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Hyperbole And The Magisterium

September 5, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

One of the best pieces of advice as a young politico I ever received was to interrogate every piece of information with two questions: 1) who benefits if I believe this, and 2) why am I being asked to believe this?
Longtime observers of the Catholic media landscape understand the rivalry — if it can be called that — between some of our disparate publications. National Catholic Reporter (progressive with a p) squares off against National Catholic Register (God’s Marines with a g); incrementalists at LifeNews square off against absolutists at LifeSiteNews; traditionalists at Church Militant square off against the European social democrats at La Croix International — or at least, the Europeans try.
Thankfully, I’m sure you will agree that The Wanderer has no peers. Even if we did have a peer, there’s something comforting about being able to hover above the mediocrity of the Babel of social media, collect one’s thoughts, and observe the comings and goings of the world. Sam Walter Foss, a late nineteenth-century poet, isn’t exactly a household name but here it goes anyway:
“Let me live in my house by the side of the road / Where the race of men go by / They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, / Wise, foolish — so am I. / Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat / Or hurl the cynic’s ban? / Let me live in my house by the side of the road / And be a friend to man.”
To wit, Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter (progressive with a p) has decided to publish a fatwa against John-Henry Westen and the folks at LifeSiteNews. Their target? A project known as “Faithful Shepherds” that lists and grades every bishop in America according to their alignment with LifeSiteNews on a series of issues.
The format is familiar, if for no other reason than it was borrowed from us political types to “scorecard” good guys and bad guys. Of course, these have evolved. Anyone with a little bit of time, an opinion, and a spreadsheet can orchestrate a series of issues and grade the class asking if one is a good witch or a bad witch — and if a bad witch, drop houses on them accordingly.

Beware The Spirit Of Division

My point in all of this isn’t necessarily to pick a side one way or the other, though my thoughts on Michael Sean Winters’ so-called Catholicism are well known (as are my reservations about some people’s seeming alliance with the nationalist right).
What I would prefer to do here is provide a word of caution.
Most of us readers are Americans, or if overseas, then readers with an American ear. We love hyperbole; it is perhaps our number-one export. Words we use to describe the state of affairs in the Catholic Church today can sound alarming: heresy, apostasy, schism.
But do the prescriptions really fit the disease?
Let me put it more succinctly. Just because Winters decides to write something in a heterodox publication escaping the jurisdiction of his own bishop? That might be the opinion of NCR (the leftist one) and their donors but isn’t the opinion of 75 million Catholics in America.
Moreover, grading and check-listing every Catholic prelate in America doesn’t sound like fidelity so much as it sounds like politics. To read the term “abortion politics” in the LSN project should remind us that abortion isn’t finally a political issue, it is a spiritual disease. Judie Brown of American Life League has spent 40 years trying to remind the pro-life movement on this point.
The cure for abortion will not be found in Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court, but in the requests of the Blessed Mother to pray the rosary — causa finita.

Alinsky Vs. The Magisterium

What should concern us are the tactics of modern politicians to “doxx” public figures in an attempt to shame and coerce them into some activity. Doxxing — if it has not reached your vocabulary — is an old public relations term that gathers documents (docs) that are either incriminating or could be carefully construed to be incriminating against its target.
If you detect the fingerprints of Saul Alinsky here, you have the gist of where this goes.
Again, this is not intended to be a dunking contest against provocateurs on the left or the right. Surely “doxxing” people like Theodore McCarrick was a worthy project, but such evidence was produced as part of an investigation in a juridical setting and not on a blog.
Flip side? Look at what the media have done to men like Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong as he begs Pope Francis to come to the aid of the Catholic Church in China, or to Cardinal Burke with regard to Malta, or to Cardinal Pell as he rots in an Australian jail for crimes he did not commit.
What I would prefer to do is offer a word of caution on both sides of this argument.
The folly of God, we are reminded, is stronger than the wisdom of man; the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians). Those of us who believe that the Deposit of Truth and Faith require an assist from “the god that fails” (i.e., government or coercion) are falling into the same Luciferian trap that human beings always fall into. We want to control things and mediate our own salvation; we forget that Christ already did this on the cross.
Mr. Winters is perhaps a touch concerned about this “mediation” coming from the likes of Mr. Westen, no doubt because Mr. Westen et al. are a touch fed up with the “mediation” attempted by the reformers of the reform to cram a very different idea of Catholicism down the throats of those who adhere to the faith of our fathers.

Mediating Truth

Yet the funny thing about truth is that no matter how carefully one arranges the facts, the truth is still there and has a funny way of persevering. The apparatchiks can play their games, but the Deposit of Truth and Faith is immovable and will endure.
What I fear is happening as we discuss issues concerning the Church is the effort of a handful of apparatchiks to skew an argument into a crisis where none exists. Do the bishops need some encouragement to actually be bishops? Of course they do. Do they need to be “doxxed” by those attempting to shepherd the shepherds? No. Is the National Catholic Reporter fit to line a birdcage? Perhaps, that is, if only to put the paper to its highest and best use….
But are we on the cusp of a schism? I suspect (and worry) that there are small camps secretly harboring this desire. One only need cast eyes toward the Amazon Synod (sic) — which should really be called the Buchenwald Synod given its proponents…but that’s another topic.
Where the spirit of division exists, there exists the Leviathan — and it will not run from man-made weapons such as blogs or checklists (Job 42).
Also, hyperbole is a dangerous tool, leveraged by advertisers and sometimes exercised as a rhetorical flourish (of this I am particularly guilty). But we should be cautious about efforts to divide our bishops and also be allergic to mediators of truth who exist outside the Magisterium of the Church. Why are we being asked to believe this? Who benefits if I believe this?
“Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat / Or hurl the cynic’s ban? / Let me live in my house by the side of the road / And be a friend to man.”

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I continue to thank each of you for your prayers for my friend. His recovery continues at pace, which at present consists of him playing old videogames he enjoyed ten years ago rather than reading a set of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples that I sent to him. C’est la vie. . . .
St. Louis de Montfort and Venerable Matt Talbot, pray for us!

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First Teachers warmly encourages readers to submit their thoughts, views, opinions, and insights to the author directly either via e-mail or by mail. Please send any correspondence to Shaun Kenney c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 or by e-mail to kenneys@cua.edu.

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