Complete Article On Why Intern "Smiles and Hugs" Left The Cult of Gary
"Smiles and Hugs"
Monday, December 14, 2015
From Vorisite to Barronite: Why I Left Church Militant
This is a very weird blog post for me. I never thought I would be the person to write something like this. After all, I've spent most of my five years being a faithful Catholic denouncing idiots who wrote these posts. I was a fervent daily watcher of Church Militant, and Michael Voris and others like him in Catholic news were my heroes. They were the revolutionaries who were going to save the Church from the jaws of the wolves in cardinal's clothing.
Through this influence, for four and a half of five years, I had an uncontrolled fiery passion for all things Catholic. I told people "the way it is," and if they didn't like it, take it up with God. For me, everything was black and white, Good Catholic vs. Bad Catholic. I believed the Body of Christ was 90% cancerous with modernist heretics and estrogen-filled men who wanted to dialogue with sin and falsehood, and it needed a good amputating so we could purify the Church.
In my mind, the Pope needed to excommunicate the vast majority of cardinals and bishops to save the Church from their evil teachings. Catholics both clerical and lay needed to be penalized and reformed. We needed to go back to mandatory kneeling and Eucharistic reception on the tongue, more Latin in Mass than the average Roman citizen could speak, and so much incense you couldn't see the person in front of you (I still wouldn't mind this one, mostly for the smell.)
I was an ardent defender of the Truth, and I viciously attacked anyone who dared question someone like my main hero, Michael Voris.
Four years of living my Catholic faith like that was dispelled in four months. And how did that happen? It's quite simple, really.
I worked at Church Militant.
It all started on a very exciting June day. I had gotten the call that I was one of the four men accepted into the one year internship at Church Militant known as the Pause Program. It was my dream come true: I was going to meet my hero and work under him. I prostrated on the ground in my room and thanked God sincerely for giving me such a gift.
I flew from home, a young 18 year old homeschool graduate afraid to live on his own, but still incredibly excited about what I was going to do. I landed in the airport, and I was greeted by Michael Voris and the three men I would be undertaking this year with. It was a surreal moment that will always stick in my mind.
It was decided that I would be a staff writer in news due to my skill at writing. I was very excited to write news, and I was very pleased to see my articles published. I was also pleased to see I was well liked, and had even been given the nickname "Smiles and Hugs" because I constantly smiled and frequently hugged people.
But unfortunately, two weeks in I was given an article that would start me on a life-changing course.
I was told to write an article on Cardinal Dolan and his Making All Things New pastoral initiative. In it, many dying parishes were being closed down to save the Archdiocese of New York money. I added several quotes from distraught and sad parishioners, as the angle was clearly to portray Cardinal Dolan as a bad person. However, I made a mistake in the writing of it: I added a quote from Dolan saying how sorry he was for having to close down the parishes, and that he felt for the parishioners who were losing their parish communities.
I was told by my editor that overall the article was good, but the quote was taken out. When I asked why, I was given a shocking answer: "It made him look good, and that's not what we want."
I stared for a moment in shock, nodded my head, and then walked away, disillusioned by what I had just heard.
It was at this moment that I began questioning all that I had done and believed in for four years. Two weeks into my dream, and I was having a crisis; not of faith, but of how to live that faith. Deep with thoughts of doubt and regret, I asked for my name to be taken off the article.
A week after this, I began questioning the purpose of releasing the information about clerical abuses (and supposed abuses) and bashing clergy for pastoral decisions in the first place. What was it accomplishing other than sowing deep-seated division in the Church? None of our articles to my knowledge had ever resulted in the punishment of a priest or bishop.
And why were we telling laypeople about these things in the first place? They didn't have the authority to take care of the issue. Why weren't we contacting bishops directly to inform them of things they are unaware of in their dioceses? Why was our immediate impulse to tell the whole world rather than to tell the people who could actually take care of the issue?
My head continued to swim with all these questions, and the more I questioned what we did, the less visibly loyal I became in the office. I began openly questioning why we were going to publish this or that information, and what good it would do, in the end. Needless to say, this was not appreciated.
After a little over two months of working there, my attitude and perspective had changed almost completely. I had come to believe that the public bashing (not to be confused with occasional respectful disagreement) of a cleric is immoral. I had become an avid fan of Bishop Robert Barron (seen as nothing less than an enemy of the truth at Church Militant,) and I had decided that perhaps bishops and cardinals who weren't completely orthodox weren't terrible people after all. Despite theological issues, I believed they ultimately had good intentions. This was a breakthrough in my mindset which had been taught by Church Militant to believe these men were literally evil and intentionally trying to destroy the Church.
My demeanor changed at this point as well. Through the direction of a good and holy priest, I had come to believe that in the life of the Christian, it is spiritually healthier and in fact more effective in evangelization to have a general attitude of gentleness and serenity, especially towards those who disagree with you. "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar," he reminded me, using Saint Phillip Neri as an example, and I took his instruction to heart.
It wasn't long before my questioning and changed outlook on life and the Church was noticed by Michael. Word had gotten to him that I was openly questioning our methods, and at times even asked not to do certain assignments. All of this came to a head in early October.
I had been assigned to do what we called Synod Profiles: background information on the "bad guys" as my coworkers termed them, that would become videos exposing their vile heterodox agenda. I was given eight names, and I began writing them with an uneasy and conflicted conscience. Through the counsel of the priest I mentioned, I had decided not to openly disobey, but rather to give balanced backgrounds on these bishops, reporting the good as well as the bad.
After completing and sending them in, it became apparent that my work was less than satisfactory. One friend mocked my policy of fairness and said my Profiles could be broken down into this (somewhat paraphrased) synopsis: "This Bishop believes this incorrect thing and did this bad thing, and his favorite color is purple and he loves bunnies."
After turning them in, I was informed I was going to be given more Profiles to do. I was distraught. I had been unable to sleep well for the entire month I had been writing those transcripts due to stress of constant inner moral conflict, and I wanted out. I pulled Michael aside and begged him to get me out of the project. He accepted my request, but took note of how I said I couldn't continue doing them "in good conscience." After pressing me on the issue, he learned that I had developed a belief that perhaps what the apostolate did wasn't good for the Church.
Thinking nothing of it and reveling in my conscience's emancipation from the project, I went about the rest of the week very happily. However, the following week, I was suddenly visited by Michael and pulled from my work to speak with him in his office.
At this point I had forgotten about the Profiles already, and I walked in without concern or worry, not knowing why he wanted to speak with me. Michael sat down with me very casually, and began to probe me in my discernment. He asked me why I thought God was calling me towards the priesthood. After answering, he told me the reason he asked is because I was displaying a lack of understanding of the Church crisis, and that he was greatly concerned for my possible priesthood as a consequence.
He began to tell me stories and gave me future scenarios of my life wherein my bishop punishes me unjustly for following Church teaching, questioning what I would do in this or that scenario. He told me it had been reported to him that I had developed a reputation in my office for being a, quote, "Church of Nice Apologist," and that I needed to cease watching all Bishop Barron videos immediately.
To me, what was most distressing was when he said, "Miles, you're a sweet and gentle guy, but you need to change your personality and become aggressive for the sake of the Church."
Greatly distressed, after the meeting ended one hour later I retreated to the library I sometimes organized in the afternoons, and I talked to my friends about what had happened. Disillusioned more than ever, my uncertainties about what we and other Catholic news sites did had become very much solidified.
Three weeks later in mid October I came back home to have a meeting, and in that weekend, after months of prayer and discernment, I decided I had to follow my conscience and cut my internship early. I returned to work, deciding in my mind that I would leave in mid December.
When I returned, I experienced some uncertainty in my resolve to leave. Despite my issues, I was still liked, and consequently the thought of leaving was very difficult on me.
That is, until a Vortex I will never forget was released.
At the time, I had admittedly stopped watching the Vortex due to my issues with it (despite it being company policy for all employees to watch it daily.) But I was intrigued when one of my best friends walked into the media room and asked us if we had watched that morning's episode. None of us had, and we all huddled around a computer and watched it together.
The video, released just before the Synod had ended, was titled Benedict's Fingerprints. Not knowing what to expect, I watched in shock and disbelief as the video unfolded. If you don't believe what I'm about to say, I recommend you watch the video for yourself.
In the video, Michael blatantly accuses Father Benedict (as he has asked to be called) of faking his illness to escape the papacy. "He resigned because of health reasons, but going on three years later, his health seems just fine. Contrast that with John Paul, who actually had a health issue," Michael says (emphasis mine.) That is the one time in my life where my jaw genuinely dropped in disbelief.
Immediately in my mind I began refuting this. Disregarding that far from his health being "just fine" Benedict can no longer walk without a walker and someone at his side, of course his health is doing better -- he no longer has the stress of daily life as Pope to wear his health down. Retiring from work to relieve stress and thus live longer is the purpose of retirement.
Michael went on to insinuate that Father Benedict was possibly forced off the Chair, and though he doesn't say this, that logically concludes Father Benedict might still be Pope Benedict, meaning Pope Francis is in fact Antipope Francis, as it is defined teaching that a valid Pope cannot be forced off the Chair of Peter.
Michael blasted Father Benedict further, saying he elevated these figures messing up the Synod and then abandoned us to these wolves. "In an era where fatherhood is so disgraced, Pope Benedict is the one who will be remembered as abandoning his children in the hour of their greatest need." Perhaps most grievously, Michael says Benedict's abdication "may even rise to the level of immoral."
In the course of that 11 minute video, my every objection to the work that we did had become deeply entrenched. I couldn't believe my eyes: the lay hero of my post-conversion life had just used every weapon I previously defended on one of my favorite Popes.
This, for me, was the final nail in the coffin. The unfounded accusations in the video were enough for me to permanently space myself ideologically from the apostolate. I no longer wanted anything to do with it, and I couldn't leave quickly enough.
My resolve solidified, I planned to tell Michael that I was going to leave in mid December. A week before Thanksgiving, it so happened that my father began having heart issues, and I consequently left earlier than planned in order to help him.
I have now been gone from Church Militant for three weeks, and though I miss my friends, I am glad and relieved to be gone. But I am also incredibly grateful for the time I spent there. I was made, very directly, to figure out where I stand, and to understand my personality in ways I never had before. When put to the fire, the false personality that had been grafted onto my untempered youthful zeal by Church Militant's instruction to be aggressive had been burned away, and I learned I am in fact, as Michael put it, a "sweet and gentle guy." My personality is one that prefers dialogue and convincing others not through aggressive debate, but respectful discourse and gentleness.
Now that I've been gone, I've had some time to think more about why these experiences disturbed my conscience. I've asked myself why Michael made that Vortex.What good did he possibly think would come of it? I have come to realize the effect of all the negative Church news websites: They feed off of controversy in the Church. They have literally made businesses out of bashing the clergy, and when none can be found, they simply invent them to cause intrigue, even going so far as to accuse a holy and faithful man of faking illness to abandon us.
This quote from Archbishop Chaput explains more concisely what I mean:
...Church Militant ha[s] proven once again that they are not interested in presenting information in any useful way... The sole desire of... Church Militant is to create division, confusion, and conflict within the Church. Actions of that nature run contrary to Christian tradition. That, for me, underscores my rejection to news sites such as these: Not only do they often give out grave information unnecessarily, but they do so without precedent in the Church. Where, in the history of the Church, can you find Saints who acted in the way that they do?
Whenever a Saint corrected someone, it was usually done privately, especially if it concerned a clergymen or religious. The Saint was also typically someone who had the authority to change the offending behaviors or beliefs, which news sites do not have. When they did object to things publicly (as sometimes happened,) it was after having tried correcting the offender privately (as Jesus himself instructs in Matt. 18:15,) and it was with due respect and charity.
I have no ill will towards Michael and all those who work under him or support him. I love him dearly, and I truly am sorry things ended the way they did. Though I have outlined my disagreements with him, I do not desire anyone to bash him or think badly of him, especially as a result of this blog post. That contradicts the very reason why I felt compelled in my conscience to leave his apostolate in the first place. We are no better if we counter his bashing of clergy by bashing him.
Michael is a good person who, in my opinion, is simply exhibiting what happens when you make a business out of making controversy in the Church, no matter his doubtless good intentions.
I see no reason why after such disagreement, even if it is over something as important as the good and well-being of the Body of Christ, we cannot be civil or even (dare I say it) friends with our ideological opponents. I have written this blog post not to create a stir or dislike towards Voris, but to explain why through my experience at Church Militant I have concluded Catholic news sites such as these are harmful to the Body of Christ, and harmful to the spiritual lives of those who run them.
In our zeal and the politicization of the modern Church, I am afraid we have become so deeply entrenched as ideological enemies that we have forgotten the dignity of the human person and the love towards another which Christ commands of us. This results in bashing clergy whose actions and/or beliefs we disagree with, and this results in treating each other like enemies of the Church. I want that trend to stop, as it inflicts harm to the Church. I want to warn against following groups like Church Militant, but equally against vilifying them. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we must love and respect them, and recognize their dignity.
After all: If we can't even recognize the dignity and respect those inside the Church, be they clergy or layperson, how are we supposed to do so to those outside of it?