|I really have a lot of hair. Michael has a lot of books.|
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.