Tuesday, December 15, 2015

After ten years I also must be going, Part I

So the news broke: Mark Shea will be closing down his blog at Patheos after almost 13 years of blogging.  That's pretty big news.  Mark became one of the anchors of the Catholic blogosphere in the 00s - St. Blogs as it was sometimes called.  In the early days, Mark was a conservative Catholic willing to call conservatives out (callousness toward the environment, torture, the A-bombs), while keeping in perspective the greater dangers and heresies and threats of what is ironically known as liberalism: debauchery, blasphemies, hubris, abortion, AIDs and the sex revolution, oppression, hypocrisy of a tolerant society, the dangers of Hate Speech and Hate Crime legislation, the flaws of investing power in governments for problem solving, etc.).

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.  


  1. What? But you're blogging is getting good now! Heck the previous post on star wars I loved (just hadn't figured out how to say it).

    Did you go and become orthodox on us? ;-D lol

  2. I'm not leaving the blog. You'll see. I'll be unpacking things over the next few.

  3. Sir:

    Mr. Shea was absolutely heroic defending the Church's teachings regarding the 5th Commandment. No small thing.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  4. Richard,

    Defending the Church is one thing. Using the same tactics that you condemn others for using in doing so is a problem. Encouraging readers to champion ignoring Church teachings in one side of the Catechism while waging war against fellow Catholics over other sides of the Catechism is a problem. Making your blog into the same thing you used to condemn blogs for is an issue. If Catholics should have learned anything over the last 1000 years, it's that simply 'defending the Church' is not a blank check to do so any way you choose. Especially if one of your main pet peeves is other Catholics who defend the Church the wrong way, but feel it doesn't matter because they are defending the Church. Mark has a lot of good points commending him. But the changes over the years were not always for the better. At least, outside of a Catholic apologetics environment.

  5. Mr. Griffey:

    Thank you for your reply.

    May I re-post what I Left on another Catholic blog which attacked Mr. Voris?:

    "It is Christmas. Can we not have a cease fire? A sort of Peace of God among the Catholic media? Maybe until the New Year. Thanks!"

    I am an old man. I have watched in horror at the once united Catholic blog-dom has descended into a most uncivil, civil war. (You, OTH, have been most civil.)

    We are all born with the effects of Original Sin some of which linger even after Baptism. Perhaps, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Savior we should remember Mr. Voris and Mr. Shea for their defense of the One, True. Catholic and Apostolic Church?

    Let us help one another on our journey home.

    A very Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    Richard W Comerford

  6. Thank you for the kind and thoughtful reply. And a very merry Christmas, and blessed new year to you and your family. I think all of us would do well to set aside the sniping and come together for common cause.

    `Folly it may seem,' said Haldir. 'Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him.

  7. You're absolutely on target with everything you say.

    Shea has a public platform which he uses to address matters Catholic; and consequently needs to expect legitimate feedback and critique on his commentary.

    You have analyzed it better than anything I have ever read on Shea's problematic developments as a blogger in recent times.

    I am shocked that EWTN'S Register is taking him on, given his insulting, problematic, liberal and biased perspectives as a Catholic.

    It is no small thing to contribute to the formation (or deformation) of Catholic thinking in a public forum.

    Catholic journalism must stand up to highest standards of orthodoxy and adherence to the traditional Magisterium and "Sensus Catholicus".

    Thank you for your amply justified critique of Shea's performance in that regard.

  8. Thanks. It gives me no pleasure, and I would gladly have been more blunt on his own blog, but for the developed practice of banning people who would do what I wanted. He still has some great pieces, thought many he publishes now are simply older articles from the day. Still, I owe him much, and am thankful for what he has done for me. I simply wish he and his blog had not changed as it did over time. But then, it does seem to reflect the changes going on in the Church today, if you think on it.

  9. Very sorry for the long post.

    This is an interesting piece and one I can relate to. I have to add though that I think Mark is a symptom of where we are going in the Church. First, it may appear Shea is an opportunist or bilking the system. I'd say to those who see it that way that I don't agree tho I have been blocked and banned from time to time on his blog for all the reasons you outline here. I personally find his positions now to be laughable, if they weren't so common...

    I believe we are witnessing in the Church today what went on in Britain after Henry VIII; the slow surrender of Catholics to novel doctrine. I, too am a convert and it appears obvious to me that many orthodox Catholics {forget about the liberals...} are struggling under the chaos of this current straw-breaking-the-camel's-back pontificate, especially as they have developed over time a world view that involves all sorts of mental gymnastics to reconcile common "street teaching" of Bishops and Popes since the '60's w/ the repeated, consistent and age-old teaching of the Church prior to that. Their allegiance to Jesus Himself is being tested and they tend to see the Church in terms of the Pope which means for them that whatever the Pope says goes. Period. THAT'S what it means to be "orthodox".

    Problem is their world view has confronted a sea change. It isn't any longer about how to maintain the tension between the teaching of Lumen Gentium on other religions and a certain truly orthodox interpretation, but rather now we have utter collapse of doctrinal truth among many, many leaders, the Pope being one who is most easily included in this group tho due to his style who can really tell?

    So while most can, for example, admit Pope St JPII made a mistake to kiss the Koran or maybe even...straining...see why he did it and "accept that", this pontificate is so chock full of "Koran kissing" {etc, etc, etc...} that the Mark Shea's now have moved into the realm of maintaining logical and theological absurdities in order to continue asserting their "orthodoxy". I see it with other commentators, even up to and including respected men like George Weigel.

    I see Mark Shea as a man who SEES the problems but has not the guts to truly admit they are problems. Like many, he continues to assert that "teaching hasn't changed" when clearly among many including this Pope it truly HAS changed.

    Now, has the doctrine and dogma of the FAITH changed? No, not on paper.

    It is mighty hard for a man to go on as they do and continue asserting that unchanging dogma and doctrines can be reconciled with Pope Francis' views on the death penalty, marriage/divorce/nullity, "Mother Earth" {YIKES!}, other religions and Kasperism {that "serene theology" or his utter lack of disciplining of those who step wide of doctrinal orthodoxy.

    Some, like Mark, throw in the towel and just parrot the narrative because they cannot swallow the facts. There are many like that. There will be, I'm afraid, many more as a culture of doctrinal heterodoxy continues to grow in the wealthy West.

  10. I should add that when I raised entirely legitimate questions on Mark's blog as a clearly "conservative" Catholic, my account was shut down even though I was completely civil in the points I raised; while - on the other hand - those who jumped on me like madmen using denigrating and insulting terminology in response to my posts were allowed to continue posting after I was shut down.

  11. Yes Marie, the sad irony being that, in the early days of his blog, only personal attacks or false accusations would get you banned. Attack ideas - left or right - all day long. Now false accusations fly like crows. I, personally, have been accused on CAEI of no caring about Jesus, not caring about Church teaching, not caring about murdered children, wanting to increase human slaughter, being a sexist, a racist, and a bigot. That is in addition to the obligatory name calling and childish insults that became par for the course. But hold your ground on a more traditional or conservative viewpoint, and being banned occurred within moments. That, to me, was one of the sadder developments. One of the reasons I started my humble contribution to the blogosphere was that I kept being banned at the Huffington Post. I would seldom mention Mark on this blog if I thought I could speak more freely on his.

  12. Valdemar,

    Good insights. I don't know. I don't know how or why Mark would reconcile his tendency to do nothing but blast almost everything to do with conservative ways of approaching the Faith and laud and celebrate self proclaimed liberals and liberal ideas while consistently maintaining he is a conservative. That the Church and the bulk of its leaders are going in that direction is clear enough to see. Though I think it's clearer in the Dying West. How common that is in other cultures I don't know. Perhaps that is behind it. All I know is that it happened, and he changed, and in my view, CAEI and the apologetics world that embraced it was the worse for it.

  13. Valdemar,
    I thought you made some very good points. Thank you. I found your blog on Pewsitter. I am seeing this mentality that you talk about amongst Catholics more and more. I think that this haze is from the father of lies .Abortion is a foundational issue for faithful Catholics. Doing what we can to preserve the great beauty that God has given us on the earth is right but to place 'climate change' science as dogma is not. The science is still out on that even if they will not let us have a say. Why is it that the "Catholics' like Pelosi, Kerry and Biden are so with Francis on climate change but adamant that abortion is a good thing for women? My litmus test ( of course...the Catechism ) is that if they think something is good then the chances are that I should think the complete opposite!!

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  15. Shea is quitting his blog for one reason only: he's a coward. For the last two and a half years he's been trashing critics of this Modernist pope, and now that he realizes this papacy is no longer defensible, it's time to tuck tail and run. Well good riddance, unfortunately he'll go on to destroy EWTN / NCRegister, which have taken a decidedly neoCatholic turn ever since M. Angelica lost control to establishment Catholics, mostly whom are Protestant converts like him (Dan Burke comes to mind). Oh, and Shea was always a Seattle leftie, he just hid it well behind his Catholicism for awhile anyway, but the truth always outs.

    Steve D.

  16. *Some* former evangelicals *seem* to have a difficult time letting go of sola scriptura at their deepest level. They replace "Bible Only" with "Magisterium only" and have an unnuanced sense of what that means AND in the JPII era came to associate that with papal statements of any sort. Hence the ultramontanism. Shea fell into that. Plus he saw Francis as popular and of course wanted to be associated with that.

    But more important than his precise position on any political or religious spectrum is his style, which has become shockingly, almost mindlessly cruel. He may not be at Patheos, but his style will be still public on Facebook, where he *constantly* posts and argues, throwing up straw man after straw man, labeling people instead of listening and dismissing points of view, assisted by his able helpers D. Conway, and D. Fisher, Simcha's husband. It's like a trainwreck - to watch them descend and gleefully mock and revile people simply trying to ask questions and clarify. Horrible.

  17. I couldn't begin to say why Mark became the way we did. I know he has become more successful in doing so. But then, that's what drives ratings. As a general rule, most debates on television aren't 'hey, let's you and me talk respectfully about this.' Again, the saddest thing being that Mark, back in the day, saw that and rightly criticized that approach to debate. Now, it is almost a caricature of what he was was bad about the blogosphere and apologetics. And in a burst of near hypocrisy, Mark is still the first to criticize others for proclaiming the message in a bad way. But again, it's hard to argue with success. And given the accolades and advancements he has received, apparently there are many Catholics in high places who like what he brings to the table.

  18. Maybe somebody here can answer this for me. I have found a number of commentators on Catholicism to be theologically un-educated. I don't know what Shea's background is but he appears to me to lack doctrinal depth of knowledge. He's a "pop theologian" and keys on what's been going on since Vatican 2, as if the Catholic faith started in 1965. I find this a lot among neo's. Is it common for Catholic commentators to be devoid of theological education?

    The obvious trouble is such folks have this glaring tendency to see the Catholic Church as an outfit dreamed up in the traffic jam after Woodstock, music and all! If you go back any further you start running into all sorts of issues with continuity of teaching, forced redefinitions of words and doctrines, etc. That mental pretzel-bending pops up again.

    A corollary to this is current discussion on Catholic social doctrine. We hear for example ad infinitum Rerum Novarum cited. Always Rerum Novarum!! But never Quod Apostolic Muneris {On the Evils of Socialism} written by the exact same Pope!!! If one reads Rerum Novarum, which was written AFTER Quod, a totally different perspective is gained. Quod Apostolic Muneris defines Rerum Novarum in a very similar way a contract begins with definitions of words to be used. And neither do we EVER, repeat, EVER find CCC 2427 "If any one will not work, let him not eat” or the Sacred Scripture citation for it, either! Yet in the affluent Western societies, this is a HUGE issue that should be addressed.

    Now go try to engage Shea on any of this and see how far you get.

    As a convert I see what I call "Democatholicism" in the USA. It is a blending in equal parts of Democrat policy with Catholic doctrine. It might even be called a syncretistic religion, cuz it sure ain't the Catholic faith of the Ages. Democatholics permeate the USCCB's, too, tho with the last voting recommendations there may indeed be some change in the works. If there is, and if it takes off and there is a "conversion" of thought and adherence to doctrine in the US Catholic Church, I bet you find many "Shea's" "coming home". Blades of grass have that tendency you know, bending whichever way the wind is blowing...

  19. I think there is certainly a strong trend now in Catholicism to accept the idea that doctrine is always changing and developing. So where Socialism once might have been evil, it is not so today. Because today, we say so.

    Mark's great gift was breathing heart and life into his theological musings. Read his early works. He rose above theology by numbers and that's not bad. But he isn't trained, and more so, like so many on the Catholic blogosphere, doesn't have to minister alongside his pronouncements. He isn't, for want of a better word, accountable. At least Fr. Longenecker is a priest, and therefore sees theology in the lives of his charge, sees it in the ER and the funeral home and on the street. That always makes a difference. In my ministry days, we could always tell a professor who had been in some form of pastoral ministry as opposed to one that had ever and always been only a scholar.

    But I think you are right. It's almost impossible to miss that the fact that the Church - like many Western religious traditions - is being pulled toward compromising with the victorious post-Christian progressive movement.

  20. I think Fr Longnecker is another good example of a guy who is really being taxed right now. You can see it in his writing. His tension and inability to reconcile past and present results in lashing out occaisionally in a way most unbecoming to...himself and his own previously stated beliefs. I actually like the guy as far as his writing is concerned {I don't know him} but I feel bad for him.

    These fellows simply lack the resolve to look at the FACTS and say unequivocally;

    "We have a huge problem. The leaders of the Church up to and including this Pope are not upholding Catholic truth."

    I have a friend who is among that crowd. He just cannot admit the blatant and obvious. For him there must be an satisfactory explanation for all this chaos and heterodoxy. He attacks those who describe the Pope as one who defends heretics, appoints heretics and supports divergent teaching as "Protestants", especially if you are a convert as you have never really fully converted!

    It goes on and on and, in a way, one can hardly blame a guy like Shea for sticking with what he has heard Catholic leaders say since the days of the first episode of the Partridge Family to the exclusion of what was said for the previous nearly 2000 years. It IS hard to reconcile much of what has happened. Impossible for some of it.

  21. If you want to know the real reason Shea is not going to blog, click on the link and read some of the comments:


  22. I wonder. There have been petitions in the past aimed at Mark. Mark's blog, sadly, became a caricature of the very things he once condemned. Today, you have to go to some pretty deep, dark Protestant Fundamentalist sites to find that sort of atmosphere. Atheist sites are the closest I can find in terms of the rancor and basic behavior. Though mainline leftist sites, such as Huffpost and Daily Kos can, not surprisingly, be similar. A shame. I miss the early days and the quality and insight that Mark brought. I miss where people, even Mark's friends, would be called out if they became too personal or were on the edge of making false accusations. But then, again, it's tough to argue with success.

  23. David, I sent the petition to Patheos on Dec. 14. Two days later, one of my Facebook friends tells me that Shea decided to discontinue his blog after the first of the year. I contacted Patheos' executive editor and she told me she hadn't had a chance to discuss anything with him.

    Coincidence? I think not.

  24. It could be. I don't know. It saddens me that such a thing would - or should - be done. Perhaps it might shake him back to what he used to be. But then watching where the Church and the growing percentage of the Church's leadership seems to be going, I'm not so sure.


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