Pentin on the reshuffle at CDW

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin has some good analysis of the recent reshuffle at the Congregation for Divine Worship, and what the personnel changes will mean for the prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah. Initial reports suggested that the Holy Father had cleaned house, ousted the members of the Congregation known to be liturgical traditionalists, and essentially moved the clock back to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. Pentin suggests that it might not be as bad as all that. Pentin observes:

Pope Francis made a major overhaul last week to the membership of the Vatican’s department for the liturgy, but his new appointments are not quite as sweeping as some had suggested, according to a full list of previous and new members obtained by the Register.

On Oct. 28, the Vatican announced the Holy Father had appointed 27 new members to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, many of whom come from a wide variety of nations to give the dicastery an international character.

However, although the Pope dismissed such prominent cardinals as Raymond Burke, Marc Ouellet and George Pell, he renewed the membership of nine others, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, a former secretary of the congregation under Benedict XVI; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; and Cardinal Peter Erdö, the former general rapporteur at the synod on the family.

Like those who have been replaced, these three renewed members are known to be “Ratzingerians,” closely aligned to Benedict XVI’s vision for the Church. (See below for full list of names.)

(Emphasis supplied.) Pentin informs us later that Cardinal Bagnasco of Genoa, a prelate likely seen as closer to Benedict’s style than Francis’s, has also been reappointed to the Congregation. Interestingly, the Holy Father has dismissed at least one of his own men; Cardinal Mamberti, appointed to replace Cardinal Burke as the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and quickly elevated to the purple, for example, was dismissed. Pentin goes on to write:

The majority of the Pope’s new choices have a distinctly preferential approach to Blessed Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae, the “ordinary form” of the liturgy most widely used in the Latin Church today, as opposed to being adherents of the Mass in Latin or the Tridentine Mass of the 1962 Roman Missal, designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the “extraordinary form” of the liturgy in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, favors the approach encouraged by Benedict, the retention of a more traditional approach to the liturgy. He supports what is called a “Reform of the Reform,” meaning the implementation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the way the Council Fathers intended.


Some have read these latest appointments as being made in opposition to Cardinal Sarah. However, the Vatican source said the cardinal “still holds all the cards”; and although he may feel isolated (his junior officials, appointed by Francis, are also firm adherents of the new Mass), the source said it’s unlikely any of the members would “bang their fists on the table” to demand change or Cardinal Sarah’s removal.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.) Indeed, Pentin’s Vatican sources report that Cardinal Sarah, as prefect of the Congregation, will be firmly in charge of the Congregation’s agenda and day-to-day operations. When the Holy Father wants to reduce a prelate’s prominence, he knows how. For example, Cardinal Pell, once given sweeping financial powers, has found himself essentially a glorified auditor, with the balance of actual power shifting back to the Secretariat of State and APSA. And when the Holy Father wants to fire someone, he knows how. Ask Cardinal Burke. Perhaps Pentin has a point, then.

However, as an exercise in image and the politics of gestures, it is hard to say that the Holy Father has not made his preferences known. That is, by dismissing some prelates very clearly in line with Benedict’s project and appointing several very prominent liturgical progressives from the reign of John Paul II, it is clear (we think it is clear, at any rate) that the Holy Father has emphasized, however you want to characterize the emphasis, a very different liturgical direction than the one Cardinal Sarah had marked out.

The Holy Father pours cold water on women’s ordination?

Like many readers, we follow the Holy Father’s in-flight press conferences closely, since they appear to be, if not an action of his papal magisterium, then a means of communication close to his heart. Following the Holy Father’s recent trip to Sweden, he was asked a question about women’s ordination. You may recall that he recently established a commission to explore the historical aspects of deaconesses. While Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem severed in some way—or, more precisely, concretized finally a process of severing that began with Lumen gentium—the diaconate from the episcopate and the presbyterate, it has nevertheless been seen by many that the push for deaconesses is but the thin end of the wedge for women’s ordination into the presbyterate and episcopate. This is, obviously, one of the great dreams of progressives in the Church today. But the Holy Father appears to draw a bright line under St. John Paul II’s Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which teaches infallibly that women may not be ordained.

Here is Hannah Brockhaus’s coverage at the National Catholic Register:

During a press conference Tuesday aboard the papal plane from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.

“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists Nov. 1.

The question concerning women priests in the Church was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1 trip to Sweden to participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

(Emphasis supplied.) Brockhaus goes on to note that the Holy Father has been clear on this point previously, citing Ordinatio sacerdotalis repeatedly:

In a press conference returning from Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2013, he answered the same question: “with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says, ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door.”

He said that on the theology of woman he felt there was a “lack of a theological development,” which could be developed better. “You cannot be limited to the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the catechist … No! It must be more, but profoundly more, also mystically more.”

On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope again said that women priests “cannot be done,” and reiterated that a theology of women needs to “move ahead.”

“Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly,” that female ordination is not possible, he said.

(Emphasis supplied.) However, it is unclear to us the extent that the Holy Father sees the question of deaconesses as inextricably tied up with the broader question of women’s ordination, which he apparently views as settled by Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

As we noted at the time, some members of the Holy Father’s deaconess commission are known to be advocates for the ordination of women at least to the diaconate. The argument of Phyllis Zagano, for example, is that while Ordinatio sacerdotalis (probably, she would say) settles the question of ordination to the presbyterate and, a fortiori, the episcopate, it does not settle the question of ordination to the diaconate. In other words, the question of deaconesses is not connected to the questions answered by Ordinatio sacerdotalis. Of course, such an argument likely creates disunities within Holy Orders and immediately serves to create two tiers of ordained ministers. Which is the next step in the argument from the advocates for women’s ordination, to be sure. At least, it has always been the argument.

So, while it is greatly cheering to hear the Holy Father reaffirm simply and directly the infallible pronouncement of John Paul II, we are left wondering what his overall picture of the situation is. Does he, like Zagano and her associates, think that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is limited to the episcopate and presbyterate? Or does he think that the diaconate is somehow off to one side? Certainly he would not err if he considered the diaconate somehow different. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul, and Benedict each considered it as somehow separate from the episcopate and presbyterate. However, the extent of the difference is, we think, an open question.


John Podesta’s Catholic connections

The secret is out. As part of Wikileaks’ ongoing leak of the emails of John Podesta, a 2011 email exchange between Podesta and a fellow named Sandy Newman was released. Ordinarily, nothing could be less interesting than the shop talk of a couple of veteran Democratic operatives. However, this email exchange is interesting because it states—it doesn’t suggest, it states—that Podesta was involved in setting up Catholic organizations that, well, putting it charitably, advocate essentially for Democratic viewpoints within the Church. The exchange implies, in fact, that these groups have as a goal undermining the Church’s hierarchy and doctrine. As Podesta’s boss advances toward the White House, the exchange takes on new relevance. And it ultimately ought to give Catholics very serious pause when they evaluate organizations claiming to represent constituencies in the Church.

You can read the whole exchange at Wikileaks, but the thrust of it is this: Newman was complaining to Podesta about the perceived intransigence of the Catholic bishops on the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. Newman called for a “Catholic Spring,” a reference to “Arab Spring” and other similar movements, which conceivably would involve rank-and-file Catholics rising up and demanding that the Church change its infallible teaching regarding contraception. Podesta responded to Newman with something very interesting; he says, “We created Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to organize for a moment like this. But I think it lacks the leadership to do so now. Likewise Catholics United.” (Emphasis supplied.) A staff reporter from the Catholic Herald provides a very good overview, too, of the emails and the implications.

Podesta is, of course, a major figure in Democratic politics. Currently, he is a top official in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But, before that, he was a player in Bill Clinton’s administration, finally becoming White House chief of staff toward the end of Clinton’s presidency. After that, he was a Democratic lobbyist and think-tank boss. But he remained in the Clintons’ orbit. And when Hillary Clinton announced her current—potentially successful—bid for the presidency, he came on board as the campaign’s chairman. In other words, John Podesta has been a very heavy hitter in Democratic circles for a very long time. And there is, therefore, every reason to believe that Podesta knows what the Democratic establishment has and has not done as far as establishing so-called astroturf (i.e., fake grassroots) organizations. We are not inclined to dismiss Podesta’s statement out of hand.

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which purports to be “[p]romoting Pope Francis’s politics of inclusion throughout the United States,” is led by Christopher Jolly Hale. It takes a range of positions, and generally tries to stake out a pro-life position within the Democratic Party. Catholics United, which does not appear to be a going concern at the moment, was the project of Chris Korzen and James Salt. Based upon publicly available information, it seems to have been largely an advocacy outreach by the Democratic Party to Catholics. For his part, Chris Hale has put out a predictably outraged statement, which reads in part:

When I woke up this morning, I never thought our organization would get caught up in WikiLeaks drama.

Prominent commentators have used a stolen e-mail from 2011 (while I was a 21-year-old college student) about our organization in an attempt to impugn both our integrity and our organization’s work.

So let’s set the record straight: every day, my colleagues and I work tirelessly to promote the social mission of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in American politics, media, and culture. 

Politics is messy. Lived faith is messy. So this work isn’t always easy. You’re bound to make everyone mad at least once.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) It is, of course, ironic that Hale would claim the mantle of Pope Francis, who, while archbishop of Buenos Aires, was locked in more or less perpetual combat with the president of Argentina. But, for reasons well known to any reader of Semiduplex, the first thing progressive dissenters do when they want to enervate the Church’s teachings is wrap themselves in Francis’s mantum.

But back to the matter at hand. It may be worth noting that at no point in the press release does Hale actually deny Podesta’s statement that Catholics in Alliance was founded by Democratic operatives to advance a Democratic agenda inside the Church. He just claims that he was in college when Podesta wrote the email. This is, of course, a non sequitur. One has very little to do with the other. At any rate, as leader of the organization, Hale ought to know—the Catholic Herald was able to find out, any rate—that Catholics in Alliance was founded in 2005 by Tom Periello. (One assumes that Chris Hale was in high school or whatever then.) Currently its chairman is a man named Fred Rotondaro. The Catholic Herald reports that both Periello and Rotondaro are senior fellows in Podesta’s think tank. In other words, in addition to Podesta having some authority by virtue of his position in Democratic politics, solid reporting shows that Catholics in Alliance was founded by people very close to Podesta. To put it in legal terms, the circumstantial evidence corroborates very strongly Podesta’s statement.

For some reason, Hale neglects to mention this in his press release. Of course, if his best argument is that he was in college when Podesta’s close associates set up an organization Podesta claimed to have set up, we can understand why Hale wouldn’t want to talk about it. But no problem ever went away by ignoring it, and Hale most certainly has a problem.

And Hale’s problem is not limited to the founding of the group. He claims that Catholics in Alliance has no intention of dividing the Church against itself. However, that is not quite the same thing as saying that Catholics in Alliance does not seek to contradict the doctrine of the Church of Rome. In fact, whether Catholics in Alliance exists to undermine the doctrine of the Church is something you’ll have to judge for yourself, after reading the press clippings the group makes available so kindly on its website. Certainly Rotondaro himself, as the Catholic Herald reports, has taken positions in stark contrast to the Church’s, not only on contraception but also on women’s ordination (Hale, of course, is an enthusiastic supporter of deaconesses) and homosexual behavior. In this context, Hale says,

Many of our fellow Catholics disagree with some of our politics. And they should. That’s a sign of a healthy culture within the Church.

But I can say with strong conviction that we love our Catholic faith and the Church. Contrary to what others have said, my colleagues and I would never try to divide the Church against itself for political ends.

Judge us by our fruits. We’ve time and again challenged both Democrats and Republicans—often at some political cost—to be better stewards of the common good.

You can question our politics, but don’t ever question the sincerity of our faith or our love of the Catholic Church.

(Italics in original; emphasis supplied.) We agree with Hale, “The proof is in the pudding.” (Italics in original.)

Furthermore, we know, from other revelations, that other people in Podesta’s circle have not an enormous amount of use for the Church’s teachings. Addie Mena, a reporter for Catholic News Service, has reported on another of Podesta’s emails leaked by Wikileaks. In a 2011 email exchange, John Halpin and Jennifer Palmieri complained about conservative Catholics. Halpin is apparently a senior official at Podesta’s think tank. Palmieri is Hillary Clinton’s communications director. Halpin complained that conservative Catholics bastardized the faith and simply threw around Thomism and subsidiarity to appear clever. Palmieri attributed even less elevated motives to her coreligionists. At some level, it is not a surprise that these men and women are essentially progressive Catholics who are not hugely impressed with the Church’s traditional teachings. Just as the First Things crowd seeks a fusion between Catholics (and others) and the Republican Party, these people seek a fusion between Catholics and the Democratic Party. Of course, while a faithful Catholic has a passing hard time being a good Republican, a faithful Catholic simply cannot be a good Democrat.

One could assume that much. But what the Wikileaks releases indicate goes beyond mere contempt on the part of Democratic elites for the Church’s traditional teaching. It suggests that Democratic operatives have set up organizations in an attempt to bring the Church’s teaching in line with Democratic orthodoxy. These operatives are now in the circle of a woman who is, if the polls are to be believed, quite likely to be the next president of the United States. Do they intend to use these organizations to advocate for President Hillary Clinton’s policies? We already know that Clinton wants to advance the cause of abortion and contraception in the United States by repealing the life-saving Hyde Amendment. The bishops are sure to resist. Will White House employees use their connections with organizations like these, or any others that just happen to spring up, to urge Catholics to resist the Church’s teachings on these points. It is a frightening picture, to say the least. Bishop Richard Umbers, the auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia, and a prelate who understands social media, puts the matter succinctly in a tweet, calling the idea of a “Catholic Spring,” “[w]orrying signs of a desire for state interference in church creed & organisation.”

At the very least, Catholics now have good reason to be suspicious of advocacy groups that come along—claiming to represent “ordinary Catholics” or Pope Francis or any other constituency—who ultimately propound positions contrary to the settled teachings of the Church. Catholics are, of course, used to dissenters in our midst; indeed, the history of the Church since, oh, 1962 or so, has been one long process of dissent and reaction. But we have always assumed that progressives dissent simply because they do not actually like the Church all that much, and seek to make a church for themselves as doctrinally coherent and vibrant as the liberal Lutherans, the Anglicans, or the United Methodists. However, all of this suggests that some dissenters might have altogether more worldly motives.

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Francis X. Rocca has a long piece at the Wall Street Journal about Cardinal Pell and his Secretariat for the Economy, recognizing what we’ve been saying for a while: the Pope’s financial reforms have not been going well. But Rocca provides some of the background to the Pope’s gradual withdrawal of authority from Cardinal Pell and the Secretariat, following some lightning reforms early in his pontificate:

In a series of moves over about 18 months, Francis stripped Cardinal Pell of control over APSA’s real-estate holdings. He declined to approve his recommendations to reorganize the management of the financial portfolio. He wrote and made public a pointed letter making clear that all hiring and transfer of personnel required the approval of the office of Cardinal Parolin. The audit was scrapped, and in July, he took away most of the management functions—for payroll, payment and procurement services—and restored them to APSA.

“When a new administrative body is created, it always takes a while until it fits into the broader organization,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “We shouldn’t be distracted by the noise.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Part of this is the usual clamor about Cardinal Pell, who is seen as a conservative. Robert Mickens, formerly of The Tablet (as some of our readers may recall), and Andrea Tornielli are quoted for context. Big surprise.

But Rocca provides some interesting information:

The real-estate move and plans for the investments raised hackles at APSA and other offices.

APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, has developed a strong relationship with Francis, who over time has become more connected to insiders at the Vatican. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall at the Vatican guesthouse, where the pope lives.

Cardinal Calcagno declined to comment on Cardinal Pell’s remarks about APSA, saying only that he was “disconcerted” by the statements.

The Secretary of State also controlled extensive investments, and the powers of Cardinal Parolin over hiring and spending were under threat.

Then the pope started paring Cardinal Pell’s powers.

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.


Vietnam and Christian intellectuals

A while back we commented on Alan Jacobs’s piece decrying the absence of Christian intellectuals in American public discourse. You may recall that Jacobs’s discussed Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Neuhaus’s magazine, First Things, at some length in his essay. R.R. Reno, the current editor of First Things, has commented himself on Jacobs’s essay, and he makes a couple of interesting points. First, he brings out in greater detail something we merely alluded to:

There’s something to this analysis, but I’d add another factor, unmentioned by Jacobs. The biggest shift in American religious culture in my lifetime has been the extraordinary decline of mainline Protestantism as a vital force in public life. The mainline Protestant tradition had inherited the establishmentarian mentality of New England Puritanism, along with Puritanism’s urgent moralism. As a consequence, the leaders of mainline Protestantism saw themselves as the “conscience of the nation.” In mid-twentieth-century America, as men of letters, social reformers, and political rhetoricians were transformed into “intellectuals” (itself a fascinating story), mainline Protestants came to play that role as well, and did so in theological as well as sociological and philosophical terms.

(Emphasis supplied.) He goes on to say:

The decline of mainline Protestantism was part of a larger dissolution of centrist American institutions. Universities today are far less likely to produce intellectuals. The reason for this failure is not just specialization (although that is a factor) but ideological homogeneity. To a degree that I could not foresee when I was a college student nearly forty years ago, the world of ideas has become almost entirely colonized by the political urgencies of the moment.

(Emphasis supplied.) As Matthew Sitman has noted, Jacobs is only really interested in the output of liberal protestant intellectuals from about 1945 to 1970. Of the examples Jacobs cites, Auden lived the longest, and he died in 1973. And, while we are not a sociologist of American religion, this seems to jive with Reno’s point. We certainly have the impression that mainline protestantism fell off a cliff in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Certainly we have a hard time recalling any time since then that mainline protestants have been a force to be reckoned with.

We also wonder, perhaps with a comic-book understanding of American history, whether a broader trend of antiestablishment sentiment should be considered when examining this phenomenon. Reno makes the point that liberal protestants had a strong investment in the American establishment, going back, no doubt, to colonial times. But by the end of the 1960s, the establishment was not looking so hot. If you draw bright brackets around 1945 and 1970, you include an active phase of the civil rights struggle and most of the United States’ escalation in the Vietnam War. Indeed, we wonder whether the Vietnam War didn’t have much to do with the rise of antiestablishment sentiment in the United States. For example, Operation Rolling Thunder commenced on March 2, 1965 and Operation Arc Light sometime before the middle of 1965. The Tet Offensive began at the end of January 1968. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned into a general melee as a result of clashes between protesters and Mayor Richard Daley’s police. And more generally at about this time, radical leftist factions—especially student groups—were involved in high profile actions. Obviously, we don’t mean to set up a montage of late-1960s strife set to the strains of “Fortunate Son,” but we think it is worth considering that at about the same time Christian intellectuals—and, indeed, mainline protestantism—are disappearing, antiestablishment sentiment in the United States is reaching a fever pitch over the Vietnam War.

However, if there is a relationship between the rise of antiestablishment sentiment caused by the Vietnam War and the decline of protestant intellectuals, it is a complicated one. But perhaps there’s a link. Jacobs mentioned Fr. Neuhaus as a Lutheran, active in the civil rights movement and in opposing the Vietnam War. Reno observes:

Richard John Neuhaus was a good example. Although formed in the more isolated atmosphere of Missouri Synod Lutheranism, Neuhaus came of age politically and intellectually as a participant in mainline Protestant–dominated organizations supporting civil rights and then opposing the Vietnam War. He possessed an inborn confidence, but that confidence was reinforced by the mainline Protestant sense of ownership over the moral future of America.

(Emphasis supplied.) Perhaps it was the failure of these organizations to, well, do anything to stop the war that drove their decline. While the civil rights movement resulted in actual achievements, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the antiwar movement did not produce many (any?) similar achievements. Again, we do not want to suggest that Vietnam was the defining moment for American mainline protestants and their intellectual vanguard; however, it is difficult to maintain a sense of ownership over a country’s moral future when the country manifestly does not listen to you. To put it another way, it is passing hard “to transcend the ideological conflicts of the moment in order to speak to the nation as a whole” when the nation clearly isn’t listening.

Or maybe not. It’s an interesting question, and it would be fascinating to see an author explore the question at length.

Reno makes another point, very self-aware, and we wanted to mention it, too:

By the time Neuhaus founded First Things, it was already obvious that mainline Protestantism was finished. It had become a chaplaincy for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Neuhaus thought Evangelical and Catholic intellectuals could fill the void, providing America with a religiously informed public philosophy suited to our times. (I’m so thoroughly catechized by the First Things project that those words flow out of me effortlessly.) As Jacobs laments, however, this vision has not come to pass. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan were to say that folks like me have become a chaplaincy for the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

(Emphasis supplied.) We might, in an uncharitable moment, be inclined to agree that, in many ways, the First Things project has been largely Catholics, evangelicals, and others united to give the Republican Party some intellectual cover. But First Things is not alone, nor is it the worst offender. Groups like the Acton Institute seem altogether more interested in providing a theological and philosophical framework for conventional Republican ideology than First Things. And the shifting landscape of the Republican Party seems apt to draw First Things out of a cozy relationship. By this, of course, we mean: Donald Trump is mixing up the established order. Reno himself was a major contributor to National Review‘s Against Trump issue, for example. And we have heard reports that some Trump supporters have been highly critical of First Things for what they perceive as regular anti-Trump coverage.

Something else to think about, at any rate.

Shea, Fisher, politics, and the Catholic Media

We note at the outset that we did not follow either Mark Shea or Simcha Fisher all that closely. This will surprise no one, but we probably were not the target audience or the ideal reader for either of them. However, from time to time, something they wrote at the National Catholic Register (or elsewhere) would bubble into our sphere. Sometimes we agreed, sometimes we disagreed, but never especially vehemently and never often. The fact of the matter is that neither of them wrote regularly on topics in which we ourselves were interested. Over the last few days, it appears that the National Catholic Register (or its parent company, EWTN) has fired both Shea and Fisher. This has provoked a lot of reaction, both cheering the firings and lamenting them. It seems to us that the firings, which may or may not have been just considered on their own terms, say something important about the state of American Catholic media.

Shea’s firing was very strange. The Register, in a statement issued concerning the firing, stated that Shea never violated their editorial standards. However, it appears that statements he made on other websites were sufficient to cause them to terminate his employment. (It does not appear that Shea broke those other websites’ rules.) In other words, the Register admits that Shea’s work for them was at least minimally satisfactory. Strange, then, that he would be let go. Fisher’s firing was stranger still, since it remains hugely unclear to us what she was let go for. Some people have suggested that it was due to some vulgar language in a political context, others that she expressed too much support for Shea. It seems that one explanation that has been given is that Shea and Fisher can be pointed in different ways in their interactions on Facebook, but that hardly seems like a justification for firing someone, not least since a platform like Facebook encourages pointed interactions.

And we have spoken with some folks who have had less than charming interactions with Mark Shea in particular, and they believe that he could be very pointed and very dismissive of his opponents. Though we have yet to see a debate on matters of faith conducted on the internet that does not involve someone being very pointed and very dismissive of one’s opponents. Perhaps Shea exceeded the limits imposed by charity, perhaps he didn’t. That’s a matter for him and his confessor. We mention it only to say that sharp elbows seem to be a known hazard among those of us who discuss these matters on the internet. One may celebrate Shea getting at long last his comeuppance, but one shouldn’t whistle past the graveyard quite so cheerfully. We wouldn’t want to be judged on our worst interactions. Likewise, people feel that Fisher could be pointed. However, it seems to us that Fisher does not quite have the same reputation for nastiness that Shea does.

It is also, we will say only briefly, something else to see traditionally minded Catholics, who have been tone-policed and concern-trolled, to say the least, by everyone from high prelates in the Church on down at various times, engaging in exactly the same sort of behavior that was intolerable when applied to them. Error has no rights, it is true, but let us be humane about these things, even if our opponents are not.

At any rate, we have seen some gloating among traditionally minded Catholics, many of whom never had a lot of use for EWTN or the National Catholic Register to begin with, over Shea and Fisher’s firings. The thrust of it is that Shea and Fisher weren’t traditionally minded Catholics and maybe even weren’t all that conservative, and, thus, they deserved what they got. Some folks might even be able to point to specific issues on which Shea and Fisher were insufficiently orthodox or whatever, but even that may presuppose a traditional mindset. (Certainly, we have questions about NFP as it is currently understood popularly, to take one example at semi-random, but we strive to avoid discussing the matter at any length for a variety of reasons.) But it is unclear to us that EWTN or the Register is especially known for the sort of precise, clear-eyed orthodoxy that other outlets are. They seem to be, instead, the voice of a center-right, middle-of-the-road American Catholicism.

This seems to us to be the crucial problem. It seems to us that Shea and Fisher were not heterodox in a relevant way (at least from the corporation’s perspective), so much as they were inconvenient to the specific coalition that EWTN and the Register serve. A traditionally minded Catholic might call the coalition “neo-Caths on the American political right.” (The Reporter is, of course, their left counterpart. More on that in a second.) This is, of course, insider jargon, but what it means is, essentially, a Catholic for whom the doctrine of the Church begins and ends with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the platform of the Republican Party. Shea and Fisher often pitched to the left, speaking in American political terms, of this alliance, though I don’t think either of them is a leftist in conventional terms. Shea perhaps is more explicitly to the left, insofar as part of his project was rejecting the implication that Catholics have to be on the American political right. But, notwithstanding their precise personal categorization, neither of them spends a lot of time making nice with Catholics on the American political right.  And that seems to be a big part of the problem for us with the Shea and Fisher situation. Perhaps Shea is uncharitable in online interactions; perhaps Fisher uses vulgar language when she oughtn’t; but both of those things seem to be convenient pretexts for the Register getting rid of some contributors who don’t fit in with the broader political tendencies of the Register‘s constituency.

Just as EWTN and the Register is the house organ of the neo-Cath/GOP coalition, so too is the Reporter the house organ of Catholics on the American political left. And both sides have essentially guaranteed that their readers will never be challenged by a contrary view. Name one politically conservative writer for the Reporter. Try to name one politically liberal, or relatively politically liberal, writer for the Register (after Shea and Fisher got canned). There is, then, no contradiction to either publication’s contention that they represent the correct expression of Catholicism in the United States, which involves fusion with one or the other major political party, when anyone with eyes to see can identify the serious problems with either. Moreover, the ideological purification of the publications only furthers this toxic, erroneous notion that Catholics ought to engage wholeheartedly with the categories of the American political spectrum.

We have said and said, both here and elsewhere, that the alliance between Catholics and the American political right, forged largely on the basis of the Republican Party’s laudable opposition to legalized infanticide, is one of the most damaging relationships that the Church has entered. It seemingly locks Catholics into a set of policies that in many ways deviate seriously from the traditional teaching of the Church, especially on issues central to the Church’s social teaching. Consider Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s immigration platform. Are a border wall and aggressive background investigations for some immigrants consistent with the natural right of migration that Pius XII articulated in his radio address on the 50th anniversary of Rerum novarum or in his Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana? (We leave it to you to decide, though we suspect you know what we think.) And other issues could be mentioned, if you think immigration too hot button an issue. A Catholic who wants to be a good Republican is, therefore, in a bind. And Shea and Fisher, each in their way, did little to make that situation more comfortable for those Catholics.

We note in passing that Catholics who want to be good Democrats have been in a very serious bind for a very long time, and we will not rehearse all the problems with that approach, since they are all too obvious and all too well known. We don’t want to minimize this difficult, but we don’t want to bore you (or ourselves) by repeating the all the allegations of the libellus. Suffice it to say that no Catholic can wholeheartedly support—or, indeed, even support in the slightest way without the gravest reservations and for a grave cause—a political party that makes a “right” to infanticide and contraception a cornerstone of its platform.

Indeed, it goes beyond mere discomfort: Trump is causing strain within this traditional coalition. George Weigel and Robert George came out strong against Trump in March, when the Trump candidacy was still a contingent thing. (We probably criticized it here then, as little more than an objection that Trump was outside the neo-Cath/GOP consensus, which still seems a just critique to us.) And even sources that aren’t hugely in touch with Catholic thought realize, especially in the light of Steve Bannon’s comments, among other things, that Trump has a hard time connecting with Catholics. In other words, not only is the dual loyalty of this neo-Cath/GOP coalition a difficulty philosophically, but also the concrete problem of Donald Trump is a tremendous difficulty. A Catholic who wants to be a good Republican is in a very serious bind in the age of Donald Trump.

Catholics—at least Catholics who are serious about the Church’s teachings—know that all this is exactly backwards. The American political spectrum ought to engage wholeheartedly with the teachings of the Church. Catholics should not run to figure out how they can combine their political beliefs and their faith comfortably. Indeed, the only way the sickness in American culture gets better is by submitting to Christ the King and His Church, not by demanding that Christ get out of public life and that the Church accommodate whatever novelty, however wretched, people come up with.


You were there: the end of “National Review”

The Trump phenomenon—based, we acknowledge, primarily in the anxieties of middle-class whites, which is not an altogether comforting point—has whipped movement conservatives into a frenzy. And why not? They’re about to lose their grip on the Republican Party. The latest paroxysm of this frenzy is Kevin Williamson’s National Review article, “The Father-Führer.”

In this piece, which only goes downhill (if possible) from the title, Williamson argues, essentially, that the middle-class whites of America behind the Trump movement have only themselves to blame for their lot in life. Trump isn’t the answer; abandoning their doomed communities and their wastrel ways is the answer. Only he’s not as polite as that. His piece is behind a paywall, but a National Review colleague, running to save Williamson from the tidal wave of opprobrium quotes extensively from it. Williamson’s viciousness reaches its fullest expression with this nasty little peroration:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your g——-d gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

(Expletive redacted.) If the best answer Kevin Williamson can come up with for Trump is to recite the same old conservative dogmas, but louder and meaner, then Kevin Williamson does not have an answer. Because Williamson’s piece boils down to the same old poor bashing that some conservatives resort to whenever their policies don’t produce the results they think they should. (If only the Czar knew!) That National Review thinks that that’s somehow an answer to the Trump phenomenon, then National Review is out of answers, too. In fact, we’re inclined to say that “The Father-Führer” represents the end of National Review.

It is plain that National Review is panicked by Donald Trump. We note that they did devote seemingly an entire issue—or at least a significant portion of an entire issue—to brief essays “against Trump.” And they printed that plea for help from Catholics from Robert George and George Weigel a little while back. Of course, National Review is right to be panicked by the Trump movement, because Trump has tapped into a right-wing current different than the economic and moral currents generally claimed by the conservative movement. And it is clear that many Americans no longer believe in basic, Reagan-era conservative doctrine, largely because they have noticed that that doctrine has not, in point of fact, stopped their communities from being devastated one way or another. It is no surprise that they’ve run to someone who promises something better, but it is surprising that National Review hasn’t come up with a better response.

We note in passing that we could be wrong, and this could be little more than a profoundly snotty reaction of a thought leader who has discovered that his followers have run to the other guy’s show, but, in a way, that’s worse. It means that deep suspicion of cultural and political elites that runs through the Trump movement is justified or at least justifiable. 

But the thing is, we agree: Donald Trump is not the answer to what’s wrong with America today. No politician is. The towering Pope Pius XI tells us that only the Social Kingship of Christ will cure the disease at the heart of modern American society—and modern society more generally. But even speaking in narrowly political terms: Donald Trump is not the answer. But neither is Republican Party orthodoxy, however stringently one wants to express it. As we have discussed previously, it is Republican Party orthodoxy that created the conditions that made Trump possible. Doubling down on that orthodoxy is not going to make Trump go away. And insisting that it will obliterates one’s credibility.

Just read National Review if you don’t believe us.