Last week Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist, wrote about “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” You can read it here.
Progressive Catholics responded to Douthat with a letter to the Times.
And then Rod Dreher weighed in with a substantial critique of the letter. Here is a taste of his post titled “The McCarthyism of Liberal Catholic Elites.”
Dreher’s reference to McCarthyism is a bit over the top, but his comment about the possibility of Robert George complaining about Maureen Dowd or Frank Bruni is worth thinking about.
What a remarkable document. Really remarkable — and damning to the writers, who ought to be ashamed of themselves.
The Catholic layman Ross Douthat, according to these liberal Catholic academics, is too stupid to have an opinion about Catholicism, because he has not been trained in theology. And his opinions are invalid because they
reach offer a conclusion offensive to the letter-writers follow a “politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is.” You will look at the October 18 column in question, and anything else Ross Douthat has written about Catholicism, and I very much doubt you will find anything contrary to the faith and morals magisterially proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church. You will unquestionably find much contrary to the faith and morals magisterially proclaimed by the Faggioli-O’Malley crew. Furthermore, and perhaps most embarrassingly to the letter-writers, they actually try to do the Catholic version of red-baiting Douthat, as if a newspaper columnist’s criticism of heresy (“sometimes subtly, sometimes openly”) actually stood to make a difference in the lives of those so accused. It is ridiculous. That term “sometimes subtly, sometimes openly” is downright McCarthyite. Read the actual column; the word “heresy” doesn’t appear in it, and if it did, so what? Heresy is a constant issue within Christianity, and has been since the beginning…
Six times since February, and thrice in the past three weeks, Ms. Dowd has lifted her poison pen and, serially, mocked the Church’s practice of sacramental confession and its settled conviction on the inadmissibility of women to Holy Orders; portrayed the cases of abuse recently brought to light in Philadelphia as part of an ongoing pattern of crime in the Church; deplored the beatification of John Paul II on the grounds that he failed “to protect innocent children”; charged that the Vatican “preferred denial to remorse” and was deliberately stonewalling the reform of the Church in Ireland; mocked the conversion to Catholicism of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich while suggesting that prominent churchmen, who “have a fuzzy grasp on right and wrong,” had been Gingrich’s toadies; and then committed calumny against New York archbishop Timothy Dolan in a Fathers’ Day column that took anti-Catholic-bitchery-as-commentary to a new low.
Bruni has written in a similar vein, many times over the years, with far more slashing, reckless criticism than Douthat has ever written (for example here, and here; there are many, many more examples). But where have the O’Malleys and Faggiolis and Cafardis been to defend the integrity of the Catholicism against these vulgar scribes without theology degrees? The hypocrisy is staggering.
What the Faggioli-O’Malley gang is plainly doing is accusing Ross Douthat of heresy (“This is not what we expect of The New York Times“) and trying to create negative consequences for him in his workplace, by not-so-subtly accusing Douthat of witch-hunting — which can be expected to land a precise blow with the Times’leadership…
Listen, I wouldn’t for one second begrudge any of these letter-writers the opportunity to send a Letter
to the Editor griping about Douthat or anybody else. The starched-collar pomposity of this particular group letter, and the specifics of its complaints against him, deserve a snort. It would be equally snort-worthy if Princeton’s Robbie George and a group of Catholic conservative scholars penned a similar letter making the same complaint about a Bruni or Dowd column. This does go to show, though, how rigidly intolerant some well-placed institutional figures on the Catholic Left are. They won’t even tolerate the expression of Catholic opinion with which they disagree.
Tonight in Manhattan, Ross Douthat gave the annual Erasmus Lecture at First Things, in which he addressed “The Crisis of Conservative Catholicism.” Among the points he made was that conservative Catholics needed to make better arguments. Nowhere did he say that conservative Catholic academics ought to gang up on liberal Catholic newspaper columnists, accuse them of ignorance and witch-hunting, and try to get them silenced. But that’s what these liberal Catholic scholars are doing. I don’t expect them necessarily to respect conservative Catholic opinion. But at least they ought to respect the conventions of liberalism, which includes open, robust debate….