Aug 4, 2015
"Church Militant" – a producer of online videos – has people scratching their heads this month. Again.
The self-proclaimed defender of Catholic Orthodoxy has – in the space of a few days – attacked a seminary for promoting modesty, and married couples for using NFP. For the well-informed, it's probably prompting chuckles too, because, as it turns out, the positions the group is advocating seem to be in conflict with those of popes, saints and Church fathers.
First, the modesty problem. Last week Kathy Schiffer at Patheos took issue with the group's leader, Michael Voris, for his comments regarding the reasons for the promotion of modesty at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He basically argued that the new policy – which requires seminarians to wear bathrobes rather than simply towels coming to and from the shower – was designed to accommodate numerous homosexual seminarians that were present in the seminary. According to Schiffer, Voris' telling of the facts was an inaccurate and uncharitable interpretation of what had actually happened.
What happened next was vintage Voris. No retraction. No recasting. His minions took public issue with Schiffer, and then he went after the seminary again. (One wonders if modesty was observed on Church Militant's Lenten cruise that ran the same week as many party schools' "spring break").
The less-than-complete description of the Vatican documents Voris cited was far less surprising and surreal than seeing the self-proclaimed defender of orthodoxy shocked, shocked, to find modesty in this seminary establishment.
It's been in such establishments for a while. Monastic communities have been so concerned about modesty in bathing from the beginning that some basically banned the practice altogether. Take the 4th century Rule of St. Pachomius – the father of communal Christian monasticism. He forbade bathing outright for fear of homosexual temptations. Others have done the same. And one wonders what Voris would do if local Benedictines became known for fully following the Rule of St. Benedict. It advises monks to bathe rarely, avoid sharing beds, and sleep in their full habits.
Sacred Heart's solution – bathrobes to and from the shower – isn't all that radical, and might even be a good hygienic compromise, especially during the humid summer months.
But appearing to be on the wrong side of Church Fathers, popes, bishops and orthodox Catholic theologians is a well-traveled road for Voris and his group in their quest to purify the Church, often on a less than fully informed – or fully detailed – basis.
How could they top this? Easy. A Church Militant contributor then decided to attack NFP and the Catholic couples that use it, stating that "NFP is contraception." Of course, this is not the view of the Church or the popes, as pointed out by Deacon Jim Russell at Catholic Vote in a point-by-point rebuttal. With only a fraction of Catholics supporting Church teaching on artificial contraception, is it really helpful to attack the faithful ones who are using NFP? And it should be noted that fertility awareness works both ways. It can help with conception or birth spacing, depending on how it's used.
As with most things that generate controversy at "Church Militant," it is when the coverage focuses on the negative that many find the group's views hypocritical. What seems to gall many practicing Catholics and commentators is that the militants often seem to focus on those groups and individuals trying harder and more publically than most to promote Church teaching on issues such as life, sexual ethics, and marriage. These groups are then basically accused by the militants of either not doing enough, or not doing it right. Almost no one it seems, is pure enough for the "Church" of the militant.
Of course, as a general rule, nuance and a real depth of knowledge are harder to muster than inflammatory statements and cries of heterodoxy.
And "Church Militant" is not a group that has made a name for itself through keen and well researched insight, or even by breaking major news stories on important issues. Instead, viewers can easily get the impression that this group is on a quest to point out the specks in the eyes of Catholics everywhere. They just don't always call them specks. Could it be that one man's speck is another man's scandal, and that scandals sell better than specks?
Despite their militant approach to reporting on others, few of those it scrutinizes react as defensively as "Church Militant" itself. This is made clear by the defensive offensive launched by his co-workers or partisans on just about any piece that takes issue with Voris and company.
Bravado aside, just how Catholic is this group? Well, it depends on who you ask.
It used to be known as "Real Catholic TV." Being primarily an online and YouTube service, the title was perhaps a bit overly grand. And when the Archdiocese of Detroit decided it wasn't real Catholic either, Voris et al. were forced to drop the word "Catholic" from their title and changed to the new name, "Church Militant."
A change in name did not necessarily mean a change in tactics, and the group continues on its hunt for Catholics who – in its view – aren't quite Catholic enough, even if the Church hierarchy allows many of those groups to use the name Catholic, but not their accuser.
Of course, for "Church Militant" and Michael Voris, some people always get a pass. At the top of that list seems to be Voris himself. (One can only imagine his reaction to someone else's swanky Lenten cruise during spring break).
There are others too. Pope Francis has appeared to support NFP, for instance, and definitely said things in a tone much more charitable than theirs. But often, instead of going after the pope himself, Church Militant instead takes issue with his unnamed advisors.
It is an interesting, some might say disingenuous, tactic that they have applied to others as well.
For instance, Voris blamed unnamed archdiocesan staffers in the controversy over his use of the word "Catholic" in his group's name. Other times the militants' attacks are aimed at bishops described in detail, but not actually named.
But others are named. Father (now Bishop-elect) Robert Barron earned their ire for taking a position on hell reminiscent of Von Balthazar's and perhaps closer to Pope Benedict XVI's line than to Voris'. Barron was all but a heretic in Voris-land.
Now Father Barron has been named a bishop in Los Angeles. And the group that thinks he is spouting heresy still can't use the word "Catholic" in its name. It will be interesting to see if Bishop Barron, or only his nameless advisors, will be at fault in any future attacks.
Others too have been "Vorised," often without their own side presented accurately – or at all.
Caught in his dragnet are not just bishops, but Catholic groups large and small – and some individuals too. The evidence may seem like hearsay, or might be fairly seen from a different perspective, but that doesn't stop the tabloid-style headlines. Small mistakes may be reported as large ones, and large mistakes may be seen as conspiracies. At times perhaps evil or fearful motives might be even assumed or implied as well in these videos. Watch if you must, but don't ask for too much evidence on that front either.
Even the most Catholic of groups, like Catholic Answers, Ave Maria Radio, Immaculate Heart Radio, EWTN, the Knights of Columbus, the National Catholic Register and many others are often attacked by Voris and company. Either they are not focused enough on the right sins, or are not doing enough on an issue (no matter how much they do), or they are following the lead of their bishops, rather than ignoring it.
To the militant ones, it seems it could be sin, not virtue, to listen to the pastors appointed by the pope. And if you work hard or speak out on an issue, be prepared to hear why it's not hard enough, and if your words are strong, well, they could be stronger. And so it goes.
The result is that many can only scratch their heads when watching the militants carry on about "liberal" tendencies within groups regularly slammed by the mainstream media as being too "conservative."
Even the term "agent provocateur" has been used to describe Voris. Is it possible that his attacks on those individuals and groups working hard to promote Church teaching on key issues is designed to hamper them and make them less effective? Stranger things have been known to happen.
Non-Christians – most notably Jews – have also been in for rough treatment from Voris. In his view, they bailed on their covenant with God and ascribe to a man-made religion. But you won't hear from him that his view could be seen as in serious tension with those of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Avery Cardinal Dulles – hardly sources of heterodoxy.
To those who know the rest of the story, the militants' accusations are often laughable. But if a half truth or insinuation is the cause of a scandal, is the accused – or the accuser – at fault?
Voris' viewers would do well to remember that between the sixth and ninth commandments we find the seventh and the eighth – and that theft of reputation and bearing false witness are every bit as sinful as sins of the flesh. Indeed, the devil has something for everyone.
The critics should also pray for Voris and his team. Maybe not that so much that they grow in chastity, but that they grow in the other virtues historically seen as counterweights to the seven deadly sins: charity, humility, kindness, patience, temperance, and diligence.
An increase of those virtues would almost certainly change the tenor and content of their videos.
Those virtues might also help rectify the fact that Voris and his staff have sometimes proven more human than divine: in what they have done – and what they have failed to do – in terms of their journalistic and research standards, and in other areas as well.
At World Youth Day 2011, the organizers took the extraordinary step of warning the faithful that Voris' presence and programming were not authorized. Against that backdrop, the news broke that he and his team were soliciting money as tax deductible with a former, but by then defunct, non-profit company.
Compounding the issue was that Voris – no stranger to blaming leaders for the actions of subordinates – suddenly found trouble on his own staff. His outfit's "biblical" expert was discovered to be moonlighting as the author of role-playing games that were sexually explicit – some said pornographic. There was only the most tenuous connection. Those playing the game had the opportunity for – shall we say – "biblical knowledge," even of a homosexual variety.
Voris suddenly embraced the notion of benefit of the doubt – for himself. He gave his assurance that he knew nothing about his subordinate's actions. He took the man off the program for a while. The financial issues were all the result of innocent errors and honest mistakes, he claimed. And of course, he said, anonymous enemies were the reason the story had come to light at all.
If four years on, he – and his staff – learned anything from the experience, extending the benefit of the doubt to others on anything like a regular basis does not seem to be high on the list.
And so the hunt for the specks in the eyes of others continues. Want a retraction? Try the New York Times – you will probably have better luck there.
And that brings us to another recent, confusing utterance by Voris. He claimed on one of his "radio-style" shows that his group is non-profit and transparent in its salaries, funding, etc. As with so many things Voris, it's just not quite true.
A quick search of the Michigan Secretary of State's website reveals that Voris works not with one company, but with two. St. Michael's Media, is in fact non-profit – the resurrection of the once defunct group that created so much trouble for him in 2011. But contrary to the promises on his show, you won't get your questions answered by the information from that group's tax form.
Let's be clear: Voris and the militants have gone after Catholic executive after Catholic executive for their compensation. It has suggested – or allows on its programs – unsubstantiated claims about financial motives by other groups. And it has done this while claiming openness and transparency, and, implicitly it seems, humble poverty too.
But when you look at Voris' non-profit filings on GuideStar, the most recent available (2013) says he receives no salary. In fact, it says almost nothing.
You see, it's not the only company in Voris-land.
Voris' signature appears on another company's founding documents from 1997. That is Concept Communications, LLC, which definitely seems to be for-profit, and does business under the name "Church Militant." No pesky form 990 to file. No need for transparency. What money that company makes or what its relationship is to the non-profit is unclear. What salaries are paid is not revealed, but what is clear is that Voris' public assertion about his non-profit providing transparency to his viewers definitely raises more questions than it answers.
In fairness, perhaps he doesn't know that government filings indicate that Church Militant is a money-making limited liability company. Perhaps he doesn't know which company pays his salary. Maybe it's a clerical error by faceless advisors or accountants. Rest assured, dear reader, he is not to blame.
And if you don't believe me, his minions will almost certainly be along directly to tell you so in the comments below.