, if you like.

Here’s what I think: that Francis concelebrated mass with the priest because the Pontifex is a “bridge-builder”, that he kissed the guy’s hand because it is, fundamentally, the most expedient pro-life, pro-human-dignity-declaring public action a pope can make in such circumstances.

In fact, it’s ironic that a pro-life advocacy journal should have missed that point. A hand-kiss — whether it is bestowed upon a combative 93 year-old priest, or a Holocaust survivor, or a sickly baby, or a comatose woman sends this most life-affirming message: “before you are anything else you are a human being, beloved of God and made in his image. My expression of love and respect for you is therefore nothing more or less than an expression of love and respect for God and his creation. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, every person needs to understand that he is seen and heard and valued at this very basic level, must first hear and believe ‘it is good that you exist’. Any further dialogue, any further interaction we have must build from this essential premise: ‘it is good that you exist’.”

This seems to me to be a very good public message: engage everyone — not just the ‘deserving’ but everyone — by first affirming, “it is good that you exist.”

The internet could stand with a bit of virtual-hand-kissing because the attacking and counter-attacking is ridiculous, and often self-indulgent to a laughable degree. It serves ego and the idol of one’s own need to triumph much more than it serves God or Church. By far the most hilarious thread — which I will not link to because it is in all ways just too noisily stupid — involved men whipping out their theological bona fides to compare sizes (“Well, I’ve got a degree in this and I’ve served my parish thusly!”) and a silly woman declaring that writers obviously never do pastoral work within their parishes, so what do they know? Then there are those (some of whom undoubtedly threw money at John Corapi at some point) who suggest that the only trustworthy Catholic writers are the ones who do it for free, because if you’re feeding your children and paying your electric bill on these slender earnings, you’re nothing but a sell-out, and a shill for evil forces.

This is the fog of stupidity I mentioned earlier, and it has caught too many people in it. I certainly understand how easy it is to unleash one’s inner Kracken on the internet — I’ve been guilty of the sin, myself — but I have no idea where people find the time to get involved with comments threads that grow into the hundreds; I don’t understand why people run into these threads just to call names when they know the action discredits Christianity in general, and them in particular. I also don’t really get why anyone gets upset about being called a name, when all it does is expose the poverty of the name-caller.

As to the emails and notes I’ve received
calling for the heads of Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher for their deep crime of having an opinion and posting it to Facebook (heavens! No one does that!), I’m afraid there will be no guillotine hauled out, today.

Nor am I ordering them to take down their Facebook threads, even as ugly as they became, because I am not their mother, and do not feel at all entitled to do so. If, for the sake of Christ, they decide to do so, that’s entirely up to them, but they needn’t. It is the nature of social media that threads become boisterous and often unfair hotbeds of gratuitous smackdowns, which is why they should be taken with a grain of salt or ignored altogether. If today the madding crowds are coming for you, don’t worry, tomorrow, they’ll be coming for me. All of it is false-reality; it is diabolical disorientation — the daily distraction from the real work of speeding God’s glory and his Kingdom — and we ought not get overly caught up in it.

Our mix of writers is broad and a little eclectic and I don’t tell any of them what to write about; I only rarely ask them to reconsider an intemperate phrase. They mostly do a pretty good job of examining their own consciences and walking things back, or apologizing, when they need to (as we all sometimes must). The biggest fault I can find with Shea and Fisher, is that they just don’t know how to ignore a provocation, either direct or indirect.

But then, Shea is Irish, so I do sympathize. And Simcha, of course, wears the pants. They are both smart, faithful, passionate Catholics, and talented writers with strong perspectives and something to say. That shouldn’t scare anyone. It is good that they exist.

And it is good that you exist, too. And before I toddle back to my sickbed and my inhaler, I suggest — in all humility — that everyone kiss hands and remember that.

And please, if you will, pray for my poor lungs.

Hubert Robert, Incendie a’Rome

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  • vsm

    I will pray for you in your illness, Elizabeth, as I did for you on your trip. Thank you for taking our intentions with you. Your willingness to write — not to mention your ability to do it so clearly and wisely — in the midst of your distress is a grace, and a blessing for your readers.

  • JoAnna Wahlund

    Not only should we assume the most charitable viewpoint, we are instructed to in the Catechism:

    2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

    “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.” 280

    Excellent piece, and prayers for your lungs!

  • Gordis85

    Please take care of yourself, Elizabeth. I will be praying for your full recovery. Rest and fluids are important.

    You article was quite good, thank you. I rarely venture anymore on sites that seem combative and critical of Papa Francis or anyone who supports him. I just don’t care anymore.

    I want to spend my time praying, hoping, and cleaning house in preparation for summer. ^^

    May you soon be well!

  • Joseph

    The most distressing thing about the papal controversy is the division and animosity it has caused among orthodox, faithful Catholics who are otherwise in agreement on almost all major issues, and the name-calling and lack of charity by people on both sides. It is utterly unconstructive, Please, let’s all let it stop and show charity and understanding to those who don’t share our viewpoints, and not assume we know each others’ motivations. It is okay to express concern about an approach taken by the pope, so long as it is done with charity and not jumping to conclusions.

  • Joseph

    And prayers for your lungs.

  • Manny

    Praying for you. My wife had pneumonia a little over a month ago. It’s not pleasant. She actually had to spend a few nights in the hospital.
    I like how JoAnna below (or above, depending how you sort) phrased it, we should “assume the most charitable viewpoint.” And if someone has a difference with a blogger, then they should stop reading him/her. Let me also say that Pope Francis has put lots of conservative (and that’s conservative in the religious sense, not political) Catholics on edge with some of his statements and/or mis-statements.
    Side comment on the Patheos site. These pop up ads are driving me crazy and slowing down my loading and commenting here. There’s just too many of them.

  • Bertha

    Prayers coming for your lungs. I am grateful that you were willing to take my prayer to the Holy Land even though it didn’t happen as you planned. Now I can honor your need for prayer and reciprocate the blessing.

  • Skay

    So sorry about your illness, Elizabeth. I will certainly pray for your continued recovery.

  • MeanLizzie

    In my very weak condition, I managed to go everywhere and read all the blog posts, all the threads, all the articles, all the facebook pages, and as far as I’m concerned, no one connected with this ridiculous drama has covered themselves with glory and everyone could stand some time considering how they interact with people, and how comfortable they are with the ideas of creating and fulminating against “enemies” in Christ’s church. I am as unimpressed with the ppl crying “woe! woe! the church is being destroyed” about Francis as I was with the people who indulged in the same faithless, idolatrous, ego-serving fiction about Benedict. I’m absolutely not interested in people running to me saying “mommy, mommy look who is being mean on facebook”. I’m going back to bed with my inhaler now, and thank you for your good wishes. Truly, your charity in bothering me — apparently in email too? — when I am trying to prevent a return to the hospital is impressive. Why not offering up some of your anger and angst, for a while? And pray about what God might be up to with this pope (and the resignation of the last) rather than indulging in this fantasy that the church is ending because of one pope. Which is exactly what the devil wants you to believe, contra Christ’s own words.