The Tragedy of Michael Voris

I’ve long been a defender of Michael Voris.  And I hate it.

What do I mean?  Well, I mean this: Michael Voris is the representative of a certain branch of Catholic opinion, one to which I belong.  He is a part of the post-Summorum Pontificum, neo-traditionalist wing of the Church: we love the traditional Mass and traditional Catholic liturgical/disciplinary practices, Pope Benedict XVI, and we are slightly suspicious of Vatican II while still endorsing Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity.  He is also a gadfly who is not afraid to criticize the American bishops, about whom there is much that merits criticism.

Voris and I disagree fundamentally with how the American bishops promote certain political positions on questions of prudential judgment where Catholics can legitimately disagree.  I think their position on immigration needs to be toned down and become more respectful towards Catholics who simply don’t agree with the bishops’ proposed methods of attaining the goods that Catholic social teaching upholds in the context of immigration.  The same is true in the context of budgetary issues, social welfare spending, health care reform, etc.  I think the way the bishops uphold or oppose specific policies dilutes and relativizes the strength of their teaching on non-negotiable questions like abortion, gay marriage, and the freedom the Church must possess in operating in the public sphere.  I think these and other specific acts by bishops give the–perhaps unintended–impression that Catholics can support either Democrats or Republicans indiscriminately, regardless of their views on non-negotiable issues.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is symptomatic of the failure of the bishops to regulate the massive, old institutions of pre-Vatican II life that has been transformed and corrupted by the liberals who inherited them after the Council.  The CCHD has given millions of dollars to ACORN-affiliated activist groups, to groups that promote abortion, to groups that promote homosexuality, to all kinds of awful causes.  Like Voris, I believe this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Really, I could talk about issues where Voris and I agree all day.  Thus, I have tried to, want to, and am naturally inclined towards defending him.

So why do I hate defending him?

It’s a matter of presentation.

Voris just…takes things one step too far.

Let’s take the most notorious recent example: his video for “The Vortex” on August 29.  From 0:00-2:00, Vortex talks about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and’s attempts to expose its support for immoral causes.  Yet, during this segment, he basically outs either Abp. Chaput of Philadelphia or Abp. Sample of Portland (my guess is Chaput, a “very prominent, conservative” bishop who has been transferred in the last four years to a larger diocese) as having “stabbed him in the back” by getting Voris removed from Catholic TV stations over this story.  Why talk about that?  Why make it personal?

Anyway, I guess that could be forgiven, but let’s move on.  From roughly 2:00 to 4:00, he talks about the dust-up between Catholic Relief Services and AKA Printing, which is owned by Paul Brown, the husband of American Life League’s Judy Brown.  ALL joined a number of other groups who are critical of CRS’ funding practices, alleging that CRS supports pro-abortion and pro-birth control organizations.  Peter Jesserer Smith published an article on this topic in the National Catholic Register.  In a petty move, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, the chairman of the board of CRS, stated that his organization would withdraw from its business relationship with AKA Printing because of ALL’s critiques, essentially punishing Paul Brown because of the (legitimate) criticisms of his wife’s organization.

Voris then gives an account of how Bishop Kicanas coddled a priest who turned out to be a homosexual child molester, and asserted that this was why he lost the election to head the USCCB to then-Archbishop Dolan.  This is mostly dead-on according to a number of reports on the question.  The real problem was at roughly the 4:15 mark, where Voris says, “The Church of Nice [which seems to encompass most of the American episcopate] is only kind and accepting and nice towards dissidents and heretics and accommodationist, milquetoast, effeminate men in miters and collars.”

This is such an insulting over-generalization, and it’s precisely the part about Voris that I cannot stand.  Here he is, talking about serious and important issues: the corruption of CRS and the CCHD, and how ludicrous that Bishop Kicanas would punish a business simply for association with an organization that criticized his group.  Voris is 100% right on these questions.  And then he completely ruins his credibility by descending to the level of schoolyard insults, calling the bishops milquetoast and effeminate.

The rest of the video was a bizarre critique of Catholic media outlets, particularly Catholic Answers, for giving their employees allegedly exorbitant salaries.  There may have been some truth to his allegations (though Karl Keating disputes them) that Catholic Answers is losing donations over its programs critical of “radical traditionalism.”  These programs admittedly demonstrated a decent amount of ignorance and a lack of nuance in discussing traditionalists and their critiques of the postconciliar Church.  Nevertheless, Voris ruins it through a bizarre and possibly personally-motivated discussion of the “excessive salaries” made by media personalities at Catholic Answers and EWTN.

This is why people who disagree with his opinions cannot stand him, and why I (who agree with his opinions) can’t stand him either.  I want the opinions Voris takes on substantive issues to be publicized, promoted, and intelligently defended.  Intelligently.  Yet Voris’ approach to these issues often has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  He isn’t a logical, thoughtful thinker, and he views anyone who disagrees with him or his methods of presentation, legitimately or illegitimately, as a kind of enemy.

I think the bishops are subject to criticism from the laity, and legitimate criticism at that.  But this must be moderated; St. Thomas himself declares, “Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do it in a becoming manner, not with imprudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect” (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 33, Art. 4).  This is essential for any Catholic who presumes to critique the Church’s pastors; he must be prudent, mild, gentle, respectful, and reasonable, always coming from a position of love and concern for the Church.

Voris is so right about so much, and that’s what makes his inability to communicate his message intelligently so tragic.  Corruptio optimi pessima.

6 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Michael Voris

  1. You encapsulate much of my own thoughts regarding this and I would describe my own opinions closely to how you have described yours.

    I have never been a regular watcher of his videos since I am more of a reader than a video watcher. But have seen some of them and get the basic thrust of a lot of them from blog I read sympathetic towards Voris.

    So I would agree that his presentation is a problem and that from what I have seen is a little too loose with the facts and making connections that require more evidence. Since I am sympathetic towards his basic thrust so I want that message to be communicated forthrightly sticking to the facts.

  2. MMC

    L.O.V.E. Michael Voris. It’s about time the wolves in the Catholic leadership were given a healthy dose of righteous anger. The post Vatican II Church of nice tried the “gentle” discipline only to be ignored by dissidents, apostates and heretics. Church history is filled with saints who spoke ardently and sharply against their prelates and others who were leading others astray (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila etc.). Our Lord Himself took whips to the sellers in the market and called the religious leaders of His own day “vipers, hypocrites, and white washed tombs full of dead men’s bones…He called them “sons of Satan”. What Micheal Voris says is not “opinion” as you noted that everything he states per actions is fact. From the Vortex, Voris noted why he decided to speak about the stabbing by a orthodox bishop seeing as it seems to be a pattern among them. Our bishops need to be held accountable. On their watch, millions of souls have been lost. The emo approach has been a catastrophic failure. Leadership in the Church has had decades to clean up their act…it’s time for some good old fashion discipline and for calling a spade a spade. And as men, our bishops will hopefully respond from a rebuke by a fellow man trying to save souls; especially their own. God bless.

  3. I’m surprised at you. How did even you miss the obvious point that the discussion of salaries was not about their size, but whether the size of those salaries might corrupt one’s judgment about what is and is not newsworthy or worthy of editorial commentary?

    The discussion of the first two issues was intended, and stated as such in the video itself, as context for the discussion of salaries which follows. The Church of Nice doesn’t play very nice with its enemies. Cross them and you suffer consequences such as the first two anecdotes show.

    The mainstream Catholic media does discuss cultural issues. They might even discuss undeniable problems in the Church. But they never confront the bishops, the ones with ALL the authority AND mandate to save souls. And why don’t they do this? It’s not a stretch, given how vindictive the institutional Church can be, to believe that there is a desire to “not bite the hand that feeds them.”

    Since almost no Catholic media apostolate receives funds directly from the bishops, exactly how does one get bit by these hands?

    SUPPOSE that Catholic Answers did precisely the same things that Michael Voris does, i.e., hold the feet of the hierarchy to the fire and expose the state of crisis in the Church? How many of their apologists would be welcome to speak on diocesan property? How many guest appearances would there on be on mainstream Catholic media outlets, like EWTN and Catholic radio? Would there even BE a “Catholic Answers Live” show? How might donations to Catholic Answers be affected if it were publicly known that they were “not an approved apostolate” and were asked to remove the name “Catholic” from their organization? NONE of this is “money from the bishops” but IS a series of consequences for “not playing ball” with the bishops.

    Michael Voris suffers all these consequences, and then some. The organizations and individuals he mentions in this episode of the Vortex do not. If they challenged the hierarchy like Voris does, they would suffer the same consequences that he does. When you make a substantial income from the Church, it’s human nature to desire to protect that. So you rationalize, perhaps, that there really isn’t a crisis, or that the bishops are doing a terrific job under difficult circumstances. You celebrate the miraculously spared green bush within the devastation of Hiroshima and you celebrate a New Springtime, or a New Pentecost. You find reasons to defend the status quo.

    That’s what this episode of the Vortex was about. It wasn’t about whining over exorbitant salaries (which the NEXT day’s Vortex made very clear).

    Terry Carroll
    Executive Producer

  4. AA Cunningham

    I’m sure that in their time St. Catherine of Siena, St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius, amongst many others, were thought of in the same way as Michael Voris is today. The truth can often be very uncomfortable to those who reject it and choose instead to follow the path of convenience as opposed to the path of conscience lest contributions suffer. If you aren’t catching flak you’re not over the target.

  5. Frank Smith

    Why are professional Catholics and bloggers so darn sensitive? Voris used public information to offer a possible explanation for the lack of urgency about the crisis in the Church: self-interest and careerism. It’s a hypothesis about group dynamics—not a condemnation of specific individuals. Rather than attacking the motives and character of Michael Voris, professional Catholics and bloggers should address the basic questions:

    1) How deep is the crisis in the Church?
    2) Should professional Catholics be saying more about it?
    3) Why don’t they?

    There is no reason to get offended. If you choose to be a professional Catholic—soliciting donations and working in a public capacity—somebody might eventually ask questions about your work that make you uncomfortable. It goes with the territory.

    So Voris’s tone can be harsh. Big deal. Who cares? When Catholic bloggers change the subject from the merits of his hypothesis to the tone of his videos, they embrace the feminized, feelings-obsessed Catholicism that is destroying the Church. If more Catholics criticized the Bishops for tolerating dissent and modernism in the Church, maybe something like The Vortex wouldn’t be necessary.

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