Mark Shea was let go from the National Catholic Register, and it has made big waves in the Catholic blogosphere.
I’m friends with a broad spectrum of Catholics, so I saw responses ranging from campaigns to help Mark Shea and get him reinstated, to neutral calls to prayer, to gleeful posts from his enemies happy he got sacked.
My Friend, Mark Shea
Some might think it odd that I consider Mark a friend. I have recently written some blog posts that are more traditional-leaning, and Shea has written critically of Catholic traditionalists. I also own guns and can see how someone could vote for Trump, and am ardently pro-life, so I fall within several groups that Shea has lambasted in the past few years.
Nonetheless, I have a long enough memory to recall reading By What Authority sixteen years ago as an Evangelical Protestant and it being a key piece in my decision to become Catholic. One does not easily forget such pivotal books in one’s life, and Mark Shea wrote it.
Over the years I got to know Mark in the blogosphere. While he always had a more cutting or acerbic style, I also found him thoughtful and his writings good. He even made a few posts over the years mentioning me or some book I was working on.
Happily, we got to meet in person with our families several years back. He was giving a series of talks in New Mexico not far from where I was living. I drove with my wife and children to the town and we all had a nice picnic together. He signed my original copy of By What Authority, and we got to get to know each other better.
I was struck by the obvious frugality of the Shea family. A small thing, perhaps, but important. During that time he would do a tin cup rattle, asking for donations via his blog to pay for basic stuff like antibiotics or needed car repairs. He was not getting rich off the Catholic gigs, that was certain.
So Now We Disagree
I watched as the past few years went by, and his tone became more caustic. Being a member of several of the groups that were in his cross-hairs, many times I read something he wrote on facebook and shook my head. He was painting with a broad brush. I didn’t consider myself a “gun cultist” even though I had, after much thought some years back, decided to buy a gun.
The same went with the other categories. Pro-lifers I knew and was close with were the most caring people around: they took care of women and babies before, during, and after the baby was born. So his criticisms of pro-lifers fell flat for me, even though I could see the validity of his criticisms against a small subset of the group.
So Mark and I disagree about some things. We see them differently. We’re both Catholic converts, both apologists, both seeking to follow the Church’s teachings. In a sense I feel like we were rain drops that fell on the continental divide and through a small chaotic difference he went west toward the Pacific and I went east to the Atlantic.
But while we disagree, I can see how he believes what he does. I can see how he internally squares them with Church teaching, even if I don’t find the case persuasive. Being in the public eye and needing to publish or perish to make a living, I can see how he was stretched and frazzled and became more brittle over the years and endless facebook battles.
I do not rejoice that he was fired from the Register. I don’t begrudge them their decision–it was theirs to make–but for the simple fact that I have benefited from Mark’s work over the years, especially as a Protestant, I wish no man to lose a chunk of his livelihood, and I know the fear that comes from that possibility.
All the Myriad Ways
I find myself in a unique place in that I can see the viewpoints of Catholics on this matter across the spectrum. I am more traditional now and so I can see how the traditionalists are happy that something bad has happened to one of their enemies.
I can see how many ordinary Catholics were repulsed by Shea’s painting with broad strokes and caustic tone. And I can see how, for lack of a better word, more “liberal” but still-within-the-orthodox-boundaries Catholics feel a great injustice has been done.
Mark Shea has become a lightning rod highlighting the tribalism that divides Catholics in our country (and beyond). I don’t think he desired that or is happy about it, but he was caught in the center of the vortex (no pun intended) and got torn apart by it.
What do I hope? I hope that Mark can provide for his family, one way or another. I hope that he is able to find the peace of Christ and a good balance of writing on various subjects in a way that is not inflammatory. I do not wish him ill–how could I, when I am Catholic in no small part because of him?–but hope for his good.