#119 Karl Keating - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Staff
Pete Vere (post 105):
You bring up a name from the past: Gerry Matatics. Probably many people reading this thread would ask, “Who?” Gerry has been out of the limelight for quite a while, but a quarter century ago he and Scott Hahn, then still friends, were bright stars in the constellation of converts.
I always respected Gerry’s native talents. As highly as I regard Scott’s talents, I thought that Gerry could have excelled Scott, if he had applied himself. But he never had the self-discipline.
I remember listening to a tape of one of his debates—this was after he left Catholic Answers, where he had been employed for seven months beginning in June 1990. The debate was held in Brooklyn, and Gerry then was living in Front Royal, Virginia, down the road from Christendom College, where he once had taught. He spent much of his opening remarks saying that he hadn’t prepared for the debate but did jot down notes on a legal pad as he drove up. (Not smart. If you neglect to prepare for a public performance, at least don’t announce it to your audience.)
As you know, Gerry and I were at odds after he left Catholic Answers. I wrote about him a few times over the succeeding years and for the most part confined my remarks to his religious ideas or actions, but my deeper concerns were at the level of ethics and character.
By 2006 Gerry had confirmed himself, publicly, as a sedevacantist (his term, even if in your eyes he qualified as a sedeprivationist), and then he largely disappeared from public view. As he had in previous years, he went on the road, speaking usually at Holiday Inns to tiny audiences—sometimes to as few as six people, from reports I had. And then even the speaking stopped.
How he gets by, what he now does for a living, I don’t know. I hope he has a “regular” job. I remember Scott Hahn commenting that Gerry should get out of religious work entirely, for his good and that of his family, and become a teacher of French at a private or public school. (Gerry’s French is said to be good.)
Maybe he’s doing something like now; maybe Chris Ferrara knows. But it’s clear from Gerry’s website that he no longer has many (or any?) speaking engagements, and, of course, he never has produced a written product. But he still produces recordings and every few months will throw onto the website a pitch for them. The only other outreach he has, so far as I know, is a series of online interviews with Judith Sharp. I suppose those interviews can’t have many listeners.
You bring up Gerry’s move toward sedevacantism. This was something I wrote about more than once in “This Rock” magazine, most extensively in the August 1995 issue.
Gerry had accepted an appointment as an instructor at the sedevacantist seminary run by Bishop Daniel Dolan in Cincinnati. (I’ve never settled to my own satisfaction whether Dolan was validly consecrated, but we’ll give him the courtesy of the title.) The seminary even had distributed an advertising flyer with Gerry’s name and photo on it.
Dolan and his associates were then, and are now, strict-observance sedevacantists. I think it’s scarcely imaginable that they would have hired someone not in line with their thinking. (Gerry ended up not accepting employment by the seminary.)
Back in those days Gerry was getting much, maybe most, of his income by speaking in so-called “Novus Ordo” parishes. He had one set of talks—his conversion story, for example—for those venues, another set—lots of anti-Vatican II red meat—for “Traditionalist” conferences.
That dichotomy couldn’t last, of course. Word started to get around to regular parishes that Gerry was telling two stories; his gigs started to dry up. (And, no, neither I nor anyone I know had anything to do with that; it was a process of auto-destruction on Gerry’s part. Two or three times someone called to ask whether I thought Gerry would be an appropriate speaker for a parish. Not wanting to be blamed for his loss of gigs, I just replied that I wasn’t in a position to recommend him.)
You have heard about Thomas Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.” Charles Darwin wasn’t a particularly effective promoter of his own theories, but Huxley sure was. He was out in public far more than Darwin. It was as though Darwin was hidden away, with only Huxley giving the defense.
So it was, in a way, with Chris Ferrara and Gerry. Chris was Gerry’s bulldog. I don’t remember Gerry ever writing to counter anything I reported about him, but Chris often wrote against me.
It isn’t pertinent at this point to dig up the arguments or the sometimes harsh language—all this was a long time ago—but I found it curious that Chris, however much he thought I had it in for Gerry, didn’t seem to examine the information I gathered and say to himself, “Well, Keating’s being arch about this, but there is something increasingly odd about Gerry and his ideas.”
As I said, I was writing about Gerry’s slide into sedevacantism as long ago as 1995. Chris gave up his public defense of Gerry only about the time that Gerry finally styled himself a sedevacantist, which was in 2006. (Gerry still has on the top page of his website a short piece he wrote in 2006: “Is Gerry Matatics a ‘sedevacantist’?” In it he objects to the word “sedevacantist” but shows that he accepts the principles most people associate with the word.)
As Gerry was making what amounted to a public affirmation of his position, Chris wrote a multi-part series against sedevacantism in “The Remnant,” the first time that he had addressed the topic, so far as I know. He didn’t mention Gerry. At the time I took the series to be a last-ditch effort to pull his friend back from the brink, but the bulldog wasn’t strong enough to stop a leap over the edge.
I appreciate that Chris wrote, in post 108 above, that I “was probably right all along about Gerry's sedevacantism. I didn't see it at the time.” I accept that he didn’t see it in 1995 and maybe not even a decade later, but I’m at a loss to explain how it couldn’t be seen. So many others saw it.
Maybe this is an example of the loyalty of friendship clouding one’s eyes—or maybe, those many years ago, Chris, because of his animus toward me, thought that the allegations couldn’t be true precisely because it was I who leveled them.
It doesn’t matter really. What does matter is that a man with exceptional talents and exceptional promise misused those talents and never fulfilled that promise—not because outside forces were against him but because of his own inner failings. This is the definition of tragedy, as Shakespeare knew it and showed it.
Sometimes I think back to the heady days when I first knew Gerry and imagined the good he could do for the Church. It’s hard to conjure up those memories now because they were followed by a sad realization that that good was stillborn.