At Crisis Magazine, Austin Ruse has a piece that is, I think it’s fair to say, unfortunately necessary. First, he lays out the facts of the martyrdom of St. Maria Goretti, her canonization, and the way she has been characterized by two popes.
Quoting Pope John Paul II on the centennary of Maria Goretti’s death, Ruse says the pope
underscored the importance of her virginity to her final struggle, “She did not flee from the voice of the Holy Spirit, from the voice of her conscience. She rather chose death. Through the gift of fortitude, the Holy Spirit helped her to ‘judge’—and to choose with her young spirit. She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity.”
Seems simple, right? Not so fast. Ruse repeats the quote from JPII:
She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity. And there is the controversy. There are certain voices in the blogosphere who are offended at this notion that Maria Goretti died defending her virginal purity.
Simcha Fisher is so incensed at the notion she wrote a whole column entitled “Maria Goretti Didn’t Die for Her Virginity.” Fisher is smart enough to know she couldn’t get away with that headline so she tries to cover herself with her first sentence, “Or she wasn’t canonized just because she managed to remain a virgin, anyway.”
However, Fisher argues that Goretti was canonized because she focused on her attacker’s soul rather than on her own virginity. Goretti tried to convince him that he was committing a mortal sin and would go to Hell for what he was threatening to do. Fisher says Goretti was not in love with a particular virtue but rather in love with the humanity of a particular person, her attacker.
Fisher says such notions as “holiness, chastity, humility, charity, diligence” are “bathwater” surrounding the “baby” which is “love in action.”
On Facebook, Fisher actually dismisses those who maintain the view held by both Pope Pius XII and St. John Paul the Great as the “Maria Goretti died out of love for her hymen” crowd.
Fisher was not the only one.
Where Pius XII and John Paul the Great called young people to emulate Maria Goretti, a blogger at the ever-diminishing Patheos says, not so fast! Blogger Kari Persson is concerned that Goretti’s response unto death may be considered “normative.” She says such a response to Goretti is “possibly deeply damaging” and could result in “frustration, hatred, and anger, mixed with envy and self-reproach” among those “affected by rape, whether victims or those close to victims.” She also says, “Not everyone can express forgiveness for their attackers as readily as St. Maria…” We should view all of this as miraculous and certainly not normative.
Persson seems fully subscribed to the commonality of our age where trophies are given just for showing up, where winning first prize somehow diminishes those who are second, or third, or last.
Of course, the Church has never taught that all are called to martyrdom. However, we are called to emulate or to draw inspiration from them.
Here is John Paul II on the centenary of her death, “I am especially holding up this saint as an example to young people who are the hope of the Church and of humanity.” He also said her “martyrdom” heralded the beginning of the great century of martyrs, a century where Catholics died for their faith, as she did.
Yet another blogger at Patheos joined the Goretti fray. Mary Pezzulo begins her blog-post with a big sigh: “It’s that time of year again. Today is Maria Goretti’s feast day.” Maria Goretti’s feast day is annual trail for Pezzulo.
Pezzulo recalls a moment a few years ago when a Franciscan nun exhorted her that Maria Goretti “died rather than give up her purity.” Pezzulo left the bookshop where this horror happened “as quickly as possible” and then regretted not telling the Nun “how many people the sister might hurt by repeating the story in that way.”
Pezzulo writes, “Becoming the victim of someone else’s sin is never a sin. It wouldn’t have been for Maria Goretti, either.” Had she fought her attacker and been raped nonetheless, “she would have incurred no guilt. God would have still known her to be pure.” Pezzulo seems to accuse the nun, and others like her, of canonizing Goretti because Goretti refused to be a victim of rape.
One Patheos blogger named Max Lindeman suggested that Maria could not be considered a martyr since she did not die for hatred of the faith and that “martyr of charity” was not “coined until the beatification of Maximillian Kolbe.” For that, though, we can turn to the Angelic Doctor who wrote, “Not only is he a martyr one who refuses to deny a truth of the faith, but he who dies for the sake of some virtue, or to avoid sin against any commandment.” We also note the words of Pius XII and John Paul the Great.
To see how all this has become so unhinged, when Deacon Jim Russell went to the comment boxes to quote John Paul II on Maria Goretti and her virginity, another Patheos blogger named Cynthia Schrage asked him, “What is your f***ing problem?” and accused him of being a “spiritual stalker.”
It is hard to understand this odd fight over Maria Goretti and her canonization. The Church —as expressed in the words of the Pope who canonized her and his successors—regards Goretti as a martyr to her virginity. That is a fact not even Patheos and Aleteia bloggers can get around, try as they might.
I used to get along fairly well with Simcha Fisher. Until I wrote this. You can see that even though I disagreed with her assessment, I did so respectfully, even offering praise. Nevertheless, this opened a rift, the details of which involved some vicious exchanges that will edify no one. In Christian charity, I made an attempt to patch things up, which were returned in kind. Suffice to say, however, that any appearance of friendliness died that day, and occasional jabs are still thrown in my direction.
The fact is, the more openly I became concerned with the actions of the Francis pontificate, the more vilified I (and by extension, this publication) became by the likes of those mentioned – particularly the “luminaries” of the Patheos crowd, which later became the Aleteia crowd when Elizabeth Scalia brought her particular brand of smug, virtue signalling, quasi-heterodox Catholicism to their pages as Editor-in-Chief after leaving Patheos. (I previously revealed what happened to the already waning Catholic channel there after Scalia ended her tenure. It seems the best they can find are angsty, self-loathing Z-list “Catholic” bloggers to fill their roster these days.) Picking fights with and/or mocking websites like ours — rather than addressing the real problems we all face as Catholics — has become quite the club sport with this particular genre of Catholic writer.
But despite their speciousness, they merit discussion in the wake of Ruse’s piece because they signify something deeply toxic in that side of the Catholic media world, and by extension, the larger body of the faithful. Ruse himself attempts to pinpoint what is going on here:
This debate is less about Maria Goretti—after all, it is through the Church and not through Patheos and Aleteia bloggers that we know about her—than it is about something odd happening in Catholic journalism in general. There seems to be an abhorrence of orthodoxy, that is to say, tradition. Anything traditional smacks of politics, which means political conservatism. Simcha Fisher actually said there is a correlation between those who hold the Church’s view on Maria Goretti and those who believe in marital rape. If “conservatives” believe Maria Goretti died to save her virginity then it must be wrong. There must also be something about being accepted by the larger secular world where virginity is routinely mocked. In a truly odd and angry cri de l’ego published at Patheos this week, Mark Shea said his audience is no longer faithful Catholics but atheist lesbians.
That sounds about right.
Shea has arguably been the most ardent opponent to the work we do here, though the flame has been carried on by some of his less capable neophytes, which leads to this sort of childishness.
Some are more strident in their opposition; a recent virulently anti-traditional article that appeared at the National Catholic Register was taken down with the explanation that it was an unauthorized post that circumvented editorial review. (You can see the full post that was taken down here.) How that happened is a mystery to me, since I keep a tight rein on publishing permissions, and I assume the Register, out of self-preservation, would do the same. But the author — John Paul Shimek — is someone I’ve run into with some frequency on social media. An apologist for homosexual relationships that are “good and godly” (according to criterion he won’t really define), Shimek presents himself as a faithful son of the Church, quoting the Catechism with frequency to bolster his alleged bona fides. But he has no problem making his agenda clear, when asked:
When pressed about homosexuality, he’s almost equally open:
And yet Shimek has written for the Register, CatholicVote, Catholic World Report, and even Crisis Magazine. All Catholic publications that have a reputation for at least the post-conciliar standards of orthodoxy. At Crisis, Shimek’s bio portrays him as “a Roman Catholic theologian and a specialist on Vatican affairs. Prof. Shimek earned his graduate degrees in theology and philosophy from Catholic University of America…”
I’ve made it a point since establishing 1P5 to focus on ideas, and those in positions of influence who are putting them into action, rather than having personal battles with other Catholic writers. Nevertheless, we all co-exist in the same Internet space. Often times, we share a subset of the same readers. Internecine squabbles are an inevitability. Personality conflicts are going to happen. I expect to be attacked because I deal in controversial topics, and to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me, since it’s only an indicator of my effectiveness. But I think there is something deeper at work, and it provokes consideration.
For those Catholics who take the most pleasure in scorn and derision aimed at anyone who loves the Church’s traditions and is concerned with the current crisis in the Church — a crisis which has deepened exponentially under Pope Francis — one wonders why they bother identifying as Catholic at all? If orthodoxy and tradition are irritants; if their unorthodox viewpoints are in “ascendancy in the age of the Francis revolution,” how can we even claim to profess the same faith?
These are people who can be ignored by us, but nevertheless have influence — in the aggregate, if not individually — over the average faithful pewsitter. Joe Catholic doesn’t have time to vet every writer at publications he’s supposed to be able to trust. If he’s got nothing more to go on than modern catechesis, even if he wants to be faithful, he’s going to be influenced by the ideas presented herein.
There is a toxicity in play here that is spiritually dangerous. That St. Maria Goretti’s martyrdom for purity can be called into account (and gotten away with) is only the tip of a much larger iceberg. These are the thought leaders that do the most work to keep our fellow Catholics blind to what is really happening in the Church, and how it is damaging her mission to save souls. They give cover to those who do not wish to see, and that’s not good for anyone.
No doubt many of these writers have seen diminished influence as more and more people wake up, but they still collectively control far more of the Catholic media space than we do. Pray for them, for their conversion, for them to see what we see. It’d be great to have them on our side. And while I won’t hold my breath, with God, all things are possible.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.