There has not been a lot of traffic on our blog, Vox Nova, in the past couple of years. For a while I had a weekly series on Catholic Social Teaching in papal encyclicals, driven by a pandemic based reading group, that was more for my own benefit than anything. Writers moved on, people developed other interests, and somehow Vox Nova got moved to the back burner. So much so that Patheos recently wrote to ask if we wanted the blog to go dormant. After some discussion, a couple of us decided to keep it going forward. And then I got some junk mail that reminded me why Vox Nova was formed 15 years ago.
In the very first post, the editors wrote
Vox Nova is a response to the ecclesial mandate to promote the common good in every sphere of human existence. We come from varying backgrounds and carry diverse social outlooks, traversing a wide range of demographics and political sympathies. Vox Nova is free, to the furthest extent possible, from partisanship, nationalism and demagoguery, all of which banish intellectual honesty from rational discourse.
They were responding to the rise of a a particular kind of Catholic conservatism, one which downplayed or ignored wide swathes of Catholic social teaching and which conflated Catholic orthodoxy with conservative Republican ideology. By the time I started reading the blog, it had become an alternative to the voices aligned withEWTN/Michael Arroyo, George Weigel, CatholicVote, etc. The writers did not agree with one another–some of our debates were heated and, sadly, a few caused bloggers to leave. But we were generally in agreement that to be a faithful, engaged Catholic, required more nuance, more breadth of concern, and more diversity than was present in then Catholic social media.
A lot of time has passed, and America, social media, and Catholics in the US have become more polarized. Which brings me back to the piece of junk mail I received. For some reason, CatholicVote has me on their mailing list, and I got their latest newsletter, plus a cover letter urging me to donate to their cause. The language is vitriolic, verging on hysterical, and brooking no middle ground. The topics covered were not driven by Catholic social teaching, but by the current, secular agenda of the right in America, dressed up to pretend that this is the sum total of Catholic thought. Here are few quotes:
an all-out effort to save America and our Catholic way of life for generations to come…Democrats, under the leadership of Joe Biden, has (sic) intensified their attacks on the Catholic values and principles you hold dear.
…protecting us from the anti-Catholic jihad the Biden administration is waging against us.
Nothing less than the survival of America is at stake this November.
…through our new Catholic Accountability Project (CAP), CatholicVote is exposing false Catholics for the pretenders they are…
…there are many CINOs–Catholics in Name Only–who need to be exposed
Democrats were defending Judge Jackson’s record of pampering child groomers, [while] social media has been flooded with LGTBQ activist “educators” vowing to continue to “educate” young children in the ways of homosexual eroticism and gender ideology.
Ron DeSantis [named a “Catholic Hero”] is working courageously to hold back the Mob Left that is out to destroy the country.
Pushing radical Critical Race Theory in our public schools and using it to brainwash our nation’s children to grow up hating America and one another.
Crippling the U.S. economy due to massive government spending and accompanying tax hikes.
I think it is pretty clear from these quotes what is driving their agenda, and it is not Catholic social teaching. Rather, it is conservative Republican talking points, baptized by putting “Catholic (TM)” around them. You might respond by saying that this is typical of political fund raising, and that liberal Democratic fund raisers are equally vitriolic. And I won’t disagree. But I think this kind of political discourse is bad for American democracy. And I think it is dangerous to our faith and our Church to claim that this kind of hate is in any way Catholic.
In particular, I object strongly to their attempts to define Catholic orthodoxy, setting themselves up to judge who is a “real Catholic” and who is “Catholic in name only.” In particular, the article in the newsletter that really pushed me over the edge was their attack on Catholic charitable organizations on the Mexican-American border. These groups, such as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grand Valley, have been doing heroic work providing aid to the men, women and children who have been crossing the border in the past two decades. There are many possible responses to this crisis that fall within the parameters laid down by the Church–for the record I am rather maximalist in my belief that as the richest nation in the world, we have an obligation to welcome migrants and refugees. But beyond discussions of political solutions, the respect and aid owed to migrants is central to our faith. But CatholicVote, while making passing reference to the Catholic principles that motivate this charitable work, are more interested in attacking the Biden administration and fellow Catholics who are trying to respond to this crisis:
American Catholics deserve to know the full extent of our federal government’s role in funding and coordinating with Catholic Church affiliated agencies at the border, and what role these agencies played in the record surge of illegal immigrants over the past year. We know every person, regardless of their legal status, deserves to be treated with dignity. But that’s just it: Our border is in chaos…We want to know: What role are Catholic charities, dioceses, or Catholic-affiliated organizations playing in this effort? Are they helping house migrants in homes, hotels, or shelters? Are they paying for transportation, flights, buses, or other services –with government money? Is what they are doing legal?
And this is what has finally motivated me to try to blog again: the desire to speak out against this continuing downward trend in Catholic discourse, particularly on social media, and to do so in a venue with a track record of promoting open dialog between a variety of perspectives while remaining faithful to Catholic teaching. There is a lot to talk about.
If you have made it this far, I ask a few things:
- Please share Vox Nova posts on social media. We need to get our readership back up. I really enjoyed the debates that would occur on some articles, sometimes carried out over several weeks and stretching to dozens or even 100+ thoughtful comments.
- If you are interested in writing for us, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We do not pay for content, and will reject out of hand product placements and the like.
- If you agree with me that CatholicVote’s attack on Catholic relief organizations along the border is out of line, then please consider doing what I did: make a donation to Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to support their work, and send a note to CatholicVote telling them you gave it in their name.