For those who are interested in the recent conflict with the editor and staff of The Remnant, I would like to clarify matters.
Some time ago I wrote this article which discussed ten traits of fundamentalists. I was very clear in the opening paragraphs that this was not about all traditionalists, but about a tendency among a few extremists. There were two details in the post which offended Michael Matt, the editor of The Remnant and his contributor–lawyer Chris Ferrara. In one paragraph I spoke about the exclusive nature of fundamentalists who see themselves as the only true believers, and I used the word “Remnant.” Later I said that fundamentalists, “given enough rope would move from verbal to physical violence.”
Blog posts are written hastily without benefit of proof readers and editors. I never intended to accuse any particular person or group of people of inciting or resorting to physical violence, but Ferrara and Matt drew that conclusion. I grant that it was possible for them to do so.
Here’s what happened next:
Mr Matt and his staff at The Remnant launched into a fierce attack in their columns. Reading their column, and understanding their grievance I immediately softened the language in the original article.
A few days later I received from FedEx a three page letter full of intimidating legalese from Mr Ferrara. He accused me of libel, hinted at a lawsuit and demanded a retraction. Responding as one does to an aggressive threat, I issued the retraction he demanded. If you would like to read that retraction, Mr Matt has published it here on The Remnant website.
Readers have since questioned whether the retraction was sincere or not. They have suggested that the retraction was insincere because it was extorted by a legal threat. That is a natural question to ask in such circumstances. I can profess my complete and utter sincerity, but if people have decided I am not sincere, then every protestation of my heartfelt sincerity will be met with disbelief. Therefore, Mr Matt’s observation on his website that the words must be taken at face value is correct.
Mr Matt has said he now wants to “move on” and I agree. However, before I bow out I would just like to point out how differently things might have been.
Here’s what could have happened: Mr Matt or Mr Ferrara, being offended, could have picked up the phone or sent an email which went something like this:
Hey Father, we read your stuff from time to time, and we appreciate your strong stance against modernism. We’re on the same side most of the time. We especially liked your article on fundamentalism, and we agree. Those kind of people are nasty. I hope we never fall into those traps here at The Remnant.
But could I respectfully point something out? I’m sure you didn’t mean this, but you pinpointed the word “Remnant” in one paragraph and later said these kind of people will resort to physical violence. You didn’t say it explicitly, but it sounds to some our readers like you’re accusing us of being violent. You might not know, but we’ve been accused of being a hate group by some big players so we’re a bit thin skinned about this.
I realize blog posts are written quickly and often published without enough pause. Would you think it a good idea to go back and tinker with that language to clarify the matter? Maybe you ought to also put up a disclaimer saying you never meant to accuse us of violence. It’s your call, but we’re just expressing ourselves best we can.”
I have offended others with my stupid big mouth in the past–both liberals and conservatives–and when they have expressed their concerns personally and politely I have always responded by either amending the offensive text, taking the post down or issuing an apology on my blog. In fact, having read Matt’s attacks at The Remnant I immediately went back and amended the language in the blog post.
Just so people know…I did not receive any sort of courteous or measured correspondence like the words above.
Instead, I received Mr Ferrara’s threatening letter. Was I frightened (and therefore angry) by this tactic? Of course. I’m human. Wouldn’t you be? Did I respond with a sarcastic follow up post? Yes. Did I think better of it and take it down later the same day? Yes.
In the big view, I appreciate Mr Matt’s desire to defend the historic Catholic faith, and having read up on their other worries, I understand their sensitivities at The Remnant. I’m sorry the incident blew up the way it did, but I’m happy, like Mr Matt, to try and be grown up and “move on.”
If readers have any questions or comments about this matter they can feel free to contact me through my website.