Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Orthodox Catholic = Cannibals?

In the Screwtape Letters, and their several amusing spin-offs by other authors, it is explained that those demons who fail in their missions of temptation and corruption routinely end up as main courses upon the banquet tables of hell. It fits well with the culture of hell that there would be little tolerance for failure, nor any interest in whether failure was actually the responsible person's fault. Hell is the ultimate un-community, a group of angels and souls united in their refusal to follow any authority and willingness to prey upon others.

It is a little disappointing, however, that this tendency towards mutual cannibalism also seems strong within orthodox Catholic circles...

This is brought to mind, again, watching the shockwaves moving out from Naples, Florida after the announcement that Tom Monaghan and the board of Ave Maria University have asked Fr. Fessio to resign his post as Provost immediately. I first caught the story at Pro Ecclesia, which in turn linked to Amy Welborn (whose comboxes bloomed with doom-filled predictions), and Whispers in the Loggia (where Rocco relays speculations -- which seems to me highly unlikely -- that this was the result of a liturgical turf war between charismatics and traditionalists).

Now, I greatly admire the accomplishments of Fr. Fessio, and pretty much everything I've heard about him. Still, it's not as if the AMU board has suddenly announced they're splitting off to start their own church with Monaghan as its head or something.

Maybe spending much of my time working in the corporate world I've become inured to it all, but honestly, an executive shake-up in which powerful personalities clash irreconcilably and one is told it leave doesn't exactly strike me as a sign that the smoke of satan has entered the sanctuary. I suspect that in Fessio and Monaghan, who personalities which both insisted on having their own way came together, and eventually, when neither could bend, the one who didn't write the checks got pushed overboard to find his own kingdom.

However, most people don't seem to see this as an unfortunate but probably minor dust-up between two executive personalities. Instead, most commenters seem to have drawn two or more of the following conclusions:

a) Monaghan is a power-hungry and/or money-corrupted nut job.
b) Fr. Fessio has "a record" of blowing up projects.
c) The entire AMU projected is DOOMED and people better head for the hills and know better than to try to do a Catholic higher education start-up any time again in the near future.

Now, I've got no particular feelings invested in AMU. I've never donated to them and don't really plan to. (Steubenville occasionally gets twenty five bucks or so from us, but until we've got all student loans paid off, I feel no need to donate.) I know some people who went there and really liked it, I know other people who really don't like it for whatever reason.

I guess what I find disappointing is the tendency of all disagreements at a Catholic institution to turn into religious crusades. All sources of contention (style of liturgy, whether to have a dorm with separate male and female wings rather than separate buildings, how late visiting hours should go, whether there should be a core curriculum, whether to building a science building, etc.) all seemed to end up with various groups announcing they were praying for each others conversion, were concerned that no one seemed to care about the Truth, could see how the Culture of Death held sway even in the heart of Steubenville, etc.

Which is not to say that I didn't tend to have opinions in these quarrels, but that they should not have been treated as primarily religious quarrels, when they were in fact administrative quarrels.

Since college, I've seen the same tendency dealing with parish organizations and with certain Catholic ministries/organizations. Somehow, the sense of general culture war and being at odds with the world seems all too often to lend itself to a scorched earth "if you are not with me, you are against me" attitude being applied to everything.

Sure, there are other parts of the overall orthodox Catholic community that I don't like. Charismatics creep me out. Some ultra-traditionalists strike me as waaaay too worried about the Masons. Highly organized small faith communities strike me as too prone to political infighting and abuse. I'm not universally against the death penalty. (I guess I better stop while there are one or two readers I haven't offended yet...) But none of these are articles of faith. We don't need to go to war over them, and no one has to end up on the dinner table over it.

It seems that whatever exactly Fr. Fessio and the rest of the administration's differences were, they've reached the compromise that Fr. Fessio will assume the position of "Theologian in Residence" and both teach courses at AMU and help deal with their study abroad program. What exactly this means about the nature of the original disagreement remains unclear.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! My thoughts in a nutshell...

Anonymous said...


David L Alexander said...

Even in the corporate world, there's a certain regard for decorum. Well, most of the time. But Fessio got less than one day's notice, which is unheard of in academia.

Among the "irreconcilable differences" were the "charismatic" style of liturgies that were favored by the ex-Steubenville people among the administration (though not the majority of the students, which should tell you something). Now, you can say all you want about how "filled with the Spirit" those Masses are, or whatever you want. But one thing you can't say, is that they are rooted in the Catholic tradition. That was Fessio's beef about it all along, and the very people he defended against some orthodox Catholics turned on him like a rabid dog on its own master.

As I mentioned in my own blog: "[W]hen you're 'filled with the Holy Spirit,' how can you possibly do anything wrong? Some people didn't learn their lessons in Newark and Ann Arbor, did they???"

Obviously not. But hey, maybe it's just me.

Darwin said...

I saw the news articles that mentioned speculation that the "irreconcilable differences" included charismatic style liturgies, but honestly, unless I heard that from someone on faculty, I find that very, very hard to believe. It just doesn't make any sense.

I'd put a great deal of money that the differences were indeed administrative and had nothing to do with what does on in the chapel.

(This is not to defend the charismatic style, which is not mine. I simply find it impossible to believe that's what's really at issue here.)

As for the corporate example... Hard to say. I've seen a number examples of people at the VP level (and even a couple times with CEOs fired by the board) being told to clear out their desks while someone from security watches. Having suffered under executives who have already announced they're leaving but are going to be around for another month or two while they don't care, I'm not sure it's actually a bad way to do things.

David L Alexander said...

"I've seen a number examples of people at the VP level... being told to clear out their desks while someone from security watches..."

So did my dad when he worked at P&G. But this is a university, which isn't the same. And you're right, it's about more than the "style" of liturgies. There were issues of "style" elsewhere as well. And the reports are coming from students themselves. For my own part, I've heard first-hand accounts from both students and former faculty. Granted, some of them are writing on the internet. But is that less reliable than CNN?

Darwin said...

I dunno... My dad worked at a college for 25 years, so I grew up hearing lots of college internal politics. If anything, they sounded nastier than anything I've seen the corporate world. Still, one would hope that a Catholic college could do better -- which I guess is kind of my point.

Still, this very much fits with my experience at Stuebenville, which was that students tended to assume that anything that happened with the administration must somehow be an example of a holy war over... whatever it was that happened to be important to the particular student speaking.

In general the faculty I knew there (including several who now teach or are in administration at AMU) didn't tend to get into liturgy style squabbles, only academic ones. And they all went to the traditional masses at St. Peter's in town rather than to the charismatic campus masses. (The only big charismatic partisans were some of the friars, various non-faculty hangers-on, and the students.)

David L Alexander said...

I went to college once too. I also worked for one. I go to one now. I remember the politics. In the vast majority of cases, it doesn't get in the way of going to class. AMU is not one of those cases.

Oh yeah, there's one more thing...

The "charismatic" thing is a fairly new complaint, and inevitable. (We're talking about ex-Steubenville people who can't help themselves, remember?) It's not a good sign, as certain people in Ann Arbor and Newark learned the hard way about twenty years back (and you people know who you are). But that's not what has ticked off a lot of orthodox Catholics about this Ave Maria thing.

It's the attitude.

The way people with money treat other people. The way people with titles do their dirty work for them. Read the dossier at New Oxford Review. They're not making this stuff up; I've heard the same from others formerly connected with Ave Maria.

It comes down to this: "I've got money, I can do no wrong. I'm so filled with the Holy Spirit I'm going to hurl, I can do no wrong. I can justify anything I do because my cause is so @#$% righteous."

It just goes on.

And that's not about "if you're not for us, you're against us." It's about "I'm too full of myself to have to listen to anybody, even people more qualified than I am." What it's not about... is humility.

And when people without humility have money, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Okay (whew!), I'm done ranting now.

Pro Ecclesia said...

I care not one whit for Fr. Fessio. Fessio has been one of the chief enablers of the megalomaniacal Monaghan, so his recent treatment is rather ironic, and some might conclude just desserts.

The problem is Monaghan. He is notorious for his "donations" to Catholic causes, and then when he loses interest or decides to go in a different direction, he either pulls the plug or demands his way or the highway. Witness his recent treatment of Ave Maria School of Law and the shoddy dismissal of the eminently decent and orthodox Prof. Charles Rice.

For someone who fancies himself a defender of Catholic orthodoxy in America, Monaghan and his sycophants hardly act like decent human beings, much less Catholics, in their dealings with others.

Darwin said...

If nothing else, I think all orthodox English-speaking Catholics owe a certain degree of thanks to Fr. Fessio for founding and leading Ignatius press, which so far outstrips all other Catholic publishers in America for sheer quantity of high quality Catholic publications that it's hard to imagine the intellectual landscape without it.

I've never met the guy. He may be a total jerk in all other senses beyond that for all I know, but I'll always appreciate and respect that achievement.

As for Monaghan: I'm perfectly willing to believe that he's got a bad case of executividis. (Though I've seen the heads of much smaller Catholic organizations with the same issue, and with far less achievement to justify it.)

However, so far as I can tell the main complaints against him amount to that when he pours millions of dollars into something he eventually either wants the money used in a way that he likes, or he stops providing more money. Now, I can see how that would be frustrating for someone who thought that the money should simply keep coming no-strings-attached. But I can't say that I see it as totally unreasonable.

Pro Ecclesia said...

I agree with you about Fr. Fessio and Ignatius Press.

David L Alexander said...

Hey, what Jay said about Professor Rice! Uh-huh. Uh-huh....

Literacy-chic said...

I appreciate this post because it cites a specific example of something that I've become a little perturbed about... Attitudes of Catholic bloggers to other Catholics!! I'm a little suspect of the label "Orthodox," because it suggests that those outside of this group are. . . un-Orthodox? Dissenters? Well, yes, this seems to be the attitude of the "insiders." The label "Conservative" Catholic may or may not be better, but it suggests that everyone else is liberal, or that these guys are extremely Conservative--more so than the Pope. Anyway, after a while, I want to ask, Can't anyone say anything nice on a blog? Especially about other Catholics? Remember that whole "Body of Christ" thing? It's well worth pointing out that things like this happen pretty much every day in secular circles.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I admit that I go for "Orthodox Catholic" a lot in part because politically I'm more to the left than to the right. But I know what you mean, about the labels and about the internet treatment of other Catholics. I'm sure you know the joke, "Q: How can you tell the orthodox Catholic firing squad? A: They're standing in a circle."

Pro Ecclesia said...

Let me see if I have this straight.

A man known for his "my way or the highway" operational skills runs roughshod over decent people like Prof. Charles Rice (and countless other faculty members in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, and now, apparently, Naples), and those of us who criticize him for his treatment of others are the ones being uncharitable and forming a circular firing squad?

And we're worried about the "internet treatment of other Catholics"? How about the ACTUAL treatment of other Catholics like Charles Rice? How about the ACTUAL impact on the careers of law faculty and university professors who took a chance on a dream only to see the "benefactor" pull the plug, uproot, and move to a far corner of the country? I'm supposed to worry about the "internet treatment" of a billionaire when the careers of good Catholic people are left in tatters over the whims of said billionaire? Please.

Being an "orthodox" Catholic doesn't exempt one from being criticized for behavior that we would never tolerate from someone without the "right" credentials.

Darwin said...

I'm not sure if I should even step in on this one again, since I'm not a lawyer and don't have feelings as to whether there is an Ave Maria Law School (or university) and where it is, but...

It's not that I particularly think that Monaghan's treatment of Professor Rice is right (though frankly, if you call your college board's decision a disgrace and call on the entire board to resign for disagreeing with you, I should think you would expect _some_ sort of showdown.) It's just that I don't see it as my job (simply because I'm Catholic and they're trying to run a Catholic law school) to have strong feeling either way about it.

I certainly don't think anyone has an obligation to be supportive of AMSL or AMU simply because they're Catholic, but the degree of hounding them and rejoicing in their problems that a few bloggers go in for (I mean, for heaven's sake, there are a couple blogs entirely devoted to dogging Ave Maria) strikes me as excessive.

There are a couple Catholic colleges that (because of what I've seen of them, their students, and their faculty) I would never consider recommending to my kids or supporting financially, but on the off-chance they may have some good part to play in the world I generally don't dog them.

Ave Maria isn't being run the way a lot of people would like it to be, but given that the other option (as if, if Monaghan hadn't got involved in the first place) would be its not existing at all, I figure maybe its existing in imperfect form might be better than the other choice.