Here’s What You Need to Understand About Catholic Media Conflicts

Here’s What You Need to Understand About Catholic Media Conflicts January 10, 2019

In my most recent piece, I wrote about the foolishness of assuming that “both sides” are always the same.

I’d like to follow up by stating that sometimes it’s erroneous to frame a conflict as being between “two sides” at all. Sometimes the conflict is not so much a conflict as it is an attack by nihilists on diverse, well-meaning humans simply trying to do their best in the world. 

Father James Martin is a Jesuit priest with a special vocation for reaching out to Catholic-affiliated LGBTQ persons who feel marginalized, excluded, or even victimized in the church. This is a ministry which is built upon the most central of the church’s teachings about LGBTQ persons: namely, that “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Father Martin is not a far-left Catholic, and has never advocated for a reversal of the magisterial teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, nor on gay marriage. For this, he has sometimes been criticized by leftist Catholics for not going far enough. I’ve been in many conversations with feminist academics who are critical of what they perceive as his unwillingness to push back against the existing magisterial teachings. And right-leaning Catholics get upset with him for not reiterating more strenuously the “homosexual acts are bad” element of magisterial teaching (for which, honestly, I commend him: gay Catholics have heard those lines all too frequently).

Yet Fr. Martin is constantly being attacked, denigrated, and demonized by a far-right contingent represented by fascist groups like the American TFP, and anti-Francis tabloid media platforms such as Crisis, Church Militant, The Remnant, and LifeSite News.

Fr. Martin is not sitting at his desk writing attacks on enemies and trying to get people fired. He’s not trying to get the talks of other thought-leaders cancelled. But the far right repeatedly attacks and slanders him. This is not a “both sides” issue. This is one man trying to follow the Gospel as he feels called to, and a cluster of vicious organizations living only to destroy. It’s one thing to criticize and disagree with Fr. Martin. Civilized people can do this. But the attacks on him are far from civilized. 

When I was let go from my teaching post in 2017, and later smeared by LifeSite News in an article that was barely coherent, that was not a “both sides” issue. I spent eleven years doing my job and – to judge from my course evaluations – doing it well. Yes, I spoke out openly against the rising Trump regime and the failures of the pro-life movement, but I never said anything heterodox, nor anti-life. I never went on the personal attack, never tried to get people fired, never wrote ad hominem pieces lying about my fellow Catholics. This was not a case of two different “sides” out with pitchforks. I exercised my freedom of speech. Only one group held the pitchforks.

Last year, when Jenn Morson and Simcha Fisher published their separate reports on the assault cover-ups at, respectively, Franciscan University and Christendom College, did the far-right pundits rush to defend the victims, and ask for justice for the predators and enablers? Far from it. Instead Austin Ruse, who writes for Breitbart as well as for the Catholic alt right platforms, hastened to attack and discredit them.

The people who come under attack by these far-right publications, and others, can not be categorized as some kind of extreme opposition, raving leftists who use the same tactics but for the “other side.” This is not a conflict between two equal and opposite extremes. Many of the people attacked by these far-right groups are not involved in Catholic media at all, but only publish scholarly works which are, it is to be presumed, beyond the comprehension of those who look at them as some kind of damning “evidence.”

And those of us who regard with dismay at the tactics of these far-right groups – and in disgust at those who capitulate to their bullying – are not a monolithic group. We are Catholic and Protestant, Jewish and agnostic. We are leftist and liberal, centrist and conservative. We are politically independent. There are many areas in which we may not be united, but we at least stand together in opposition to the inhuman and anti-intellectual methods of those who are out not to serve Christ, not to serve humanity, certainly not to serve scholarship – but only to serve destruction.

There is such a thing as passionate discourse, and heated debate. People can and should take strong opinions and be willing to argue them out. But I have very little patience for those who treat lively discourse as somehow “uncivil” when there is real incivility out there, and when it does such great harm to decent human beings.

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