At the end of last year, a noted Catholic book publisher offered me a contract to write a book based on four columns I wrote three years ago. The stories were about three children who died young after suffering greatly but also bringing many to the faith through their suffering, their example and their prayers.
I expected the contract in January but it never came. Numerous emails to my editor went unanswered. I left a few messages. What possibly could have happened?
Finally, I received a devastating email from the president of the company. Doing their due diligence on me, they had discovered a recent combox exchange I had with activist gays. They said the exchange did not comport with the reputation of their company and they were withdrawing the offer.
In the exchange I endeavored to make the gays defend certain unpleasant practices. I was following the lead of my friend Robert Reilly in his book Making Gay Okay. The exchange addressed the underlying issue of sexual practices. While the exchange did not get heated, at least on my part, it did get rather crude and even scatological. I saw my publisher’s point of view immediately. I was embarrassed and also frightened that my behavior would prevent the inspiring story of these amazing modern day children from reaching a wider audience.
At first I went into the comboxes and edited out the rough stuff. But, I realized that was not enough. So, I went into the Disqus program that allows you to comment on virtually any comment box, including the one below, and deleted my account. I also deleted my entire Twitter entries, though I kept that account alive so no one can take my name.
I said a novena prayer to the Littlest Suffering Souls, the name I have given to the children I am writing about, and threw myself on the mercy of my publisher, to whom I profusely and genuinely apologized.
I was profoundly grateful that my publisher responded almost immediately by reinstating the contract.
In recent days certain Catholic bloggers, whom I will not name, have said things in comment boxes and on Facebook that can only come back to haunt them, as it did me. There is almost a gleeful use of the f-word and combinations of that word and others. One very well respected blogger actually used a slang sexual word for the ill-fated Trump-Pence logo, and then defended it in another mocking comment.
On a Facebook thread last week, a young Catholic priest actually defended the use of the f-word on social media as long as the “context” was right. He did not explain in what social media context it’s use would be acceptable but I cannot think of any.
When others have tried to call them on it, they are mocked as if they are fuddy-duddies who just don’t get it and the vulgarity is turned on them.
I wonder if this is a generational thing. Most of those using and defending crudities on social media are young, not all, but most. It is true that vulgarities are part of our daily cultural patois. You hear it everywhere. It is harrowing to bring our young daughters to New York because of the everyday vulgarity you hear on the streets, even from, forgive the term, regular people.
It could be that these young bloggers have simply bought into the notion that casual crudity and vulgarity is hip and knowing. Maybe they see it as a way of meeting the larger culture “where it is.”
But, here is the thing. Whether these bloggers are well known or not—and most aren’t—some of them blog on large platforms. Is this the image we want to project to those inside and outside the faith?
I could be utterly wrong. Maybe this is something that helps us. But I know it hurt me and there is a huge swath of the Catholic world who are offended by it. But, then again, maybe we are not the audience. Maybe the audience of the young and the hip need to know that Catholics can drop the f-bomb with aplomb.
Perhaps those dropping f-bombs and other vulgarities did so in a fit of pique. Maybe they were just angry, maybe just having fun. Perhaps even now they regret their language and are finding it hard to admit they were wrong and try to amend their ways.
The funny thing, even as I wrote so roughly on rough subjects on those comment boxes, I knew I was in danger of reputational harm. I knew I was in danger of giving scandal. What would this person or that think if they saw this? But I did it anyway. And then I found out and it really hurt.
One of the truly sad thing about the f-bomb bloggers is their bombs are directed at other faithful Catholics. And perhaps this is the saddest thing of all. There is an open war between and among faithful Catholics and I am not even talking about the heretical left vs the orthodox. I am talking about open warfare between and among faithful Catholics who likely agree on everything or very nearly everything, except perhaps politics that has poisoned practically everything.
I do not know the way back from this open warfare. That is something for prayer and deep refection. All I know is that as public Catholics, as Catholics period, we have a responsibility to comport ourselves in ways that do not give scandal. I had forgotten that. I am just so grateful that I asked for forgiveness, made amends, and was forgiven.