Tuesday, July 04, 2006

When the First Stone is Really a Millstone

The other day I was perusing some posts at Roman Catholic Blog, and I noticed a very long contribution to the comments section of one post. The comment was many times longer than the post itself, and was prefaced with a title and everything. It's not all that unusual to get spam in your comments--that's why many bloggers turn on the "word verification" function at Blogger--but this was something more than spam. It was a screed from "E. Michael Jones", who calls himself the editor of something called "Culture Wars Magazine."

Curious, I "pointed my browser", as they used to say, at the URL, and found that "Culture Wars Magazine" is a kind of conspiracy-theorist anti-semitic fringe thingy, the sort of outlet that is prone to rather lengthy foaming-at-the-mouth collections of "data" that are supposed to point to inevitable but downright Straussian (ironically) conclusions. One thing that caught my eye as I perused the site was a lengthy (over 7500 words) piece by one Thomas Herron on Amy Welborn. The title: "The Double Life of Amy Welborn". Well, I thought, this ought be interesting. Perhaps Amy is secretly Christopher Hitchens in drag. So I had a look.

I'm sorry to say that the worst dirt Herron could come up with on Amy consists of two facts, both already well documented in Amy's own books: (a) her first marriage was declared null by the Catholic Church; (b) she is now married to a laicized priest. Quel scandale! Herron tries valiantly to connect his critique of Catholic blogging to the more respectable attempt of Jonathan Last in First Things, but you'll never find anything like this in First Things:
a down-side to this phenomena [sic] which has been previously discussed in these pages a tendency for these conservative Catholic blogs to quickly become politicized in a Republican Party direction, become excessively commercialized with the hosts hawking their books or speaking venues and the fact that, with all the links to the same sources, they have in fact become a giant echo chamber. The politicization of the Catholic blogs that Mr. Last notes in his articles [sic] may not be due entirely to osmosis but due to the fact that the Bush White House has been reported as having full-time personnel devoted to cruising the blogs to shout down comments deemed anti-administration.
Now there's a smoking gun on a grassy knoll for you. It takes a special intellect to craft prose such as this:
The creation of Amy Welborn as the Catholic anti-Dowd always features pejorative comments to the frustrated fifty-something Irish maiden Dowd’s Manhattan life being something out of the network drama Sex and the City to be unfavorably contrasted to the savvy Catholic right-wing mother of five from Fort Wayne. Apparently this contrast in Catholic female paradigms appears to date to The Corner blog of National Review Online to Holy Week, 2002, March 27 to be exact, when conservative Catholic convert, Rod Dreher, who was then working for National Review and seems to throw the loudest echo in the St. Blog’s echo chamber, noted Amy’s response to Maureen’s take on the priestly pedophile scandal.
Not bad for a mere two sentences. But as is the case with most of these screedy takedowns from the fringe, what really wows is the scholarly integrity that goes into researching one of these articles:
Amy Welborn has recently pushed the book on the childhood memories of Peter Manseau titled Vows: The story of a Priest, a Nun and their Son. I was hoping to read this book as background to writing this article but the ebook download from amazon.com and my computer weren’t compatible. But the outline of the story of the Manseau family is clear from the first chapter contained at the web site....
You can't make this stuff up--nobody would beleive it.

The long and the short of it--well, OK, the long of it--is that Amy and her husband are disingenuous hucksters who may be able to fool the benighted "conservatives" at "St. Blog's Parish" into thinking that they are good Catholics, but a Real Catholic (TM) knows better:
Now I’m a Boomer myself and I well remember the Lord’s injunction in John 8:7 about casting the first stone at the Dubruiels, even if their reinvention of themselves concurrent with a move to a different section of the country is rather typical behavior of our generation. But it needs to be said that being conservative in theological, political, or economic terms is not exactly the same as living a moral life in the light of the Gospel. It is easy to educate yourself that what has been taught in most religion classes offered by Catholic institutions of this country has little to do with what the Church has always and everywhere taught. I well remember what I was taught in Catholic high school and college in the years following Vatican II, and the only reason I kept my faith was that my father was something of a working-class intellectual and had purchased some books from the Catholic revival authors back in the thirties and I came across The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam in the basement of our row house early in my college years. I could see for myself that what I was being taught as cutting-edge Catholic thought was merely professorial spin based on articles in Commonweal and America. In this I was fortunate as I didn’t lose the faith as many of my contemporaries did. It appears that Amy and Michael came to the same conclusions for themselves some years later. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of becoming a political conservative in the National Review mold as a reaction to the religious and political liberalism I was learning; this too was a mistake that many young Catholics made before me and, sadly, still are making if the young folks who maintain web sites at St. Blog’s Parish are typical. The problem is that maintaining a conservative ideology in theological and political terms trumps attempting to live a life in harmony with Church teachings. This will lead you for a big fall with the sexual revolution raging all around you, even for right-wingers. However, there are a lot of Catholic conservatives who hang out at St. Blog’s web sites who basically said when the Dubruiels’ history was revealed with the link to the Commonweal article in the discussion at Mark Shea’s blog: hey, what’s the big deal? She has an annulment, he’s got a laicization decree; of course they can be conservative Catholic icons.



Well, it seems that they’re forgetting some people, namely Amy’s ex-husband and her children by him and by Michael Dubruiel. What will the kids say when they grow up? Are they going to maintain the practice of the Catholic faith into adulthood or will they think it’s optional like marriage and religious vows? The public records check on Amy Welborn’s migrations show that she lived in Blacksburg, Virginia, another college town, prior to relocating to Gainesville, Florida in 1988. It would appear that she was married to a man who had obtained his doctorate in statistics from Virginia Tech and then went south to teach at the University of Florida in that year. About a decade later he would return to Blacksburg to become the chairman of the statistics department at V.T. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Tennessee, Ms. Welborn’s alma mater. It would appear that his interests are in statistical process control pioneered by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and has written a textbook in statistics for engineers. Most interestingly, for me, is the fact that around this time Deming’s Total Quality Management was being implemented across the board in Defense Department bases like those in nearby Jacksonville. However, whether we use the much-abused left-brain/right-brain dichotomy, graduate level statistics is somewhat different from spirituality. While the professor doesn’t respond to emails, if he is Amy Welborn’s ex-husband, what would he say if he spoke out someday? What would he say of Amy and Michael’s “family that is making a unique contribution to the Church,” in Mark Shea’s words? What did he feel about his ex-wife taking his kids out of town to be near her boyfriend and reducing him to a “twice monthly check’? What are his feelings toward the once Father Dubruiel? Would he say he was the cuckolding curate of Gainesville?
Well, he doesn't have to say it, does he, now that Herron has said it for him.

You've got to wonder what this guy thinks it means to be a Catholic; what would he have to say to St. Paul, were he to meet him in person? The Double Life of Paul--or should I say Saul!--of Tarsus! Once stood idly by while others murdered St. Stephen! The Double Life of Augustine of Hippo--so-called "saint" of the Church, or so he is called by the others in that echo-chamber of the West! What if we could do a public records check and find his "wife" (they were never actually married, mind you) and ask her what she thinks of his career in the Church? What would Adeodatus tell us, if we could ask him what it is like to have a "father" who is father to so many others but never was to him?

Herron, in a moment of unintended irony (or perhaps self-parody), actually begins his piece with a quotation from Amy Welborn:
If you insist on using political labels to identify Catholics, here’s the way it works: the “liberals” aren’t interested in us because we make fun of them. The “conservatives” like us until they find out our histories, because there’s no worse epithet-not “pagan,” not “Protestant,” not even “heretic”-in a conservative Catholic’s vocabulary than “ex-priest,” a word which comes with a “p” conveniently built in so it can be virtually spit out of contemptuous lips.
Like many folks who write the way he does, Herron nowhere explains what he thinks follows from all of his muckraking--he merely lays out "fact" after "fact" as though what follows from it will be obvious to all. In a sudden move towards self-revelation, however, he spills the beans at the end of his piece:
As Amy Welborn is part of the conservative Catholic crusade against Church cover-ups of pedophile scandals the obvious question is what did she do in her years as DRE in Gainesville? Did she have oversight responsibility for Kevin Williams, who was an older teen when the assaults took place at a parish sponsored event? Where was Father Dubruiel at this time, what was his responsibility for youth religious education in the parish? Were Father Mike and Amy too busy with their Catholic Great Books discussion group to see what the young man was doing with the younger kids? Were they too involved with each other to see what was going on at Holy Faith? Is this why so many of the Church Fathers said lust darkens your mind? So maybe we should start examining the background of our crusaders against clerical hypocrisy and cover-ups and find out if they have skeletons in their closets.

2 comments:

Mike L said...

Scott:

As a victim-in-person of the Jones-Herron brand of guttersniping, I sympathize with Amy and Michael and enjoyed your post. One of your best-written, I might add.

I hope, though, that she's not tempted to take them on publicly at her blog. The publicity would only hype them up.

Best,
Mike

Paul Halsall said...

I have know hundreds of priests. Most (apart from Dominicans, a few Jesuits. one Redemptorist, and Cardinal Hume) were lousy preachers. Almost all were good lonely (and that I identify with ) men.

I want there to be women priests, openly gay priests (we have enough in the closet already), and celibrate priests if that's what they are called too.

But we are a scaramental church, and then first order is to ordain married deacons as priests.

Let's be clear here: such a move will trasnform seminaries into honeypots (may seminaries are hunky and, umm, not lacking in the inches competition.) But there is no alternative.

"Finality" as a justification for sex has failed, and Audre Lorde's "communication now" has won.

Look at it this way - if married lay men of good standing could be ordained, Scott would be a prime candidate.

They just have to get the pension thing worked out.