James Preece runs a blog called Catholic and Loving It. He is well known in Catholic blogging circles, and has made several appearances in the media, notably on the BBC's Sunday morning discussion programe The Big Questions. He was, so I understand, recently to take part in a training session for Catholic Voices, an organization headed up by Austen Ivereigh and Jack Valero and founded to create a new breed of Catholic media commentator who could more convincingly put the Church's line out there in the media age. According to Mulier Fortis (authored by Mac), Preece, who lives in the North East, planned specially to be in London for this meeting, but was contacted shortly beforehand and unceremoniously blocked from coming by Ivereigh on the grounds that "+Vincent" (Archbishop Nichols to you and me) would be present.
Now, to Ivereigh's consternation, Mac published this story on her blog, and when Ivereigh then aimed a pointed comment at Mac's private vows, accusing her of publishing only part of his message to Preece, she riposted by publishing a screen shot of Ivereigh's correspondence which showed she had published it pretty much as it was written. As one would expect. (Update: Please see Ivereigh's apology to Mac at the foot of this post).
Several things spring to mind here about this whole incident. First, Ivereigh has behaved rather badly from start to finish. If Preece was not welcome as a member of Catholic Voices - and we'll come to that question - then Ivereigh should have been more selective from the start. Secondly, Ivereigh is a savvy media operator, and his whining about Mac's publication of his email is just guff. Proof of that is his meretricious accusation that Mac had deformed his message, when she had not. Further proof of Ivereigh guff is that he then took a swipe at Mac's private vows (asking if they did not include charity). Guff, Ivereigh. Guff, man. Just admit it. Mac did little wrong, and printed correspondence which showed up the operation of a public body to be privately shabby. You can question its wisdom - for, while true, does it really reflect well on the Catholic Church at this time? - but don't question its justice. Catholic Voices took a dump on Preece, and if they thought they wouldn't get bitten back, then they're not quite as sharp as they will have to be in the media cauldron.
Which leads us to the question of Preece. I must say I do not know the man. I read his blog from time to time and find lots to admire in it. Preece is an intelligent and articulate writer, and he has a sharp nose for what we might call humbug. He only recently had an interview with Bishop Drainey published in The Catholic Herald, if memory serves.
But with it all comes a sometimes unbridled approach to Church polemics. Preece has been pretty merciless in the pursuit of Vincent Nichols in the last twelve months or so. He went after him for Birmingham Archdiocese's sex education programme, photoshopping pictures of male genitalia (from the programme, I think) over VN's head. He went after him for VN's failure to chastize Terry Prendergast publicly, after Prendergast, the chairman of the Church-funded Marriage Care, backed the idea of gay adoption.
Now, I'm sure these are not the only grounds on which Preece has gone for VN. But for anyone who knows anything about Preece's career as a blogger, they are fairly well known, which leads me to certain queries. If Catholic Voices did their research properly, then surely they should have known about Preece. Why was he finally admitted to Catholic Voices (after some struggle apparently) only to be dropped at the last minute? As for Preece, how could he have thought that after his public hounding of VN he would be allowed to be a part of such a Catholic-establishment operation like Catholic Voices? And why, finally, should Ivereigh resent having his actions revealed in public if, as one supposes, there was a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation for them: that nobody would expect VN to agree to Preece being a 'Catholic Voice'.
I'm not going into the rights and wrongs of Preece's blogging. Putting aside its vulgarity which I prefer to see as prophetic rather than polemical - and which in the end has proven to be more damaging to Preece than to VN - its main strength is that it is not part of 'the club'. But why then would Preece even want to have a platform provided by 'the club'? Of course, one might say that Preece's blogging suffers from not being part of 'the club', i.e. not having the kind of card-carrying credentials which could get his well-crafted and intelligent articulation of Catholic principles onto a wider stage. But if that stage is being marshalled by Ivereigh, does Preece really want that anyway?
Well, no doubt almost everyone could have behaved more charitably. Catholic Voices could have been more competent. Ivereigh has been paid back by having his insinuations spiked. And Preece has been paid back for the excesses of his anti-VN campaign by being inconvenienced. None of that is particularly satisfying though.
As for Mac, I say 'well done', though you have exposed once more - in a week when we needed little extra proof - the sadly befuddled and self indulgent ways our Catholic establishment elite can behave.
Thank God He is perfect; His servants most certainly are not.
Austen Ivereigh publishes this comment on Mac's blog:
Having been rebuked -- rightly -- by Fr Ray Blake for being uncharitable, I'd like to apologise to Mulier Fortis for the unnecessary jibe about vows. I was furious at having been used in this way, and didn't check my anger. Sorry. [IS: Probably, Ivereigh, not as furious as someone who was dropped unceremoniously from a Catholic Voices training session, but we'll let that pass].
But I was right to object to a gross breach of trust [IS: no you weren't, Ivereigh]-- and that, I assure you, was the only nerve that was struck.
As for the rest of the mob: pacem pro vobis.