Tuesday 28 April 2015

Was it the Mad Trads?

I really have a lot of hair. Michael has a lot of books.
Today is Traddy Tuesday, the day I address some aspect of traditional Catholic worship for the sake of disappointed would-be converts who go to their local parish Mass thinking "Flannery" and experience flummery instead.

It's a sad day for Traddy Catholics in my native Toronto because one of Canada's most widely read and talented Catholic apologists, Michael Coren, has joined the Anglican Church of Canada. Online the reactions of Catholics range from bored "Who cares? He was off the rails anyway" remarks to horrified "We must pray for him" exhortations. In one corner people are squabbling over whether doing a return swim across the Tiber to the Protestant shore counts as apostasy or whether you have to actually abjure Christ for that.

Traditionally Catholics make a big song and dance whenever we welcome a notable convert--it was worldwide Catholic news when Frances Chesterton set aside Anglicanism to enter the Church--but we are unsure what to do when we lose one, especially one who was a bestselling Catholic apologist. I mean, we were not talking a 1,000 print run at Novalis here, but reprints from Canada's most iconic publisher McClelland and Stewart, which is now owned by Penguin-Random House.

A dozen other Canadian Catholic apologists can only dream of such commercial success, and I am close to banging my head on the keyboard as I write. Naturally all the issues are all jumbled up in my head: spiritual, literary, commercial, apologetical, evangelical, ecumenical...

One of my fellow journos has asked me why I am still thinking about this (ten hours after finding out about it on Facebook), and it is because I have actually met Michael Coren, admired his talent, am grateful for his appraisal of my own work, and was glad to have such hard-working, high-profile journalist fighting our corner. I was even on one of his shows.

Michael's writing style is not my writing style; if I want to snark at bit at ideological opponents, I get out my stiletto. Michael, however, takes out a bazooka. At some wedding or other, I remember a very lefty Catholic prof--very passionate about ecumenism and interfaith dialogue--telling me he read my unlefty articles in the CR, but he always got too angry to finish Michael's. Well, Michael's always been a polemicist; I prefer telling stories.

The (or A) story of Michael is that some months ago, perhaps a year ago, he began to dissent on Catholic doctrine about homosexuality. He cites as the reason for this the really nasty things he has heard and read Catholics saying about homosexuals. I am not sure why 2014 would be the watershed year for that; many Catholics have been dead scared of homosexuals-in-the-abstract for decades, earlier because we thought they might hurt or corrupt our children--and the Catholic agony concerning issues around gay priests and bishops  is incredibly painful--and more recently because of the gay lobby's influence over (A) law courts and (B) how human anthropology as taught in schools. Meanwhile, of course, an estimated 2-4% percent of baptized Catholics probably have same-sex desires themselves, and so of course many Catholics have gay children and friends, et alia.  God only knows how many gay-marriage-opposing grandmothers are nevertheless completely untroubled by a campy or merely girly pastor or bishop.

Since Saint Paul clearly states that the Kingdom of Heaven is closed to sexually active homosexuals, and all branches of the Christian faith considered homosexual sexual acts to be serious sins until the late 20th century, the Catholic is left with the painful task of being faithful to Catholic doctrine and inclusive of homosexuals as fellow human beings made in the image and likeness of God at the same time. Michael seems to have found that too many Catholics failed at this task, and when he wielded his bazooka at these Catholics, they shot back.

Over Facebook, Michael has announced that he has been "a happy Anglo-Catholic" for over a year, which is certainly news to his Roman Catholic audience. He also characterizes the reaction to the news of his reception as "dripping with abuse and hatred" which is also news to me, for I watched the story break on Facebook last night and followed it until midnight when I went sadly to bed.

Even the most critical  remarks did not strike me not as abusive and hateful. There were no threats, no name-calling, no obscene photo-shopped photos, no obscenities--in fact, nothing like what I recently received from a gay "Catholic" (i.e. Scottish of Irish extraction) teenage stranger on Facebook for a remark I made about pastoral care for Cardinal O'Brien, At worse Michael's critics were angry and contemptuous. For the most part the comments I saw were shocked, surprised, doubting, sorry, disappointed, sorrowful, hurt and prayerful. I hope Michael balances those against the comments he finds "abusive and hateful."

Meanwhile, I know Vox Cantoris, too, and he is not an abusive, hate-filled person. He is a disappointed idealist who puts contemporary Catholic apologists on a pedestal, works hard to advance their interests, and feels terribly betrayed when they go wandering off. (Note to Michael Voris: Don't go wandering off.) Like many churchgoing Canadian Catholics, he feels increasingly marginalized--not only by secular society but by clerics--and often frightened that being too outspoken about his traditional beliefs will bring him financial ruin.

I am not sure the latest chapter of the Michael Coren Story has any clear lessons for tradition-loving Catholics except that faith is a gift that can be taken away, so perhaps praying that ours isn't, is a good idea. We should also pray for our lay apologists, perhaps remembering them when we remember our priests, bishops, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict. And we shouldn't take them for granted! Heaven only knows which angry email or tweet flicked Michael on the raw so much he decided to divorce us all while, er, still filling his engagements, as it were. It is not true that all journalists have skins like rawhide. I certainly do not!

So it is a sad day for the Roman Catholic Church in Canada,  and whether he knows it or not, Michael himself. My great hope is that Michael will take a long sabbatical from religious issues and concentrate on the political realm. Of course, these are deeply connected these days, so I will amend that to say that I hope Michael uses his energy--and very admirable work habits--to demand justice and protection for the beleguered Christians of Asia and Africa.


  1. They say: "A bad friend is worse than a good enemy." Maybe we're better off without him.

  2. "Ah, but I know the truth about [Michael Coren]. He doesn't believe in God..."

    Of course, I have no idea if my little twist on that quotation (from the "Grand Inquisitor" section of The Brothers Karamazov, in case anyone doesn't recognize it in its present disguise), really is true, but I suspect it might be.

    I'm not surprised by this, really, given various things the man has said in recent years. I'm angry at the way he did it, as if to cause maximum embarrassment to his former supporters: "Ha, ha, I abandoned you folks a while back, and you never even noticed. How dim can you get? Not to mention hateful."

    Alias Clio

  3. I don't think that is likely. I believe the current trend among professional Catholics (and in the UK Anglicans) who have lost their faith is to stay in their job and collect the money they accrue thereby. This would explain a lot, particularly in Germany where the Church is incredibly rich, and possibly in the USA as well. Pickings in Canada are much slimmer.

    Financially, Coren stands to lose a LOT. EWTN has already cancelled his appearance this week, and I hear by the grapevine Legatus has cancelled his speaking engagements. Thus, I can see why he hid the fact he had become an Anglican until he was, basically, outed on Facebook.

    So Michael is certainly not going to profit financially from his switch, and given the contrast between the beliefs he so fervently held and the ecclesial community he has chosen to join, there is a much more charitable explanation. And so, I think the most charitable thing to be said is, "Let's pray for him."

    1. I am sorry; I did not mean to suggest that he would profit from his switch. I meant only that once you join the Anglican Church (rather than some other Christian communion) you let go of much in terms of Christian belief, as many other difficult moral matters are not major issues there today. I expect that many Anglicans wish this were not so, but their Church is rather flexible.
      Alias Clio

    2. Well, there is profit and profit. "What profits a man...?" I cannot for the life of me decide, nor can Facebook gossip suggest, why on earth MC chose the Anglicans of all people. There is not a hint of a whisper of a shadow of a rumour that he wishes to alter his domestic life. On the other hand, High Church Anglicans insist they are "Catholic", so that may be it. If you want to be Catholic and yet not be considered part of the Catholic Church, I suppose one might be tempted to adopt the Anglo-Catholic point of view.

    3. Well, didn't he abjure the Church's teaching on marriage some while back? As far as I know the Anglicans have no objection to his position in that regard, while the Catholic Church certainly does.

    4. Hmm...Well, when it comes to real marriage, I never heard that. He seems to have come out in support of same-sex "marriage", however, although I am not exactly sure, since his famous "I was wrong" article is mostly about his dismay that people took exception to his defense of the right to life of homosexuals in Africa and Russia. But I cannot imagine an ordinary Canadian Catholic thinking executing gays for homosexuality or homosexual acts was a good thing!

      He is tweeting about the response to his conversion to Anglicanism, and the tone is mocking and bitterly sarcastic, which is very sad and bewildering He combines contempt that "right wing Catholics" have only now figured out he's Anglican with annoyance that these "right wing Catholics" have spent 24 hours telling everyone.

      But my reaction is "How was anyone to know MC had left the Church when he never announced it? He went on describing himself as "an orthodox and Catholic Christian"--which, now that I think about it, has that sneaky "and" in there, which does sound a little strange, but a very tiny nuance, indeed! And it is natural that Roman Catholics are going to warn each other that MC is no longer a Roman Catholic! We've been living under a false impression for a year, and MC was a significant Roman Catholic pundit!

      Well, if you're going to have a big secret like that, it's good to be a journalist because in my experience people in newsrooms stick up for each other and editors in particular support their writers.

    5. Also I don't think anyone imagined a day when MC would sneer at "right-wing Catholics." He was one until yesterday! (That is, up until over a year ago.)

  4. Until I looked up his Wikipedia entry (which might of course contain errors) I had no idea that he had already gone through several conversions. He initially converted to Catholicism, then became an evangelical, then a Catholic again, and now an Anglican. That's four conversions, so he's clearly a restless heart, and perhaps we ought to have been prepared for him to do something like this.

    If he had merely announced that he had experienced a change of heart and mind regarding certain Catholic positions, I would have disagreed with but continued to read and in certain areas support him. His contempt for us, however, leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

    Alias Clio

  5. Well, I can't find that comment anymore, so maybe he was.

    It's all sad, and I am frightened by the news of another secret, which is the subject of the new book he is writing for Random House. Are we poor old papes really going to get it in the neck?


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