Wednesday 20 May 2015

Those Nasty Far-Right Catholics

Power to the Persons! What? Oh, uh, the People!
I did not break the story of Michael Coren's April 19 formal embrace of the Anglican Church of Canada. My Facebook link to the Anglican Church of Canada's own April 23 Facebook declaration of Coren's switch followed that of another Catholic journalist. I blogged on the topic on April 27, and so did Vox Cantoris in Toronto.

Before blogging, however, I wrote to MC himself because my very first thought, when I saw the news, was that the critique he had received from his (I thought) fellow Roman Catholics about his

 A) remarks about how nasty the Church is to call homosexuality "disordered" (not an insult, as he very well knows, but a technical, theological term) and [its sexual acts] sinful,

B) suggestions that parents who object to the proposed new sex education program in schools are "homophobic", and

C) insinuations that pro-life activist Mary Wagner is an attention-seeking wannabe martyr

had flicked him on the raw so much that he had rushed off to a liberal Protestant denomination, female clergymen and all, scarfing whole handfuls of anti-depressants on the way. I take anti-depressants myself, and when you're depressed, the mildest of contradictions from a stranger can feel like a horrible betrayal by a beloved friend.

Now, personal correspondence is personal correspondence, but even though I'm a Catholic journalist--and, Holy Saint Thomas, but does the mainstream Catholic press groan in agonies of conscience for days before publishing anything controversial--I'm a journalist in wicked BRITAIN, so I will say that MC's reply led me to believe that until that moment, MC had not known the story had broken.


Mindful that I was sitting on the biggest Catholic news story of the week, I asked him for an interview, and he turned down my request.

He also made a remark about "the Church of Nasty," and I wrote back to rabbit on about how it was also the church of saints, including Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (almost certainly a homosexual) and Saint Edith Stein, for whom he might have an affinity.

I later regretted mentioning her although Catholics of Jewish descent I've met have been very proud to be both Catholic and Jewish. (In the past decades the Coren family--MC's uncle Alan is still a household name in the UK among those who remember Punch, and I recently saw his cousin Giles on TV--seems to have regarded its Jewish roots mostly as a historical curiosity.)  MC mentioned later with distaste that people had been citing his Jewish background, and I wondered later if he had spun my remark about "affinity" in his mind into some lurid anti-Semitic smear.

Because, not belonging to Fleet Street but to the mainstream Catholic press, I was still entertaining the most charitable assumption, which was that MC had flipped his lid. When I wrote my blogpost, I reminded myself that although this was indeed the biggest Catholic news story of the week, MC could be mentally ill and therefore not entirely responsible for exchanging the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto for the Anglican diocese of Toronto without informing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese's official newspaper, whose prize-winning columnist he was.

This, however, became harder to believe when MC wrote to a supporter, “Some right-wing Catholics finally realized I’d been an Anglican for a year and spent last 24 hrs telling everybody.”   He had earlier said he was an "Anglo-Catholic"--something I emphasized in my subsequent column--but here he was saying "I'd been an Anglican for a year" which suggested something more culpable than a depressive episode. Incidentally, his remark was untrue. All the supposed "right-wing" Catholics had discovered--most of us from the Anglican Diocese Facebook page--was that MC had been an Anglican since some as yet unknown date before April 23, 2015. It took social media comments from Coren for us to realize it had been "a year" or "over a year."

The "right-wing" Catholics have morphed into "far right-wing bloggers", by the way, which is truly giggle-worthy, as I don't think dear Vox has secular political opinions and I had just voted for my dear friend George, who belongs to the Marxist end of the SNP spectrum. And meanwhile, MC keeps harping on the terrible abuse he and his family have allegedly received from Catholics since he was "outed" although, except for one potty-mouthed photoshop job, I have seen little evidence of that.

The nastiness of Catholics to Michael Coren, our inability to spell or keep bile from spewing, has been a  theme of his writing for the past year. When he smeared Mary Wagner, he responded to the criticism by groaning over all the abuse he had received, including from Mary's mother. (Jane Wagner wrote an open letter online, which was not abusive: I don't know about "childish" but MC's insinuations about Mary did strike me as "spiteful" and they shocked me into (A) writing a rebuttal and (B) visiting Mary myself.) Coren's change of heart on matters homosexual came not from intellectual arguments but, apparently, from abuse he had received when he objected to Africans executing homosexuals. As the vast majority of Canadian Catholics, "right-wing" or otherwise, would agree with him that executing people for either homosexuality or homosexual acts is wrong, I cannot imagine who it was who wrote him abuse--if they did.

For here is the sad nub of the matter: in terms of MC receiving outrageous abuse from Roman Catholics (or anyone else), the only evidence his readers have for this is MC's word itself--the reputation of which, considering the suggestio falsi of the past year regarding MC's religious identity, has never been so shaky.  Meanwhile the horrible irony of his phrase "Church of Nasty", which the National Post so obligingly published in its headline, is that there were many "left-wing Catholics" who would have pointed to MC as the nastiest public Catholic in the Archdiocese of Toronto. MC's brand of polemics, original and entertaining as it was for those who agreed with him, was downright un-Canadian.

And this is why I am writing about Coren again, mere hours after advising Vox not to do so. Yesterday Father de Souza wrote in the National Post to complain about MC's complaining, but in the combox, sure enough, were commentators mistaking intellectual honesty for nastiness. I'm Canadian born and bred, and one of the worst things you can say, as a Canadian, to other Canadians, is that another Canadian is nasty. (In Toronto, "right-wing", let alone "far right-wing", is pretty bad too.)

Being nasty is downright un-Canadian, and given the sad history in English-speaking Canada of prejudice against Roman Catholics, the libel that Roman Catholics are A) nasty and B) downright un-Canadian is really easy to stick. Because we have strong Roman Catholic principals that are at odds with the Anglo-Canadian zeitgeist, whether that is saying Mass (an abomination to 19th century Presbyterians) or objecting to same-sex marriage (an abomination to 21st century agnostics), we are called INTOLERANT.

Being intolerant is a terrible social crime in multicultural Toronto, which is so big and crowded, the average man on the street/subway train wishes everyone would shut up and leave him alone to get from A to B untroubled. And as Michael Coren has been in Toronto since 1987, you can bet that he knows that. Indeed, he has built a career on it because his British polemical style was unique to Toronto. And he also knows--indeed he wrote on it--that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice in Canada, and so if he wishes to keep his trademark polemical style as a new member of the"liberal" media, trashing Catholics is the way to go. Because when, instead of just shutting up and going with the new status quo, the poor conscience-stricken Canadian Catholic feels that he or she must protest, it is all to easy to label him or her a hater.

 I am writing this not so much for my fellow Roman Catholics as I am for my fellow Canadians, especially my fellow Torontonians, of whom I am very fond--perhaps even fonder now that I, like over half of them, have become a foreigner, one foot in Canada and  the other in the Old Country. (Special affectionate thoughts for the insanely grumpy Russian loudly broadcasting punk-folk Russian music over some device on my North York bus.)

In short, my fellow Canadians, take anything Michael Coren says about his critics--and his alleged hate mail--with a good heaping kilogram of salt. I am not sure how long Toronto will take a white, happily married, male Englishman's "poor little me" meme seriously, but I hope it gets old fast. Thinking of Joe and Ioanna Toronto swallowing Coren's tales of woe with their morning coffee makes me grind my teeth.

As I believe Coren likes football (i.e. soccer), my great hope is that he can make a switch to sports reporter. He is a good writer, and sports reporters are often awesome writers. Increasingly few men in the West care for religious debate, but sports is serious stuff, and those who read the sports pages are very serious about accuracy. There isn't much room for waffle, suggestio falsi or poor-little-me, but there is quite a lot of room for enjoyable polemics.

Here is a round-up of mainstream Catholic responses to Coren. I wish to bring to the attention of Canadians that not a single Catholic bishop (our real authority figures) has had anything to say on the topic. Not the pope, not a bishop. Just editors and journos, only one of whom is a priest. Note the disappointing lack of bile:

Carl Olson, Catholic World Report
Dorothy Cummings McLean, (Toronto) Catholic Register
Karl Keating, Catholic Answers (May 11)
Peter Stockland, Convivium, (Toronto) Catholic Register*
Karl Keating, Catholic Answers (May 18)
Jimmy Akin, National Catholic Reporter
Father Raymond de Souza, National Post

*Well-catechized Roman Catholic readers will have difficulties with Stockland's ecclesiology.


  1. This is very interesting to read. As for the anti-Semitic thing, I do remember reading some comments of that nature on Twitter and also in response to some of Michael Voris's statements (in the comment section, not from Voris's himself).
    I find the whole situation very sad and I have been praying for him. I wonder if he has a friend or family member who is homosexual? I have known a few practicing Catholics in my life who have changed their views on homosexuality when a family member "comes out".

    Aussie Girl in NZ

  2. Really? What were they? Because all I saw was "Well. maybe he'll become Jewish next, he started life in a Jewish family" type comments. Well, I'll go have a look at Voris's comments section. I suppose in MC's mind, an anonymous stranger writing stupidities on CM counts as writing to him personally.

    The whole "friend or family member?" question has been circulating since June. He says no to the family member theory, but does mention wanting to be able to look gay friends in the eye.

  3. Well, I am back from the CM comments section--ten minutes of my life I'll never have back--and half the comments are about Michael Voris, not MC at all. Meanwhile, there are only two comments about Jews or Judaism that I could find. One (very misspelled) praises "Israeli Jews" for revealing to the commentator over some visual media or other how awful life is for Palestinians. The other is as follows: "Maybe Michael Coren will eventually get around to joining the Amish... Seriously, I think that Coren will return to, and stay with, Judaism"

    Although inaccurate--MC's family wasn't religious--that is not anti-Semitic. It's more of a comment on MC's history of switching denominations. And believe me, I jump a mile when I read or hear something anti-Semitic! For a Canadian of my generation (from North York to boot!), it's like hearing nails screeching down a chalkboard.

    I did see someone remarking that he thought Coren's older daughter was a lesbian, which I suppose is where Coren got that.

    1. Oh, and she isn't, by the way. It's sad that Coren's daughters have been dragged into all this.

  4. Oh i cant find it anymore either! Well either i imagined it or it got deleted.....i dont know. Im going to claim some mental fuzz right now but i do remember shaking my head and wondering why people have to give fuel to the accusations that traditional catholics are antisemetic. My apologies for sending you on a wild goose chase!
    I agree it is very unfair for Coren's daughters to get dragged into this.

    Aussie girl in NZ

  5. Could it have been suggestion? Coren's claims there have been unsavoury comments about his Jewish roots, and hey presto, we think we might have seen some? In Canada (or urban Ontario, anyway,) people police each other's remarks about historical ethnic minorities, and in the NP combox some guy took another guy to task for mentioning that Coren's father was Jewish without mentioning what his mother was. In Toronto, just saying someone is "a Jew" instead of "Jewish" can cause deep embarrassment to bystanders. We are very sensitive that way, probably to the great bepuzzlement of more recent arrivals.

  6. Heather in Toronto22 May 2015 at 15:30

    I've never really paid that much attention to Mr. Coren, other than to note that he had a show on the now defunct Fox-wannabe Sun News channel, but he always struck me as more of a political polemicist than an apologist. There does seem a large amount of irony here in his tarring of right wing conservative Catholics. I guess that now that the hand isn't feeding him anymore there's no reason not to bite it? Or maybe he is now trying to remake his image as a left-wing talking head instead of a right-wing talking head, and is trying to establish his "right wingers are meeeean" progressive credentials? Or maybe he's just really confused and lashing out at everyone who dares to question him.

    It's quite true that there is a small but vocal lunatic fringe within religious conservatism including Catholic conservatism, particularly online, that says some truly awful and unhinged-from-reality things about gay people. But if you are basing your perception of the faith on what the lunatic fringe on either end of the spectrum are saying, you're doing it wrong and someone who wrote a book called Why Catholics Are Right really ought to know better.

    I'm just really not sure what he thinks he has a right to complain about. The thing to do when you lose your paid speaking and writing engagements because your ideological double life is discovered is to accept it and apologize for your duplicity. Well, actually, the thing to do is to tender your resignation as a professional Catholic a year ago, but the next best thing is to deal with it now with at least a little bit of grace.

  7. First, I have to say that I found your blog thanks to your first post regarding the MC Saga, and I'm so very happy to have found it!

    It's been very interesting to witness the unfolding drama regarding MC's defection from the Latin Church - the first sharing on FB of the 'photo', the MC's FB comments, his twitter conversations, the Catholics blogs, the NP interview, etc. Now, we hear he's going to write a new book about it (I suppose he could use the money after having lost all his regular columns and his show).

    What I find very surprising, especially in light of his new article in The Walrus, is just how unserious his reasoning is on this issue. He admits now that his former views (on SSM, contraception, life issues, and, apparently, women's ordination :) ) were expressions of a dogmatism that he's always been uncomfortable with. The implication, of course, is that one cannot be 'against' SSM, et al. without being dogmatic (or better perhaps, fideistic). It seems clearly to me know that he should have never in the apologetics game. Without doubting the sincerity of his faith, he didn't have the real philosophical, theological, and ascetical background needed for that kind of work, despite his experience as a polemicist.


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