By now most Catholics online—and even many non-Catholics—are aware of the dust-up over New York Times columnist Ross Douthat’s alleged “heresy hunting” piece. Left-wing Catholic academics penned an indignant letter; conservative writers ran to Douthat’s defense; and a Jesuit got upset. By this time next week the case will be closed and in a month few will remember the affair at all. The worst possible defense of Douthat’s actions is to claim he was exercising his “freedom of speech.” He’s Catholic; he has no freedom of speech. In fact, none of us do. To speak or write error is not a true exercise of freedom even if we live in a late-liberal society that is allegedly neutral toward the content of speech. I write “allegedly” because we all know by now that there is a growing list of taboo topics which can only be raised under the right circumstances and with due reverence. If a man wishes to pen a blasphemous screenplay mocking God, Christians, and traditional morality, then praise be. If another should point to the adverse outcomes of the so-called “sexual revolution” and gender politics, let him be drawn and quartered.
If Douthat wrote anything in his column that is slanderous, erroneous, or intentionally misleading, then I pray he has the humility to admit as much. In fact, I pray that a proper authority, be it his priest or bishop, would have a word with him about it. I am as confident that will happen as I am in the chance that other appropriate ecclesiastical authorities will use this matter as a launching-pad to investigate the “scholarship” of Douthat’s critics. Such an investigation need not concern whether they produce “good scholarship” or “bad scholarship.” These are professional academic theologians at American Catholic institutions of higher learning; of course their scholarship is bad. No, what the proper authorities need to do is what Douthat hasn’t actually done, namely root out heresy and publicly chastise those who fail to repent and amend their views. What a glorious day that will be.