By Charlie Johnston
The National Catholic Register today published a piece on me by Patti Maguire Armstrong which pretended to be balanced while obscuring key facts and repeating silly rumors, but attributing them to others. That is the sort of pseudo-journalism I call the “Threat or Menace?” style…and today, that is what Armstrong does to me.
I started hearing from people about this piece over a month ago, that Armstrong was calling looking for information. Since she had already commissioned two pieces for her blog that badly garbled what I say in order to discredit me, I did not have high hopes about how the article would come out when she was actually writing it herself. One thing she carefully avoided was actually ever talking to me. I was disappointed that the National Catholic Register, an estimable publication, would carry it. But she is a columnist there.
The headline, itself, is deeply misleading. It says that I have continued my ministry despite being banned in Denver. (Since this article appeared, the Register has changed its headline to say “despite the Archbishop’s warning” rather than “despite being banned” One would think after over a month of work, they could have got it right the first time.) I am NOT banned in Denver; I am instructed that if I give a presentation there I must do it on non-Church property. Period. Ms. Armstrong wanted to make it appear as if I am disobedient to my Archbishop. Had she actually wanted clarity, a very simple question would have sufficed. She spoke to Denver Chancellor David Uebbing. She could have simply asked him whether I am living obedience to my Archbishop. The answer would have been an unambiguous and simple yes. Who knows? Maybe she did ask that question but did not like the answer – so she made things murkier, implying that I am defiant without actually stating and taking responsibility for it.
She also cites blogger Kevin O’Brien who, some time back, did an unhinged attack piece, in which he didn’t allow any comments. It was chock full of misinformation, including that I had never taken a pilgrimage at all and that I was raising MILLIONS (use your best Dr. Evil voice) for the Shrine through the donations button on my website. I corrected it in a comment here – (originally I wrote erroneously here that I corresponded with him for a few days) noting that I do not have and never have had a donations button on my website. Oops – he corrected it without noting any correction had been made. Old-time journalistic ethics allow for minor grammatical and spelling edits to be made without publicly acknowledging it, but require any substantive edits to be disclosed. The business on the pilgrimage was strange. There were literally thousands of contemporary witnesses who were virtually following me on my way. Over a few days, O”Brien edited and re-edited that portion of it, again without acknowledging he had made any errors in the first place. The last time I looked he concluded that I had “only” walked 1,700 miles, that it was not coast to coast, and that I accepted rides from people who offered.
It was a strange, breathless revelation on his part, for at almost every one of my presentations, I note that I always walked against traffic, never hitch-hiked, but if someone stopped and offered a lift, I figured that was God’s way of saying we ought to talk. I averaged about two rides a week, and the average distance was under 10 miles. I think of the 3,200 miles I traversed, I walked approximately 2,500 of them. As far as going coast to coast, this was not some athletic publicity stunt; the point was to throw myself on God’s providence and see what I could see, putting a premium on personal interaction. Actually, it was worse in some ways than O’Brien posited: I interrupted it three times. Twice, I gave a month to former colleagues who needed some help, as I had promised I would if needed before I left. Once, I came back home as my Mother was dying and stayed for her funeral. Of the 18 months encompassed from the beginning to the end, I only walked for 13 months, spending a total of five with family or helping those two colleagues.
My Facebook Page, Abraham’s Journey, was actually set up before I left so people could take a virtual pilgrimage along with me – and anyone who goes back to the beginning there can still chart my progress themselves. In the end, O’Brien seems reduced to arguing that if he were ever actually to mount a pilgrimage (which he has not nor announced any intentions to) it would be much holier and more impressive than the one I actually lived. Go for it.
It sometimes seems strange to me that some folks seem to obsess over discrediting me. I know that some think they have penetrated the mind of God, that they are the dungeon-masters as it were. For these, it infuriates them to think that God might act in a way they hadn’t thought of and given prior approval to. Others have been deceived by a purported mystic at some time in the past and are determined they won’t be fooled again. A few who know her have told me this is the case with Armstrong. That would explain why she does some very good work on so many things and only throws out standards of objectivity when it comes to me. But for any who come from this perspective, jettisoning reflexive credulity for reflexive cynicism does NOT make for honest discernment. One friend once looked at me like I was stupid when I was wondering why I seem to stir up such vitriol. “Don’t you know,” he asked, “that nothing so enrages a fraud as to be confronted by the real thing?”
Look, I get legitimately cranky sometimes, but that is NOT the primary reason I kick back. For the occasional commenter who thinks an insult is an argument, if they show any vestigial signs of sincerity, I kick back mainly to force them to acknowledge my humanity. It is deadly dangerous to treat a person like a thing. I am not just a symbol of something. In some, it makes no difference; in others, it leads to a serious dialogue. For those who simply defame on websites, criticism is fine. But even if I were deluded, do you not know that when you make things up or intentionally garble your facts, you will be held to account? Judge righteous judgment, for the judgment with which any of us use is the judgment that God will hold us to account for. Strange but true: people worry more about the temporal consequences for intentional defamation than they do about eternal consequences.
There will be more “Threat or Menace” pieces about me that both mock and mimic balance before all is said and done. And yet, I have been prepared for these times and I am truly sent by God to give you heart through these times, to assure you that He is close to you and has a plan, a plan to prosper you, not to destroy you, and that you are called to help prepare the way for the Rescue God is preparing for us all. I am surprised at how many people want to reprise the role Vincent Price once played. An homage, I suppose.