Yiannopoulos may never be your cuppa. I get it. I’m not his PR rep and he doesn’t need my defense anyway. But there is much more to the story.
The correct answer comes down to, “because I feel like it.” But given the off-the-chart angry reaction in some corners of the Catholic-o-sphere to the announcement that I’d secured an interview on The Patrick Coffin Show with polemicist and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, that answer is worth exploring (though not defending) further.
In all my years hosting Catholic Answers Live, and as a speaker communicating the truths of the Catholic Church, I’ve had my share of ticked off (or otherwise disappointed, disillusioned, or dismayed) listeners. But I have never encountered quite this level of animus, chiefly from Catholics. Mercifully few in number, they compensate in intensity.
Predictably, the stalwarts of the Catholic left were agog that someone—anyone—would give a platform to such a rah-rah supporter of the orange-headed monster who has the gall to still be the President of the United States. From the trad side, the outrage focused on things like why an unrepentant sodomite should get anything but sanction. Why bring on a queer who now wants to moralize about the sexual abuse crisis? (Milo has a new book critical of Pope Francis and the gaying of the Vatican.)
One kind soul accused me of wanting to be a Catholic Maury Povich (which is nutty, since I’m a Morten Downey, Jr. guy); another regretted that he ever supported me financially (I looked in vain for proof that he had); still another was mortified that the same guy who hosted Catholic Answers Live would “give a platform to an extremist.”
In case you’ve been in hibernation with no internet access for the last few years, Milo Yiannopoulos is a British-born, Openly Gay[tm], traditional-minded Catholic conservative bomb-thrower (rhetorically speaking, that is—you watch, someone will claim this as an endorsement of terrorist tactics!). The reclusive Milo, once known as the world’s biggest internet troll, staged a college lecture tour under the tender moniker, “The Dangerous Faggot Tour,” and rose to fame/infamy through his knack for inducing his uber-liberal enemies to torch cars and smash windows in token of their lack of amusement. Now matter how crazy it got, Milo himself seemed impervious to being mau-maued.
Then came the fall: a long one from a high place, at least by internet celebrity standards.
Last year, two separate podcast interviews (from 2015 and 2016) surfaced in which Milo said some deeply problematic things about his own sexual abuse by a priest at 14. He had already been banned by Twitter (space forbids giving the full context), and, within days, he was quit-fired from Breitbart, shunned by Simon & Schuster (his then-publisher), and sacked from his CPAC speaking slot.
Virtually overnight, provocateur became pariah.
To set one aspect of the record straight, despite wild-eyed claims on social media, the man never endorsed pedophilia. Not once. I take offense at the accusation that I would share my mike with anyone who did. He did cop to some very icky behaviors that are, as he admitted, commonplace in homosexual subculture, but pedophilia is not one of them. I realize that this doesn’t mean he should get a cookie or a medal, but words have meanings.
As a journalist who is also a mediocre Catholic (I laud the medicine that I don’t take regularly enough), my duty is to engage influencers and to discover the points of commonality, and disagreement. If my standard for guest selection is that I have to agree 100% with his or her whole corpus of writing and speaking, I wouldn’t even qualify since I disagree with much of my own behavior and past beliefs.
This ossified Us vs. Them mentality characterizes public discourse today. Within the Church, orthodox conservative wing is the picture of disunity. If the other guy isn’t sufficiently True Blue Actually and Fully Devoutly Seriously Catholic, they’re struck from the approved list. The liberal left don’t do this. They fight like they’re at war. Conservative Catholics, by and large (there are rule-proving exceptions) fight like they’re at a wine tasting reception, sniffing at the heretics over there by the brie and crackers.
Back to my “grifter,” “faux Catholic,” “alt-right white supremacist,” “Nazi,” “racist,” “pedophilia cheerleader “ guest (these are adjectives used as evidence that I shouldn’t go through with the interview). Is Milo vulgar? Check. Does he say and do puerile things to provoke and to annoy? Roger that. Is he proud to have “married” his black boyfriend in Hawaii, while claiming adherence to all the teachings of Catholicism? Looks that way. Is he a walking contradiction? Solid copy that.
Milo Yiannopoulos also has a track record of putting himself in highly uncomfortable, not to mention dangerous, situations to get his point across. In a world ruled by mobs and group-think, most pundits run at the first sign of serious opposition and boycott, Milo punches back twice as hard. I mean this as an encouragement: what would happen to seminary enrollment if a bishop adopted his contra mundum fighting spirit?
As an explainer and defender of Catholicism, especially its hard sayings, Milo seamlessly weaves together Aquinas, the Catechism, the Bible, Chesterton, and a wide array of literary, scientific, and historical sources. It must, however, be admitted—and this is what offends pious ears—that he punctuates his patter with potty words, as this tart-tongued 2016 Christmas talk demonstrates.
Take or leave the style, but the substance is hard to ignore.
While I thought Catholics were supposed to root for the lost sheep and the leper, according to some of my critics Milo’s job is to wear a pink leper badge and call out “unclean, unclean.” What happened to “every saint has a past, every sinner has a future”? Doesn’t Pope Francis constantly preach going to the peripheries and accompanying people non-judgmentally? It turns out, not all periphery dwellers are created equal. No, you have to be the right kind of pariah.
The current polarization of the culture will only get worse unless we talk to those who hold contrary opinions. We may never convert them, but at least we’ll understand. It’s hard to shun someone you understand. This helps explain why I launched the Coffin Nation membership site last summer to provide a forum and source of inspiration for culture builders. Our tagline is “We Go There.” And going there means venturing from time to time into uncomfortable territory: where the real growth is.
Milo Yiannopoulos may never be your cuppa. I get it. I’m not his PR rep and he doesn’t need my defense anyway. But there is much more to the story.
Listen to the interview here.
This blog was originally published at The Catholic World Report HERE.