Now that the initial fury has set in regarding the Rosica vs. Vox dust-up, I’d like to offer my own reflections and comments about what has been going on.
Yours truly has had interactions with both Fr. Rosica and David Domet, the blogger over at Vox Cantoris. David and I share a common opponent in Fr. Rosica. We’ve both been on the receiving end of Fr. Rosica’s critcisms. For me, the interaction was somewhat passing at the height of the Kennedy Funeral Fiasco and then extending on to the D&P abortion scandal. I even got a call from Fr. Rosica one day at my place of employment many years ago, and it was not a pleasant experience. It was the only time in my life that I raised my voice at a priest — actually shouting at him. Not my proudest moment, to be honest with you, but in retrospect, I’ve learned to forgive myself for it. The feud between Fr. Rosica and Vox, however, has been going on for years, at a much more frequent and intense pace, and much more personal, in my estimation. While my opinions have focused on Fr. Rosica’s scandalous behaviour concerning pastoral application and his treatment of the D&P abortion scandal, Vox’s objections to Fr. Rosica cover the whole gammit…theological, liturgical, moral, and pastoral.
So, last week, I found out that Fr. Rosica was suing David for posts he made during last Fall’s Synod on the Family. I’ve kept a low profile on this blog since last Autumn and actually before then. I’ve sensed the Lord calling me to do other things. But because of my history with Fr. Rosica, I’d like to make a few observations on what has transpired in Vox’s case.
1. Civil Law on Defamation Law. Technically speaking, there is a question whether Rosica’s legal threat has any real standing on two levels. First, his claim against Domet might be past the statute of limitations for filing a defamation charge on online postings in Ontario.
Section 5(1) provides that no action for libel in a “newspaper” or in a “broadcast” lies unless a plaintiff, within six weeks after the alleged libel has come to the plaintiff’s knowledge, gives written notice to the defendant. Section 6, for its part, states that an action for a libel in a “newspaper” or in a “broadcast” must be commenced within three months after the libel has come to the knowledge of the person defamed. (Source)
Since Domet’s postings were made between October and December of last year and if Rosica knew about them when they were posted, it is likely that, SHOULD the court uphold that the internet is a “broadcast”, then Domet might be successful in getting the case dismissed, relying on Sections 5(1).
Secondly, it’s been my understanding and observation that when people sue over internet postings, they do it right away after the entry has been published. The Claimants do this for two reasons: #1 – to comply with Section 5(1) above, but also from a tactical point of view. Judges (and just about everyone else) look dimly on the fact that someone is providing written notice only several months after coming to knowledge of the alleged defamation. The key issue, therefore, will revolve around when Fr. Rosica found out about those blog posts. Is the court going to simply accept a verbal declaration that Fr. Rosica only found out about those entries recently? Is the burden of proof on Domet to prove Fr. Rosica knew about those entries around the time they were published? Does Domet keep logs of his Vatican visitors? Is it reasonable to believe that, given their painful history, Fr. Rosica only found out about it now?
On their substance, the actual entries in question are a matter of assessing whether Fair Comment applies:
“Everyone is entitled to comment fairly on matters of public interest. Such comments are protected by a qualified privilege if they are found to be comments and not statements of fact, and are made honestly, and in good faith, about facts which are true on a matter of public interest. A comment is the subjective expression of opinion in the form of a deduction, inference, conclusion, criticism, judgment, remark or observation which is generally incapable of proof. In order to be fair, it must be shown that the facts upon which the comment is based are truly stated and that the comment is an honest expression of the publisher’s opinion relating to those facts. Where a comment imputes evil, base or corrupt motives to a person, it must be shown that such imputations are warranted by, and could reasonably be drawn from those facts. The comment must be made on a matter of public interest. It could be of public interest because of the importance of the person about whom the comment is made, or because of the event, occasion or circumstances that give rise to the opinion. The protection may be lost if it is shown that the comment was made maliciously, in the sense that it originated from some improper or indirect motive, or if there was no reasonable relationship between the comment that was made and the public interest that it was designed to serve.” (Source)
In practice, however, the way it all shakes out depends on what kind of Judge you get. This is going to be rather interesting because the Judge has to bone-up on Catholic theology and morality in order to understand the nuances and the real issues at play in the debate. It’s not the best moment for the Catholic Church when She permits her clerics to drag laypeople into secular courts and permit liberal judges to rule on theological and moral questions. And yes, in order for David to establish the Fair Comment defense, he is going to have to show that Rosica’s positions do, in fact, undermine Catholic teaching. More on this later and the potential circus which has the potential for being created.
(Yours truly has no legal education or expertise, but I did stay at a Holiday-Inn Express last night…just in case you are wondering where I came up such cogent analysis.)
2. Scripture: St. Paul makes it very clear that members of the Church should not be suing one another in secular, civil court. I can’t imagine that such a prohibition is any less for a cleric.
When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life! If then you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who are least esteemed by the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
Fr. Rosica typically posts his online homilies on the Scriptures. Not only that but he is an accomplished and bona fide Scripture Scholar as well. It’s curious then how such a knowledgeable man might have missed such a simple and direct admonishment from St. Paul. Perhaps for his next homily, therefore, he can offer his observations on the passage above and, in particular, how it applies to him personally in light of his lawsuit against Mr. Domet.
3. Priesthood belongs to Jesus Christ: Fr. Rosica’s action goes against everything the Catholic Priesthood is supposed to represent and stand for. The priest is a sign of the living sacrifice of Jesus Christ – someone who is supposed to act for Christ in forgiving sins, and not, as Fr. Rosica has threatened to do, by suing people into confessing them. On a fundamental level, does Fr. Rosica understand how his actions project a warped image of what the Catholic priesthood is really all about? Whether he understands it or not, the image that he is conveying is a very secular, spirit-of-vatican-ii kind of priest. It is a vision of the priest as the consummate “professional” who is no longer “victim” but rather a “political player” whose overriding obligation is not to accept suffering, but rather to protect image and reputation at the expense of who he truly is and who he truly represents. One cannot be a priest for oneself. One can only be a priest of and for Jesus Christ.
If Fr. Rosica’s threat of a lawsuit goes ahead, it will mean much more than merely two people and alleged defamation. What message is being sent about what the priesthood is supposed to be about? So now the priesthood is about being a “litigator”, and about protecting a CEO’s reputation in the Catholic Church so he can effectively carry out his “ministry”? A priest’s ministry is not to be a CEO — even of a charity. This whole scandal is more than just the petty jealousies and play-ground tactics that appear on the surface of typical lawsuits, but it also involves the very nature and role of the priesthood. The priest’s principal roles are to offer mass and hear Confession. The bishops of this country who allow this scandal to perpetuate are creating an impression that priests can sue lay people without repercussion or discipline. Remember Fr. Gravel’s lawsuit against LSN? No action was taken on that front, and it squeezed LifeSiteNews (comprised of mostly lay Catholics) and bled them for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And this lawsuit of Fr. Rosica? Will Cardinal Collins step in to take action here? Who is going to correct this false view of the priest as litigator? Is Canada now the home of the suing priests? That’s not very ecumenical-sounding, is it?
4. Second Time Around – This is not Fr. Rosica’s first and, at least, tacit involvement with lawsuits. Since 2003, Fr. Rosica has been the CEO of Salt & Light. In November 2013, Salt & Light was involved in suing a group of Chinese Catholics over the alleged misappropriation of the trade name “Fountain of Love and Life”. The suit was later dropped because (it is widely believed) Cardinal Thomas Collins pulled the plug on the dirty bathwater. Let’s pray for all concerned that the plug gets pulled again before the overflow floods God’s house.
5. Owning Up – The Scriptures say that fathers should not provoke their children to wrath. That admonition applies equally to priests. Fr. Rosica has been subtly and indirectly challenging traditional Catholic teaching for years now, and his actions have been interpreted as provocations. The blogging world is not known for restraint, and frankly if Fr. Rosica wants to mix it up and provoke, then he can’t be surprised that some people get a bit excited and perhaps even overreact. It’s part of the territory that he’s ventured into. If he’s that concerned about his reputation, then there are remedies for that, including retreating or retiring. Better yet, if someone in authority really cared about him, they should send him on a long trip somewhere where he is out of the media’s spot light and away from an environment where he is, knowingly or not, venturing into dangerous territory. A long trip and a long sabbatical are just what the doctor should order.
6. Vox Cantoris is a little fish – Before this sad and revealing episode, Vox Cantoris was a tiny blog with little traffic. Now he is a world-wide martyr for the cause. The few people who visited it were generally faithful, committed Catholics who rejected much of Fr. Rosica’s theology, liturgy, morality and a lot of what the man stands for. They didn’t need Vox Cantoris to form their opinion of Fr. Rosica. Fr. Rosica formed their opinion of him very well all by himself. Fr. Rosica, on the other hand, is a mega-media superstar in the progressive wing of the Catholic Church. He personally knows a lot of powerful people in the Church, including the Pope himself. So the question is what has necessitated this bizarre over-reaction? Nothing that Vox Cantoris has said about Fr. Rosica would have any effect on Fr. Rosica’s progressive audience. A wide chasm separates the two groups and there aren’t many bridges that can reach from end to end of this divide. Only very dull or confused “conservatives” still watch Salt & Light – not because Vox Cantoris tells people that they should unsubscribe but because Fr. Rosica’s choice of guests and his scandalous positions effectively demand it.
7. Proxies for a bigger fight – This skirmish also has the potential to reveal the underbelly of the bigger fight that is happening around the Synod later this year in Rome. Rosica and Domet represent proxies for the two polarizing positions – except that Fr. Rosica wants to move this to a court room instead of keeping it in the Church where it belongs. I repeat: Domet’s reliance on Fair Comment invariably means he needs to explain the Catholic Church’s position on the issues and how Fr. Rosica has scandalously betrayed them, in order to win his case. Can you just see it now? “So, your Eminence, now that you have been subpoenaed to testify as an expert witness, just what exactly is Rome’s position on this matter? Who is right? Mr. Domet or Fr. Rosica?” Gravel’s bishop was dragged into court because of his inability or refusal to discipline him. Nothing says that can’t happen here…especially when a man is fighting for his financial survival. And make no mistake, lawsuits end up being lawfare…where the sums awarded sometimes pale in comparison to the exorbitant lawyer fees you pay. Fr. Rosica needs to be careful too on this front. If Catholics (especially the traddies) believe in a cause and see injustice, they’ll pony up the cash to keep the horse in the race. Lawsuits which have popular and even religious causes attached to them are not a quick business to extricate oneself from — just ask Fr. Gravel. And the longer this goes on, the more damage and hard feelings there will be against the Canadian hierarchy and the Vatican itself for not taking direct action. The Synod might have started out fighting over doctrine and religious practice, but it’s now added cash and secular court into the mix — at least in Canada, eh?
8. Reverend Rosica’s Reputation – It is hard to fathom how Fr. Rosica really believes that by issuing this threat in the age of the internet, his reptutation is going to be “recovered” through it – even if he were to be granted a victory on this front. One must ask a few obvious questions: 1) Just who is he trying to impress? Liberals? Progressives? 2) Will Conservatives love him more or less? 3) Will anything this man says about any topic as a priest be considered as it should? 3) Will the general public think it appropriate or dignified for a priest to sue a blogger? 4) Will this help the reputation of the Catholic Church, the same Church which he is an official spokesman for? 5) What will his brother priests think? How will the Pope react? 6) Has he considered what will happen to his reputation because of this lawsuit…”There goes the suing priest. Yes, that him. That’s him right there.” 7) Does Fr. Rosica believe this bad publicity is going to actually help boost viewers of Salt & Light? Or attract or keep donations coming in? 8) And just who is granting him the victory to recover his reputation? A secular judge making a secular judgement on the Catholic Faith in relation to a layman’s opinions. What kind of trophy is that? What kind of vindication is that? Someone should tell Fr. Rosica that he is in the wrong court room.
9. The lawyers and the pharisees – Pope Francis has been really slamming the “lawyers and the pharisees” for a long time now. In part, he has severely criticized a legalistic view of the gospels. No doubt he has a very dim view of merely legal justice. It is a shame that Fr. Rosica does not see the irony in his actions in light of the Pope’s severe criticism of litigating issues of salvation.
10. Defamation is not about the defendant’s actions – Defamation cases sometimes become about the plaintiff’s reputation, more than they do about what the defendant said about it. That’s just the nature of the beast. The defendant’s job is to show that the plaintiff really doesn’t have much of a reputation to begin with, and that the criticism that he has received is very well-founded. Is this what Fr. Rosica really wants? Anything that Domet thinks is relevant to the case at hand – including revealing correspondence he has collected from Rosica over the years – becomes fair game for disclosure, and, suffice it to say, for the public record. If Domet puts any embarrassing information in the Statement of Defence, it becomes a public document, available on the internet, and fair game for anyone who wants to comment on it. Has Fr. Rosica really thought long and hard about his actions and whether he is really worried about his reputation in this very sad spectacle?
11. A New Way of Mercy – I guess going through lawyers to resolve our differences or our sins is the “new way of mercy” in the new regime. Happy Lent, Catholic Blogosphere! If you won’t confess it, we’ll sue to get it!
Plea to Cardinal Collins and the rest of the bishops in Canada and anyone else in Authority:
The tragic case of Fr. Tom Rosica could have been avoided if someone had cared enough about him to offer some correction and discipline. For, in many ways, Fr. Tom is a victim as well. He is a victim of the infernal spirit of Vatican II. Please, for the love of all that is holy, care enough to place this man on sabbatical and let him recover the dignity of his priesthood. He deserves as much…and even a second chance. But please exhibit some fraternal and paternal correction — otherwise, we are heading for another train wreck just waiting to happen.
Message to Father Rosica:
Father, you are making more opponents and enemies in the Church and you are causing grave scandal by your action which is completely antithetical to your priestly ministry. Please, for the sake of your priesthood and the Church, stop what you are doing. Show some magnanimity. Reach out in good faith, and resolve this within the Church and in private. Nobody wins through the path you have chosen. Not David. Not the Church. Not Jesus. And certainly not you. It’s not too late.