The Cornerstone Forum Silences Critics

Just beneath the calm surface of Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum (TCF), the waters are roiling. Bailie, a paleo-conservative Catholic whose life and career have become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the magisterium, uses TCF as a Gatling gun against all those perceived “enemies” of Catholicism gathered outside the walls: homosexuals, pro-choicers, secularists, and especially the more moderate Catholic voices, the voices of protest and reform. But he is attempting to insulate himself—on Facebook of all places—from any return fire. Bailie has built a fortress that also functions, as one visitor put it, as an echo-chamber and a hall of mirrors—a make-believe world where those who are faithful to the Church can go on pretending that the institution is eternal and that its teachings are unassailable.

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum

Except that it’s not and they’re not. The make-believe world is under attack, most significantly and vocally by Catholics themselves. And Bailie is armed and ready for its defense. Those who disagree with the views expressed on TCF are enemies who must be wiped out, not through negotiation or reasoned argumentation but by making them simply … disappear, like the “desaparecidos” of Chile and Brazil under authoritarian regimes, or those fractious Politburo members whose images were erased from official photos. Bailie regularly purges the site of troublesome visitors. This year’s casualty count is now at around eight. These were all, with one or two exceptions, intelligent reform-minded Catholics. Others were of unknown or no faith affiliation but respectful and thoughtful in their comments. All had carefully crafted their objections to the tone and content of TCF and deserved to be heard, if only by each other.

The latest of the “desaparecidos” is S. Darrick Northington, in whose honor I am posting the conversation that occurred today regarding the HHS mandate:

The Cornerstone Forum:

“Women’s access to healthcare” … Is there anyone left who thinks that familiar little piece of rhetorical sophistry actually refers to healthcare? Tyranny always begins with lies.

My friend Ken Whitehead has sounded an alarm.

“For the first time in American history, the federal government is demanding that a major religious body—America’s largest single religious community, in fact—should lay aside its long-established and well-known moral teachings and accede to a government requirement to provide direct support for birth prevention procedures that it teaches are immoral. …

“Knowledgeable Catholics, however, understand that the obligatory subsidies fund immoral, and in the case of the abortion-inducing so-called ‘contraceptives,’ lethal practices, however acceptable they have come to be in our society.”

S. Darrick Northington:

Hallelujah, the government is doing something right! If the church wants to be in the insurance business, then it should be treated like an insurance company.

I also think the moral outrage that all of your posts carry is unwarranted. if you don’t think the church is a dirty institution, then you need to grow up. Fast. Granted, the church does many good things, but to act as if it’s not involved in many and all kinds of dirty practices is either mindless optimism or willful ignorance. Whatever moral authority you think the church has was actually lost a long time ago. Being christian is fine, but that tone of moral authority has no weight.

Dorothy Jospin:

First of all, I fail to understand why the Catholic Church would not support contraception, which greatly reduces abortion rates. But that aside, the Church has decided to get into the business of health care and education, and so it should play by the same rules as other health-care and educational institutions. Women who work in Catholic hospitals and universities should expect the same access to health care as those who work in any other hospital or university. Anything less would be grossly unfair and unacceptable from a legal point of view.

I think Mr. Northington is right. The Church’s moral authority is waning fast. Its intransigence and obstructionism on the HHS mandate and its fierce opposition to gay marriage are alienating Catholics who believe the Church has gone down the wrong path.

[TCF erases the last two comments]

Dorothy Jospin:

OMG! What happened to my comment and Mr. Northington’s? Is this what happens to visitors who disagree with you? My comments were respectful, and so were Mr. N’s. If I had known how we would be treated, I wouldn’t have bothered visiting your page.

The Cornerstone Forum:

It’s what happens when visitors say things like what Mr. Northington said in the post that led to his banning. This is not a debating society. We exist to encourage those who share our convictions and our principles. We are not here to debate with those who don’t; nor do we have the time to do so. I have made this point repeatedly. No offense, but this page will not become a platform for points of view antithetical with our mission. Those who share our fundamental convictions are more than welcome to ague with posts – with some of which we ourselves are not in total agreement – but Mr. Northington’s recent comments made it perfectly clear that he does not fall into that category. There are thousands of sites where potshots can be taken at the Catholic Church. This is not one of them.

Dorothy Jospin:

It is very sad to see Catholics retreating into a echo-chamber where no questions about fundamental issues are ever heard. And it is symptomatic of the deep malaise in the Church that it can no longer have a conversation with those who are urging reform. As a newcomer to this site, and not having seen your repeated warnings, I would earnestly suggest that you put something in your tagline to warn visitors that this is a heresy-free zone where efforts are under way to reconstruct the Church of the Middle Ages.

The Cornerstone Forum:

It’s sad that a simple point cannot be comprehended. I have spent much time debating everything under the sun. If I had all the time in the world, which I don’t, and if I was called to it, which I’m not, I would be happy to debate until the cows come home. But that is not what this Facebook page is about. It’s that simple. Not every Facebook page has to be a college debating society. We have other goals and purposes. Is that so hard to comprehend? Those who find what we are doing helpful will continue to visit us, and those who don’t won’t. No one is forced to visit. Those who find what we’re doing here irritating or offensive are welcome to look elsewhere. It’s called freedom of choice. We are not here to convince the skeptics; we’re here to share what we hope will be helpful with those who share our convictions, our principles, and our goals. Is that so hard to understand?

Dorothy Jospin:

It’s not just about debating, Mr. Bailie. It’s about discovering and living the truth. That’s not done in an echo chamber or a hall of mirrors. Many of the positions that you take on this site are highly political and controversial. Many of them are deeply offensive to other Catholics as well as non-Catholics. You have chosen to go on the offensive, but you want those you are attacking to have their hands tied behind their backs. This is not a position of strength or courage but of weakness and fear. You cannot squarely face those that you slander and demean because they might expose you.

This site is a microcosm of the Catholic Church in the fortress that it is building around itself, with little slits in the walls for firing at the enemy. How pathetic that it has come to this.

The Cornerstone Forum:

Earlier I quoted Chesterton’s insight: truth is a magnet that both attracts and repels. Because someone is offended by something is hardly an argument against it. That something offends doesn’t make it truth, but has the truth ever been uttered without giving offense to someone?

There are countless thousands of Facebook pages, websites, blogs, and Twitter sources that I find either useless or offensive. I have a policy about them: I ignore them; I don’t visit them. It is a policy that has served me very well. I highly recommend it. Were I to waste my time visiting these sites, I might even be tempted to get into arguments with those who run them. The people who run these sites would have every right to encourage me to use my mouse more wisely. Life is too short.

Where is the law written that says that by posting things on this Facebook page I am obliged to argue with those who visit it, or that I have allow people to use the comments option as a soapbox for espousing things I consider nonsense? 
For the thousandths time: this Facebook page exists to encourage those who agree with our convictions and principles. No one forces people to read what is posted here.

Dorothy Jospin:

Mr. Bailie, it seems to me that your communications model is not very well suited to your temperament. If you dislike debate so much and have such a low threshold of patience for what you call the “nonsense” spouted by those who wish to discuss the merits of your ideas among themselves, then why are you using Facebook? If the only use you have for the “comments” feature is self-validation and a pretense of honest dialogue, then you will continue to stomp on many of your visitors as you have stomped on me, Mr. Northington, and, I am sure, many others. If this is the “thousandth time” you’ve explained this to us, then you need to streamline your operations so that you don’t need to explain it but once.

Here’s a question for you: How many of the “friends” whose photos appear near the top of your page have you de-friended because of their “nonsense?” My guess is 2/3 of them. Something is wrong with your model. [Good guess, Dorothy! I happen to know that two of the three were expelled. — Doughlas Remy]

I would suggest a clear statement right up front. Better yet, don’t use Facebook. It is by design a very open, democratic, and pluralistic medium, like the Internet itself. Start a website for members only, and require a fidelity pledge of some sort. Or require references.

Above all, don’t pretend to be hospitable. It’s unfair to draw people in with the offer of a conversation only to turn around and throw them off the site.

I’ve noticed that several of the big conservative Catholic sites that you yourself visit, such as Mercator, Crisis Magazine, and The Catholic World Report, allow very lively discussions that include a very wide spectrum of views. You will probably not want that for this page. If not, then please, out of courtesy for your visitors, make that very clear up front.

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One Response to “The Cornerstone Forum Silences Critics”

  1. TJ Hostek Says:

    I, too, was one of those who was never engaged in reasonable debate on substance. I was denounced and insulted by GB, especially when I referenced his own excellent and seminal work, “Violence Unveiled.” I continue to “share” his myopic postings to point out how selective and irrational and truth-evasive his arguments are.

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