(Not that anyone asked my opinion on this or anything else, of course.)
Yesterday the National Catholic Register relieved columnist Mark Shea of his duties, sharing that, while his Register-published columns were unobjectionable, they found his statements in other forums, such as his blog and Facebook, to be beyond the bounds of charitable discourse.
Mark first came to prominence as an apologist in the 1990’s. His work, particularly 1996’s By What Authority? proved to have an enduring impact on the development of my own thought at a critically formative time, though I hope you won’t blame him for that. While continuing to do apologetics and let that be the foundation of his work, Mark has branched beyond the strictly polemical to write more broadly evangelical pieces, as well as to share his commentary on ethics and current events.
Apologetics is a dangerous business. That there’s a genuine place for it I fully recognize, but it takes a man of much stronger character than me to do it well. Its inherent temptations to stay at the surface level of hermeneutics and avoid critical scholarship [the very worst biblical exegesis I’ve ever seen has been done by Past Me], to overstate one’s own case, to create straw men and vilify those with whom one disagrees were all too powerful for me, and, after a few years of publishing as a minor Catholic apologist, I had to bow out for the good of my integrity, such as it is. Mark has been able to soldier on and to do it as well as it can be done.
Having an apologetical background can color the way a writer approaches all topics. Even Mark himself wouldn’t argue that, in zealously expressing his opinions as is the right of every free man and woman, his pen has never been too sharp, his words uncharitable. But his detractors, now in full-on celebration mode at this injury to his career and good name, fling unfounded and unhelpful epithets like “heretic” and–I s-word you not–“baby killer” at him with all the nuance of a chainsaw on fire.
I’ve followed Mark’s work for years. From that work, I know him to be a man of honor, a man of integrity, a man of faith, a man of conviction, and a man of charity. To the question of whether I agree with him or not, I answer: what difference does that make? Since when must free men and women agree on everything to have fellowship? (I often do agree with him, and when I don’t, I’m generally well to his left, but not so far away that I can’t still make out the face of a brother.)
I can’t read the hearts of the editorial staff of the Register, but it’s not unheard of in our Catholic institutions these days for it to be a capital offense not to have been designed by a cookie cutter and not to have one’s favorite songs be “Backward, Christian Soldiers” and “Party Like It’s 1959.” Disaffiliating from Mark Shea can only serve to lower both the quality and intellectual diversity of the Register, moving the paper just a little bit in the direction of Echo Chamberdom, which, if only in a small way, makes the world just a little bit worse than it was.
For what little it may be worth, I stand in solidarity with Mark in this difficult time and wish him all the best moving forward in his life and work.