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Do as Mother Would Do

There’s a curious exchange in Our Sunday Visitor (Nov. 28, 1999) between letter-writer Jack Ferguson of Missouri and Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, who writes the regular Q&A feature in the Visitor. Ferguson complains that certain of Msgr. Mannion’s answers are “fuzzy,” and Ferguson gives several instances. An instance not cited by Ferguson, but one that for us is unforgettable, was where Mannion said (July 11, 1999) that “God…may be referred to as ‘she’…. However…. God is normatively understood and spoken of as ‘Father’…. There is a question of proper balance….” Another characteristic obfuscation came in Mannion’s Q&A column in the February 6 Visitor (after Ferguson’s letter). Mannion was asked if St. Paul was a male chauvinist. The key sentence in Mannion’s reply was: “By the standards of his time, Paul was not by any means a ‘male chauvinist.'” Translation: “By the standards of our time, yes, Paul was a male chauvinist.” But, of course, that would be insufficiently fuzzy, as would be this optimal reply: “Yes, St. Paul was what today’s decadent androgynous culture would regard as a ‘male chauvinist,’ but so what? What he wrote was divinely inspired.”

Back to Ferguson: He proceeds to ask Mannion, “Why can’t you give it to us straight…?” Ferguson concludes with this indictment: “You are too afraid to offend people.” Mannion answers that he is indeed afraid to offend people, “appropriately afraid,” adding that “I avoid the practice whenever I can, not thinking it a virtue.” Mannion goes on to say that he tries to give “subtle” and “balanced” answers to questions, which “often creates a ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’ approach to issues.” Mannion concludes by saying that if he wrote in the no-nonsense manner Ferguson urges, “My mother…would slap me….”

Obviously, Mannion’s mother is not afraid to offend people: A slap in the face is quite offensive. And, in an ironic way, she’s onto something, something that applies to Catholic journalism. The Church is deeply divided — the situation is “either/or.” In such a context, a Catholic writer trying to please everyone (“both/and”) will most likely please no one. Moreover, if a Catholic journalist avoids offending anyone, he will likely not inspire anyone either.

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