The Last Thing Anyone Will Ever Write on the Douthat Affair

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.

God Bless Bishop Fellay

Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, has issued a second appeal to Pope Francis to uphold Catholic doctrine and the natural law regarding marriage. Below is an excerpt; the full statement is available here. God bless Bishop Fellay. We have not been left without shepherds.

Given current errors and civil legislation against the sanctity of marriage and the purity of morals, the natural law allows no exceptions, because God in His infinite wisdom, when He gave His law, foresaw all cases and all circumstances, unlike human legislators. Therefore so-called situation ethics, whereby some propose to adapt the rules of conduct dictated by the natural law to the variable circumstances of different cultures, is inadmissible. The solution to problems of a moral order must not be decided solely by the consciences of the spouses of or their pastors, and the natural law is imposed on conscience as a rule of action.

The Good Samaritan’s care for the sinner is manifested by a kind of mercy that does not compromise with his sin, just as the physician who wants to help a sick person recover his health effectively does not compromise with his sickness but helps him to get rid of it. One cannot emancipate oneself from Gospel teaching in the name of a subjectivist pastoral approach which, while recalling it in general, would abolish in on a case-by-case basis. One cannot grant to the bishops the faculty of suspending the law of the indissolubility of marriage ad casum, without running the risk of weakening the teaching of the Gospel and of fragmenting the authority of the Church. For, in this erroneous view, what is affirmed doctrinally could be denied pastorally, and what is forbidden de jure could be authorized de facto.

In this utter confusion it is now up to the pope—in keeping with his responsibility, and within the limits set on him by Christ—to restate clearly and firmly the Catholic truth quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, and to keep this universal truth from being contradicted in practice locally.

The Road Ahead

Much to my surprise, “A Closing Comment on the Synod” became one of the highest viewed posts on Opus Publicum since I reset the blog last year, though it received far fewer comments than other posts related to, say, Catholic/Orthodox relations or liturgical reform. Perhaps people are tired of reading and talking about the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family. I know I am. Several worst-case-scenarios were proposed by observers over the past year; none of them, thankfully, came to pass. As I pointed out previously, however, that is no cause for comfort. Pope Francis, who has already revolutionized the annulment process, can still set loose more doctrinal and moral confusion within the Church with his pending Apostolic Exhortation. Liberal bishops, priests, and laity, despite their alleged defeat at the Synod, now appear emboldened to continue turning a blind eye to mortal sin in the name of “mercy.” As for the conservatives and traditionalists, the immediate future looks bleak. Those Synod participants who refused to get on board with the liberal reforms championed by the Continental prelates and backed by the Pope are now exposed. No, Francis cannot lay the hammer down on all of them, but he can continue to play musical chairs with the seats of power at the Vatican to help ensure that the orthodox hierarchy won’t get in his way in the future.

Some Thoughts on St. Nicholas Charnetsky and Our Present Situation

St. Nicholas Charnetsky, a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic bishop and martyr for the Faith, labored with Christian charity and Apostolic zeal for the reunion of Orthodox with the See of Rome from the 1920s until his imprisonment by Soviet authorities in April 1945. As a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), Charnetsky embodied both the monastic and missionary spirit of the order’s founder, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, by ministering to the most abandoned souls while never neglecting his rigorous daily prayer rule. As a Latin order, the Redemptorists may have seemed like a strange vehicle to bring the Word of God to Byzantine Rite Catholics and Orthodox, but as recounted in Blessed Bishop Nicholas Charnetsky, C.Ss.R. and Companions: Modern Martyrs of the Ukrainian Catholic Church (Ligouri Publications 2002), the saintly bishop

observed that the spirit of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer—because of its simplicity, love of sacrifice and self-denial, and also because of its singular devotion to the suffering and eucharistic Jesus and to the Most Holy Virgin Mother of God—was very close to the spirit of the Ukrainian people, and created, as it were a link of mystical affinity.

Some Catholic and Orthodox Reading for Tuesday

Elliot Milco, my friend and author of The Paraphasic web-log, may have just produced his best (blogging) work to date. “In the Absence of a Shepherd” recounts Milco’s days as a student and, later, teacher at a prestigious Jesuit high school in Chicago. More than an autobiographical reminiscence, the post takes a hard look at the chimera of “Ignatian Catholicism” and the deplorable state of Catholic education before concluding with some pointed remarks aimed at the “chief shepherd” of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Blase Cupich. Having first-hand experience with another form of qualified Catholicism, in this case “Vincentian Catholicism,” I sympathize with Milco’s account and wonder what, if anything, can be done to overcome the worldliness of contemporary Catholic education at every stage along life’s way. Setting up alternative, orthodox, centers of Catholic learning is course necessary, but without sizable private contributions and strong institutional support from the Church, they will never amount to more than marginal enterprises benefiting only a select number of souls.

Sticking with the topic of Catholic education for a brief moment, Rod Dreher has come to the defense of New York Times columnist Russ Douthat, who is currently under attack from liberal elites at Catholic colleges and universities for the crime of “heresy hunting.” As a side note, I was shocked to see that my alma mater, DePaul University, is not represented on the list of witch hunters.

As for witches and other demonic things that go bump in the night, an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine, Geoffrey Thompson, offers a pithy critique of the tendency for some Orthodox (and, undoubtedly, other Christians as well) to overly “spiritualize” physical and psychological ailments. Thompson’s observations may not be for everybody, but anyone who has been around certain Orthodox environs more notable for their superstition than spirituality will quickly understand what he’s talking about.

Finally, over at Ethika Politika, Daniel Schwindt reminds us that “The Popes Want Justice, Not Capitalism.” The piece serves as something of a preview for Schwindt’s forthcoming critique of Michael Novak and Paul Adams’s Social Justice is Not What You Think and warns against the liberal project of “reduc[ing] social justice to an individualized virtue.”

A Closing Comment on the Synod

The glib optimism flowing from ostensibly conservative Catholics concerning the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family is a thing of wonder. Only in a Church where abuse, dissent, and outright heresy are so commonplace could a document like the final Relatio be held up as a banner of orthodoxy. Some conservatives are now laying into traditional Catholics, noting that their worries about schism and collapse were not just overblown, but thoroughly ridiculous. As a friend of mine observed, however, just because a stroke is a more dramatic way to die doesn’t mean a nice quiet bout of cancer won’t do the same job.

Now all eyes are on Pope Francis. The Synod, as most realize by now, was little more than ecclesiastical performance art. Although some brave bishops stood up and challenged the Church to speak clear on marriage, family, and sexuality, it’s become clear that the fix is in. Francis, who has already unilaterally revolutionized the Church’s annulment process, clearly did not get the synod he desired. His petulant rant after the Synod, coupled with his desire to create a “synodal church” with devolved doctrinal authority (see more here), confirms this. What will he do in the interim, though? People are expecting a post-synodal exhortation, one which may or may not follow the rickety Relatio. It’s all up to the Pope, and there is no reason to take comfort in that brutal fact.

Over the past year Catholics have mused about what they might do if the Pope, with or without a majority of the bishops, openly taught heresy with respect to marriage and the sacraments. Even before this year’s Synod I had suggested that any change to the annulment process which further waters-down the sacramental integrity of marriage poses serious problems for those who wish to defend the indefectibility of the Church. At this point there is no meaningful distinction between the de facto Catholic divorce instituted by Francis and the Eastern Orthodox Church’s longstanding practice of dissolving sacramental marriages. And yet Catholics will continue to chirp on about the “error of the East” without confronting the enormity of the error the Pope has introduced into their own communion. So much for self-critical Catholicism.

The truth is that most Catholics scandalized by the Synod and the Pope won’t leave. The sunk costs are too high. Instead, they will close their eyes to their surroundings while singing “Everything is Awesome” just loud enough to drown out all the voices—clerical and lay—calling for a sexual revolution in the Church. Some Catholics, like the Society of St. Pius X and the faithful who remain attached to tradition, will continue to resist the institutional Church, including the Pope if necessary. God bless them. There will be no heavenly reward for obedience to those who betray the clear teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.

Everything is Awesome

The Extraordinary Synod on the Family is over. The final Relatio has been published. Sure, as Rorate Caeli details, there are several paragraphs littered with ambiguous, if not alarming, statements, none of which clearly affirm Church teaching and praxis on marriage and the family which no orthodox Catholic dared question for centuries. But, as the conservative Catholic media informs, there is no need to worry. The outcome of the Synod is a cause for celebration because neither rank heresy nor radical disciplinary changes made it into the final document. Yes, you read that right. The fact that the Church’s shepherds somehow, someway managed not to deliver a mortal blow to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ means there is nothing to worry about. There is no need for fear. Those vigilant for the Truth are just pharisees after all.

Everything is awesome. Let no man, nor an angel, tell you otherwise.

A Note on Saving Christendom in Europe

Until today I had never read a single word penned by Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal who caught some eyes with his recent opinion piece, “In Defense of Christendom.” It’s a mixed bag, reminiscent of George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral and any number of other dystopian takes on Europe’s future. Arguably, Stephens isn’t all that interested in preserving European Christendom so much as he—like many others—is worried about the tidal wave of Muslim immigrants that has hit the Continent in recent months. Better the Cross than the Koran, I suppose. Some have taken umbrage with Stephens’s piece, including Artur Rosman, a pedestrian Patheos blogger emblematic of that site’s intellectual vapidity. Rosman’s main beef with Stephens concerns the latter’s brief reliance on Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Without Roots to advance the thesis that Europe has lost its sense of self. According to Rosman, Stephens “proof-texted” from the former pontiff’s words because he failed to take into account Benedict’s positive appraisal of multiculturalism. So what? As we’ve come to see over the last two years, popes aren’t always right, especially when speaking outside of a magisterial context.

The immigration crisis in Europe is, to put it mildly, messy. Rosman believes that basic Christian hospitality ought to guide the European Union’s (EU) hand, though he fails to clarify why. States have a duty first and foremost to their own citizens, which cannot be separated from their duty to the true religion. Although the world is now bereft of any authentically Catholic state, that does not mean the nations of the world have a right to religious indifferentism. Although some of the refugees pouring into Europe are Christian, most are not. As such, it behooves the EU, or any individual state, to balance charity with its first-order obligations. If mass Muslim migration to Europe threatens the rights of the Church and Christ the King—and there is good reason to suspect it does—then a blind “open door policy” would not only be imprudent, but contrary to right order as well.

None of this is to say that Muslims should be automatically excluded from finding safe haven in Europe or any other Western country. As Pope Pius XII taught, immigration is a right and the goods of the earth belong to all peoples. However, states are still entitled to take measures to maintain social order and to defend themselves from existential threats, external as well as internal. Should the ongoing violence in the Middle East come to a close, there is no reason why the EU or any state which has taken in Muslim immigrants shouldn’t request them to return if the common good demands it.

But let’s not forget what is often at the heart of many states’ immigration policies, and it has nothing to do with either charity or justice. It’s greed. Immigrants are a useful source of cheap labor which can keep bloated social programs running and white retirees happy. Capitalist greed, not Christian ethics, drive state-level decisions on who to let in, when, and under what conditions. And in the case of Europe, that greed may very well be the EU’s undoing as it trades off short-term maintenance of its economic ordo for civilizational surrender.