I didn't always agree with him. And at times things could get snarky. On his blog - like most blogs - it was a place where people came to debate in ways they never would face to face. Insults were never allowed, however, and Mark would ban people for making false accusations or personal attacks.
But all of that was, and has not been for a long time. Somewhere between the torture debates, the Harry Potter mania and attempts to downplay the non-Catholic elements of Rowling, and his movement over to Patheos and his associating with Catholics like Simcha Fisher, Mark changed. Today he is clearly a pro-life liberal Catholic. There is virtually nothing he stands for or attacks that is associated in the least with conservatism.
And this puts him right in line with Pope Francis, who has made it clear it's time to get over conservative concerns and sensitivities, call fundamentalism the evil that it is, and get the Church to catch up with the latest and hippest times. That, of course, is the essence of liberal Christianity. It's no different than anything any one of a dozen Protestant denominations have said over the ages - with the possible exception of so easily linking fundamentalism and terrorism. Though today, who knows? After all, once you accept 'keep up with the times', what you say today will most likely change, or magnify by tomorrow.
So Mark, who prides himself as being totally obedient to Church teaching, has found his home. He's also found success. The Catholic Church in general, and certainly the Church in the USA, has always been decidedly to the Left of center. Far more Catholics will support gay marriage or birth control than will support the A-Bombing of Hiroshima or stand against gun control. So as Mark became a leading advocate for a pro-life liberal voice in the Church, it wasn't hard to believe that his profile would increase. It's easier to increase your fan base when you're on the side of the majority.
And it has. He is now hosting radio shows, working for major Catholic publications, being interviewed by the secular media. He is, in the world of apologetics, a star. Of course he still insists he's a humble church mouse with barely two coins to rub together. But as one who doesn't have two coins to rub together, let me say he does pretty well, better than many I know who have two working parents with benefits; if his stories about his escapades and socializing are to be believed.
But then, what can you say about a person who uses the one tactic he has so loudly condemned for so many years? Mark has repeatedly blasted those who start by saying 'I'm a devout Catholic, but here's where the Church sucks...' And rightly so. It's a slick, dishonest tactic. It makes you invulnerable. After all, the individual has declared himself devout, so he clearly isn't anti-Catholic. Likewise, despite Mark's willingness to respectfully disagree with liberals even over abortion and gay sex (reserving his wrath only for Planned Parenthood and the most egregious cases of oppression and censorship for gay marriage - and even then not much in recent months), and despite his clear and obvious disdain for virtually everything to do with any American conservative ideals or perspectives, Mark says he's a conservative.
That gives him carte blanche to launch day after day at Conservatives, while still saying 'hey, I'm Conservative.' And so he's more or less invulnerable just like those Church bashing devout Catholics. And his more progressive and liberal and non-conformist readers love every minute of it.
In recent years, the blog has become almost unbearable. In some cases, it became everything that Mark, c. 2004, said was wrong with blogs. And Mark became more than willing to ban anyone - not because of false accusations or personal attacks - but most often for defending conservative viewpoints or disagreeing with Mark.
As a result, I began to take the 'Mr. Manners' approach. Not that I don't try to be respectful and polite. It's how I was raised. But I really did it at Mark's site. Careful not to give Mark an excuse to ban me, I would wade in and try to remind Mark that the charade was playing false, and the tactics an affront to Church teaching, as well as basic Christian behavior. In fact, the behavior you found on CAEI was akin to the behavior you would only see in the most hardcore stereotypical fundamentalist church circles that the readers of CAEI would so easily condemn. So doing what I had to in order to get my say, I suffered the worst treatment from people I have save for atheist blogs and some hardcore fundamentalists after I became Catholic. Though it's worth noting that the fundamentalists were typically not personal, they simply called out the Church as the harlot of Babylon that they believed it to be.
Now CAEI was the first blog I ever visited. It was the first blog I ever posted on (a post mocking the idea that FOX News was a bastion of Christian conservatism), and of course, Mark used it to help raise money for us when we found out about our fourth son. So for that, I am forever grateful. But the morphing and changes that occurred, as well as those of the Church itself, have been symbolic of the events that have happened to lead us to where we are today.
Ten years ago we were on the brink of going through our first Christmas in the Catholic world. Even then, things had gone sour. My wife had been let go of her teaching job at a Christian school when it was discovered where we were going. She was also in a serious auto accident only a week or two before Christmas (unfortunately, it being her fault). That brought about five years of lawsuits and financial strains on our part.
Even then, we thought 'Gee, that's not pleasant. What does that portend?' We shrugged it off as mere coincidence at worst, or perhaps Satan was fighting us. I would be hired by a major Catholic apostolate in February, perhaps we had found our path and Satan was trying to block us? We were sure, in those hazy days of Christmas, 2005, that it was all going to work out. And on CAEI, my conversion was quite the story. Mark even sent a sections of his draft of his Mary books to us for help. Despite problems and obstacles and crushing financial disasters, we were optimistic. Just like CAEI, we were going to be here for the long haul.
That was ten years ago. Today is now. And as Mark has made a major announcement, so shall I in the not-too-distant. More on that later. But for now, Mark has made his announcement. I will mourn what CAEI became, not what it was. And I will not be following him to his new blogs.