Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Some links and thoughts on the AoD -Voris / RCTV dust-up

[Update January 5: Dr. Peters offers a followup post ]

Just before Christmas, the Archdiocese of Detroit released a statement about Real Catholic TV syaing it is not authorized to use the name "Catholic".  This set off a firestorm and I did not want to go there before the solemnity.  (I'll provide a number of links at the bottom for further reading). Among other questions on my mind, I myself was rather puzzled as to why the AoD would release a statement as people were all winding down into such a solemn season. It looks like the archdiocese has gotten some feedback about that very issue and it released a response yesterday:

Subsequent to the release in mid-December, 2011, of a “Statement regarding Real Catholic TV and its name,” inquiries have come to the Archdiocesan Department of Communications regarding the timing and need for this particular declaration. The Director of Communications presents this response:

“The Archdiocese of Detroit has been consistent in its statements to and about Real Catholic TV since the fall of 2008. (Regarding Due to continued requests made to the Detroit archdiocese for clarification concerning the use of the title Catholic by Real Catholic TV, and to avoid any confusion among the faithful, it was determined a public statement should make clear what has been told to Real Catholic TV, namely, that it does not have the authorization required under Church law to identify or promote itself as Catholic.”

The response of Real Catholic TV was that it is owned by Marc Brammer who lives in the Fort Wayne - South Bend, Indiana diocese, not  Detroit.  Leadership at RCTV believes that competency does not fall under the Archbishop of Detroit.  From LifeSiteNews:

There is however an interesting twist to this story. Michael Voris, while he may be the star of RealCatholicTV’s programming, is not the owner of the website. The owner is Marc Brammer who lives in South Bend Indiana in the diocese of Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

Brammer told LifeSiteNews, “I own I contracted with Michael Voris to produce video content for that website and I pay him for it. It is a business relationship between me and Michael. If all of a sudden now there’s this tussle over the use of the word ‘Catholic’ I’ll deal with it through competent ecclesial authority.”

Brammer noted that he had received a letter from the Archdiocese of Detroit acknowledging him as the owner of the website. He responded to that letter with a request for a meeting with the Archdiocese. He received no response. Brammer has not been asked by his bishop, Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades to cease using the word Catholic.

Last night, blogging canonist, Ed Peters, who works in the Archdiocese of Detroit at Sacred Heart Major Seminary offered his thoughts (emphasis mine in bold):

The first thing to understand about the dispute between the Archdiocese of Detroit and Michael Voris and/or RealCatholicTV is that the dispute turns essentially on canon law. As a canonical dispute, it will not be decided by seeing who musters more or louder supporters in the blogosphere; it will be decided by recognizing what Church law says about such matters and then abiding by that finding.

With this being firmly understood, however, we may still use the dispute to set out some aspects of Church discipline for those wishing to understand such things better. I comment here not as an advisor to the AOD, but as an established observer on public canonical issues, and I reiterate what is noted to the right of every ITLOTL post, namely, that this blog represents my opinions only.

You can read his full post: The first thing to understand about the Voris/RCTV vs. AoD disupte.  I quote here the relevant part with respect to the argument put forth by RCTV in the above news source:
But sentence two of Canon 216 is another matter: “Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name ‘Catholic’ without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” The plain text of this canon unquestionably puts the burden on those behind an undertaking to secure consent from the competent ecclesiastical authority before claiming the name “Catholic” for their project(s). Voris/RCTV expressly (indeed, pervasively) use the word “Catholic” to name their undertakings. They repeatedly proclaim that theirs is “Real Catholic TV”, that theirs is a “Catholic Investigative Agency”, and that theirs is “The Catholic Critic”.

The Archdiocese of Detroit demurs, whence the dispute.

Let me suggest an analogy.

Say that I’m a pretty smart lawyer, that my legal advice is usually right, that it secures for folks a better situation than they had before, and that it saves them lots of time and tons of money. All of this would mean zilch if, along the way, I held myself out to be licensed for the practice of law in some state where I was not authorized to practice. The state would not have to prove that I don’t have a law degree (in fact I do) or that my advice was unsound (it might be sound or not, depending on the issue) or that I am profiting by my work (perhaps I don’t). The state would simply have to show that I am claiming to be something I am not, namely, someone authorized to act as an attorney. I would be lucky if I got-off with just a Cease-and-Desist order.

Some don't feel Ed has really addressed the issue of jurisdiction.  I believe he has, in his analogy. The blogosphere has been trying to navigate the canonical end of this issue like long-hand division, but Peters just showed us a bit of short-hand division.  Whether one agrees with it or not, the AoD seems to be on solid canonical footing.  Ed goes on to say (emphasis mine in bold):

Similarly, the AOD does not have to prove that Voris does not have a degree in theology (in fact he does), and/or that Real Catholic TV, and/or the Catholic Investigative Agency, and/or The Catholic Critic, etc., is wrong about something they said (frankly, much of what they say is sound), and so on; instead, the AOD simply has to show that one or more Voris/RCTV undertakings claim the title “Catholic” without having secured canonical authorization to make that claim.

Some people apparently don’t like how Canon 216 reads; they are free (per c. 212 § 3 no less) to make their complaints to the competent ecclesiastical authority (postage for first class letters to Rome starts at 98 cents). I can even think of some arguments they might offer (just as I can think of some counter-arguments they would need to anticipate) but, in the meantime, Canon 216 means what it plainly says: as long as Voris/RCTV claim for their undertakings the title “Catholic”, Canon 216 is applicable; but drop appropriation of the name “Catholic” for these undertakings, and Canon 216 has nothing more to say.

So, this particular problem goes away for Real Catholic Tv if they cease use of the name "Catholic" in their works.  Quite honestly, I was surprised when they chose to include the name "Catholic" years ago.  Mother Angelica chose Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) because she did not want to open the door to this problem.  She knew that her work would be opposed vehemently by some members of the hierarchy, and it was.    I remember her talking about this, and when RCTV was launched using the name "Catholic" it seemed like a risk to me, especially given the shock-jock style of Mike's Vortex series.  That series probably gets more hits than anything else they produce.  When you mention the name Real Catholic Tv, people who are aware of it, talk about the Vortex.

In my online reading, I see some asking about other entities like the dissident rag, the National Catholic Reporter (not the National Catholic Register, which is owned by EWTN).   Well, first of all, That belongs now to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, not Detroit.  Secondly, the Reporter was condemned in no uncertain terms as "heretical" in 1968 by Bishop Charles Helmsing.  People should write to Bishop Finn and ask him to affirm this 1968 document and put something on the diocesan site before more people are led into scandal. In fact, I think his office should be flooded with petitions of this kind so that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph can state that it is responding to numerous requests. After all, the Reporter is still featuring stories promoting things greatly opposed to the teachings of the Church.  Any bishops thinking the "biological solution" will take care of business for that news source (known disaffectionately as, "National catholyc Fishwrap"), they should click that link I just provided, take a good hard look, and think again!   Bishops will have to stand before the Just Judge some day and account for the the many souls who were unwittingly led into sin by sources just like the National Catholic Reporter (see the Catholic Culture analysis of the site here and be sure to click on examples).

What about other, non-dissident entities like (Catholic Answers); and, how is it that they get to use the name?  Well,  Catholic Answers (CA) has the permission of the Diocese of San Diego to use the name "Catholic" and it is considered an apostolate by the diocese in which it does it's work.  We might further ask why the permission was granted in San Diego for Catholic Answers  while RCTV is having difficulty in the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

Detroit does indeed have a troubled past and there are certainly clerics still in the archdiocese at various levels who do not have the mind of the Church.  There's no doubt that some of these folks are voicing strong opposition to RCTV and stirring the pot.  At the same time we must acknowledge a few things:  Noteworthy is Archbishop Vigneron's strong stand against the American Catholic Council's event in Detroit last year, which would have been unthinkable before he took the throne.  He publicly challenged Call to Action when he was a bishop in Oakland for a survey they did on priestly celibacy.  The former Oakland, California bishop had plenty of enemies there given his strong stand on Proposition 8 on marriage.    The pages of this blog have been filled with photos from the pro-life prayer vigils he has led for Helper's of God's Precious Infants. He is friendly towards the Traditional Latin Mass, having celebrated it in Oakland, and offering Confirmations here in Detroit using the 1962 Missal.  For some people, these things make the dispute with RCTV all the more puzzling because Archbishop Vigneron is seen as a relatively orthodox bishop by many.

If we go back to my last question about why Catholic Answers has the permission of it's diocese and RCTV is finding opposition here in Detroit, what is the key difference?   Here is just part of the answer:  Catholic Answers is exclusively identified as an apologetics/catechetical site; RCTV has catechetical content, but it is largely identified with the Vortex commentaries by Michael Voris, "where lies and falsehoods are trapped and exposed".  Only RCTV knows what percentage of people viewing their content actually watch the catechetical content versus the percentage of those watching the Vortex segments (both free and premium members).  Some of these commentaries go after bishops, other Catholics, people of other faiths and Mike doesn't waste time with tact; he just calls them as he sees them.  

There is one more thing I want to point out from Ed Peters' piece that bears noting:

As far as this part of c. 216 is concerned, Voris/RCTV may disseminate whatever they want, whenever they wish, about whatever they please. Whether Voris/RCTV speak correctly or mistakenly on a given matter, or whether they show appropriate prudence and charity in expressing their positions, is their responsibility. Catholics are free to reach differing opinions about those questions.

Setting aside openly dissenting Catholics who would naturally have complete disdain for RCTV, I have seen orthodox Catholics somewhat divided over tone and some content. Some solid Catholics like it; some solid Catholics don't. Few orthodox Catholics seem to be in the middle where they are both supportive, yet forthright to speak up with reasonable, constructive criticism that RCTV may want to consider taking to heart.

Stay tuned for developments.

Links where discussions are taking place:

- A few samples of posts at Father Z's blog here and here.

- Father Z also has a thread running for discussion on Dr. Ed Peters' piece quoted in my post

- LifeSiteNews story of the recent development with AoD is holding at 117 comments

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