My brothers and sisters,
I’ve read this thread virtually from the time it was begun and I want to say a few things about it. Let me begin with some background before I get into the circumstances that birthed this protest movement and those which have continued to nourish it.
Firstly, I have been touched deeply by the expressions of respect and affection that have been posted by so many, Catholic and Orthodox. I’d be lying to you if I said that there have not been a lot of occasions on which my reading here was done through misted eyes. You can’t imagine how much it has meant to realize that, in the midst of your own frustrations and rancor over the injustices done, that so many were concerned for my well-being and so bothered by what they saw as wrongs done to me.
In its inception, I had both qualms and misgivings about accepting a moderator position at CAF. Historically, Eastern and Oriental Christians (Catholic or Orthodox) haven’t fared well at any predominately Latin on-line forum and CAF to that time was no particular exception. Eastern Catholics - seeking to be contributory and foster an awareness of their very existence - would post to a thread discussing praxis or spirituality, explaining how and/or why it differed in their Church from the “Catholic norm” - the Latin way. Not untypically, responses made clear that no one had asked, few cared, and a significant number already doubted our Catholicity and felt confirmed in their perception by the fact that we weren’t doing things “the right way”.
Eastern Orthodox posters got even less-welcoming receptions, with suspensions and bannings being seemingly de riguer
, regardless of the topics to which they sought to contribute. It was fairly obvious that it was significantly more “acceptable” to be a Protestant expressing a viewpoint counter to Catholic opinion than it was to do so as an Orthodox Christian. Thinking back on this, I suspect that the origins of this mindset have something to do with an expectation that the Orthodox, being “so much like us Catholics” and “supposedly an Apostolic Church” are just being stubborn in refusing to see things “our” way - while the Protestants can be forgiven for doing so - as they are just plain ignorant (“invincibly ignorant” as we like to say).
That CAF proposed to establish a venue dedicated to Eastern Christianity certainly seemed a positive step. It would acknowledge that the “other lung” existed, even though its lobes were segmented; it would afford an environment in which we could discuss topics that had peculiar significance to our Churches and peoples - praxis, iconography, architecture, vesture, spirituality, hagiography, and others - as well as explore and even debate issues that divided us - the filioque, papal authority, doctrine, dogma, among the few or the many, depending on one’s perspective on the glass and its contents. Additionally, Latins and non-Catholics with a genuine curiosity about or interest in the East could come there, get answers, disabuse their misperceptions, etc.
Still, I knew that the concept was fraught with potential problems. Our on-line presence is negligible compared to that of Latins - be they traditionalists or otherwise. And our experience as a group is largely limited to interacting with “our own kind” - at places like OC.net, ByzCath, Indiana, TAW, and other sites - with our choice of “home” being made chiefly on the basis of how “rough and tumble” an environment we are willing to accept. As large as CAF was (and is), it would be a far cry from the myriad small Latin sites with either a token Eastern board or none. So, the atmosphere had the potential to be extraordinarily different from anything most of us had encountered or with which we had dealt.
Another issue, a personal one for me, was whether I could successfully moderate it. The on-line Eastern Christian community is comparatively small, as I mentioned, and large numbers of those who actively participate in it either know one another or know of one another. There’s cross-over among the sites and reputations often transcend registration bounds. CAF has a policy, not widely known, that its moderators adopt a pseudonym used only in their mod capacity. It has value: if a member has prior “history” with another poster who is suddenly elevated to a moderator position, there may be perceptions that future interactions with that individual will be colored by that history - for better or worse, depending on whether the history is positive or negative. (I will say that, to their individual credit, the majority of CAF mods succeed in putting aside their personal bias toward or against members with whom they’ve interacted as posters in a non-mod capacity.)
For the majority of forums there, this does not present particular issues. However, an intended strength of the Eastern Forum was to be that its mod would, himself or herself, be an Eastern Christian, thus be attuned to the issues, familiar with at least some of the personalities, and be able to command a modicum of respect because he was “one of us”. The problem was that “Joe Monahan” could assert his status as an Eastern Christian, but the anonymity of his new pseudonym precluded posters from recognizing him as someone with whom they might be comfortable - knowing him from elsewhere. So, as well as I knew some of you, none of you knew “Joe” and I was going to have to establish credibility to which I might otherwise have been able to lay claim. Impossible, no, but a difficult obstacle to overcome and one about which I thought long and hard before saying “yes” to the position.
The deciding factor for me was a profound faith in Eastern Christians as a “community”, regardless of their ecclesial affiliation. Now, I’m not naïve. There are “hard-core” Eastern Christians - on both sides - whose capacity for interaction and discussion with their counterparts in the “other” Church about matters religious is nil and would make the average Athonite monk look like an ecumenist of the first order. For such folk, the idea of gracelessness is absolute and hurling anathemas is a practiced art, the likes of which probably has not been seen since Cardinals Humbert and Frederick in Hagia Sophia. For the majority of those willing to even participate in a venue such as CAF, however, I had to believe that they would do so in a manner consistent with Christian charity - which does not require that one be any less passionate about his or her beliefs or be reticent to express those - only that one know when and how to do it and be willing to accord others the same opportunity, regardless of how much they disagree. In the simplest of terms, to my mind, it‘s the difference between apologetics and polemicism, that between faith and unbridled zealotry.
And, to your everlasting credit, the overwhelming majority of you met that standard. In the 2.5 (I think) years that I moderated the Eastern forum, the number of Eastern Christians - Orthodox or Catholic - whom I had banned could be counted on less than the fingers of two hands (two of those - both members here - distressed me because I knew them and believed they could be contributory, but they were unwilling to tone down the rhetoric to an acceptable level). Most persons whom I banned were non-Easterners who disrupted the forum despite warnings to cease and desist. (Of those, I regret but one - a poster whom I think I could have salvaged with a bit more effort.) Yes, there were short-term “vacations” from posting, when I thought it was for the best of all concerned, I needed to make a point, or someone pushed me over the edge. I tried - hard - to impose those fraternally or paternally - whichever you prefer - and several here have spoken of such. I must admit that it’s gratifying that most have done so while remarking that they understood why it happened. But, for the most part, order was maintained by gentle chiding in private or the occasional raising of my virtual voice in public.
You folks made me proud, never more so than when one group rallied to the defense of their counterparts when they saw outrageous remarks directed at them by drive-by antagonists or Latin triumphalists who came into the forum, intending to set up shop and “bash” either Orthodox or Catholics.
That the forum was effectively dismantled (restructured is way too kind a term) is despicable, as was the banishment of the Orthodox to the Non-Catholic forum, and the ultimate intellectually dishonest act of banishing valuable contributors on such flimsy pretenses as “requiring too much expenditure of moderation resources”. Regretably, I can offer you no real insight as to why this happened; I am as much in the dark as you.
In fairness to the staff at CAF, there was little interference with the EC forum for most of my tenure there, by either admin or other mod staff. Although we routinely looked out for one anothers’ forums during times when a forum’s mod was not on-line (in my case, that generally meant US daytime or evening hours), it was almost unknown for a mod to take any action in EC except for a few rare instances of temporarily locking a thread - and only in the most egregious circumstances.
Even when I was off-line for a couple of months due to computer issues, the only mod to actively engage my forum was Marian Carroll, a good friend and my fellow overnighter, whom I asked to cover for me. And, in a tremendous display of loyalty, even the most vociferous among you exercised incredible restraint during my absence - which contributed greatly to my credibility in what was thought of by many as the “hottest” forum on the site - which it really wasn’t. (The Non-Catholic and Apologetics forums were more than capable of making EC look like an agape
on the average day.)
Did we ever have issues? Of course! There were allegations of proselytizing and I did have to caution against it in a few instances - a caution that was heeded. There were also a couple cases of conversion by Catholics to Orthodoxy and at least one of Orthodox to Catholicism. On one occasion, the public response was problematic - from both sides - one lamenting and the other celebrating - and I found it necessary to intervene, establishing that it was acceptable to offer prayers for a convert in his or her spiritual quest, but that it was not acceptable to use it as an excuse for triumphalism or disparagement. To his credit, my dear friend and brother, Father Ambrose, was already actively involved - behind the scenes - making the very same point - even before I had seen the thread and reacted to it.
And that was typical of the unique nature of the community we formed there. I daresay that there were few, if any, other forums at CAF in which a mod felt comfortable privately messaging the forum’s 50-60 “regs” to point out that one of more threads had hit CAF’s “hot topics” list and were likely to attract an influx of posters from whom we might expect to see provocative posting. The purpose of doing so - to request restraint and not allowing oneself to get drawn into confrontations that would serve no legitimate purpose of dialogue, discussion, education, or civil debate. And, you, inevitably, met the challenge. As you did when some newbie posted a query that seemed so elemental as to be ridiculous or which had been answered a hundred times previously. Reminded that, sometimes, a question is just a question, you rallied and sought to provide the best possible responses - bringing some folks along to the point where they became regular and valued participants in their own right.
All in all, I was and remain proud of you, how you represented yourselves, and how your participation reflected on me as the forum moderator. So, it was rather much a surprise when - a few days after being asked to think about ways to increase Eastern Catholic participation on the forum - I was presented with a fiat accompli
as to the “restructuring” - meaning that Orthodoxy would be relegated to the Non-Catholic forum. My explanation, a repetition of the argument I presented for an Eastern Christianity forum two plus years previous, that one could not separate discussion of Eastern Catholicism from its historical roots in Orthodoxy nor from the myriad shared aspects of praxis - language, ritual, chant, prayers, iconography, etc - fell on deaf ears.
In retrospect, I was naïve to not realize that this was the beginning of a course of events that was not going to be derailed. The explanation that CAF had been approached by “someone with contacts in the Eastern Catholic community who raised the issue of Eastern Catholics being uncomfortable posting in the EC forum” struck me as patently absurd on several counts. I felt then, and still do, that my own contacts in the on-line EC community were such that I would not have been in the dark were such the case. And, I said that, but my reply got short shrift.
As one of the most senior mods at CAF and because of some particular areas of expertise, I had assumed and/or been delegated a number of specific responsibilities there beyond the EC forum and probably had become too complacent about the security of my position. So, the short and sweet e-mail dispensing with my services because CAF was “moving in new directions” - a message discovered only after I was unable to log into the site, was a shock. More distressing was the discovery that Marian Carroll had likewise been “retired” - apparently because our close working relationship as the “overnight janitorial staff” as we sometimes joked was seen as presenting a risk that might offer me opportunities to be privy to info after the fact of dismissal.
In sum, I was apparently seen as having been entirely too accommodating to my Orthodox brothers and sisters, at the expense of my Catholic brothers and sisters. I’d not be surprised that whomever made these decisions at CAF suspects that I’ll be translating to Orthodoxy any day. In fact, I’ve been an Eastern Catholic for my entire adult life and I will repose as such. Would I embrace the term “Orthodox in Communion with Rome”? I suppose that I could argue that being a Melkite is as close as one can get to being truly that, but I am sympathetic to the fact that my Orthodox brethren find the terminology objectionable and, so, I’ll forego it. Instead, I will carry on as I am - ever hopeful that, if not in my lifetime, in that of my children, the Holy Spirit will guide the hierarchs and peoples of our Churches to find the wisdom and the means to reunite.
Having now gone on for much longer than I intended, let me wrap this up. There are three issues I want to quickly address - Joe’s future, CAF as it is now, and this thread.
Someone wondered if I might be induced or inspired to open a forum, to blog, or otherwise be visible on-line. The answer is no, but I thank you for the thought. Prior to “Joe” appearing at CAF, an on-line community existed and survived and flourished. It is a mistake to think that Joe is necessary to its continuing to do so. OC.net and ByzCath are the proof that it can and does and will . (And I say that with no intent to denigrate Indiana, TAW, or any other on-line venue, but I truly believe that what John Vernoski created at ByzCath and what Dustin, Phil, and Robert created here at OC are, by far, the best of the lot.) I’ll continue participating on-line in my less authoritative persona - known to a half-dozen folk whose discretion I treasure as much as I do their friendship and affection. (By the way, “Joe” has almost disappeared from CAF - a search reveals only 3 of my posts survive on the EC forum, although there are scattered ones elsewhere.)
CAF will survive because of the financial resources available to it. Its EC forum will survive less because it is an essential piece of the geography there than because there is an arrogance inherent in the organization which will resist its dismantling in the face of criticism. I’ve avoided any discussion of the internal workings of the entity (other than talking about the mod pseudonyms) both because it wouldn’t give you much understanding of an enigma and because - despite what they did - I don’t feel that I can ethically do that. As to continued participation there, I echo what my brothers, Irish Melkite, Hesychios, and others have said. I admire, equally, those who have decided against continued involvement (or had that decided for them) and those who have elected to stay, despite the circumstances. That so much material was trashed - despite the promise to “review and restore” selected threads is the height of intellectual dishonesty and speaks volumes. I especially bemoan loss of the Reference Threads and the great discussions that were purely educational - the continued absence of which can’t be defended on any grounds other than outright ignorance. Interestingly, when it’s not wandering off into inane discussion, the forum there has become very much oriented toward the Oriental Catholic Churches, the Maronites, and the Chaldean Catholics, As my brothers and sisters of those Churches tend to be under-represented in other forums, it may serve a valid purpose in that regard.
As to this thread, it is a testament to the staff here that it has been continued as long as it has. CAF has had a couple of instances in the past of bannings - individual or small group - that resulted in backlash, in the forms of blogging, websites, e-groups, or small bodies of resistors setting up shop at other sites and carping about it. All were short-lived despite much talk to the contrary from those involved. You folks have maintained your presence and made your voices heard for a good six months and, overall, the quality and tenor of your reactions has been laudable, reasoned, and on-target. You’ve explored, analyzed, pointed out the silliness and small-mindedness of what has transpired. Now, it’s time to move on. I haven’t really looked carefully to see what the level of involvement in this site or at ByzCath is for the individuals who are voicing their issues here. But, you need to bring your knowledge, expertise, and love of your respective Churches to the forefront and put CAF behind you. Don’t forget - we had too good a time for that and we were too good as a group - but, find your niche, here, at ByzCath, at Peter’s new forum, at Indiana, at TAW, wherever.
I thank Father Chris, Deacon Dustin, Robert, George, and all the staff here (including the mod here who used to post at CAF
) for their kindness in offering me the opportunity to post this overly long missive. My suggestion would be that this thread quietly close in a day or two - not to preclude forever discussion of CAF - there will be, from time to time, some particularly outrageous event there that merits a new thread here. But, this thread has had its useful life; its mere existence should be a reminder to CAF for a long time to come that the choices they made were poor and wrong.
Finally, my humble prayers for all of you, my dear brothers and sisters. I only wish that I dared to name all of you - but someone would inevitably be overlooked, and I could not reconcile that, but I cannot close without giving recognition to the beloved Hiero-monks Ambrose. Bless, Fathers.