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 churchmilitant.tv’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.