I signed the letter primarily because I wanted to support my colleague who was slurred as a heretic on the very public forum of Twitter.

Although I admire Mr. Douthat’s intelligence, piety, and passion for the faith, I signed the letter because I believe he has uttered several factual errors.  I do believe that, even in its editorial pages, that the New York Times, like all publications, has a duty to the represent the truth to the best of its ability.  More than many other figures who misrepresent or oversimplify Catholic theology in the mainstream media, Mr. Douthat has tended to portray himself as one who recites Catholic teaching rather than one who interprets it, especially over the course of the past few weeks. This alone I take issue with.

In other words, I have no problem with any thinker expressing on even the most public forums views about Catholic theology that differ from mine.  I do not even have a problem if said thinker defends and advocates for a “conservative” interpretation of Catholicism.  I have no problem admitting that I am neither objective or neutral: we all speak from a certain context, suffer under the weight of our own finitude, and perpetrate a certain sinful bias.  Although I, like every Catholic, feel very strongly about my views, I am not scandalized by the fact that Catholics disagree, mostly in good faith, about many, many things.

Now here comes the hard part. Many people, rightly, have taken issue with the letter’s use of the word “credentials.”  Some contend that this word makes it seem as though only those with three letters after their name are entitled to speak on questions of Catholic theology and identity.  I regret the impression this word has left in the minds of those who read the letter.  I regret my failure to anticipate this completely reasonable response in advance.

So let me clarify…not in order to make excuses for my error but to atone for it. I certainly do not believe that only those privileged and lucky enough to have crossed the doctoral finish line qualify as the sole authentic theologians.  Nor do I think that rigorous academic theological training necessarily makes one a better disciple of the crucified Christ.  In fact, human history supports the opposite conclusion: the poor and marginalized–those who sit outside of the corridors of power rather than within them–possess a superior capacity both to perceive and to life the truth.

Speaking just for myself: I object not to the privileging of un-credentialed voices but to the Times’ inconsistent standard of credibility.  When it wished to employ an editorialist about the economy, it selected a Nobel Prize winning professor.  When the New York Times publishes articles about global warming, they trust the judgments of “credentialed” scientists.  One wonders why the New York Times does not extend to the discipline of theology the same respect?  In other words, while one does not need a PhD to perceive and to live God’s truth, one does need some sort of systematic training to pontificate (pun intended) about questions of church history and liturgical, moral, and systematic theology.  These can be found outside of the theological academy, but they must be found somewhere.

So perhaps rather than calling Mr. Douthat “un-credentialed,” the letter should have asked the New York Times the following question: with what criteria did they determine Mr. Douthat competent to act as an arbiter of theological truth?

But let’s be real here: some of the pushback to the letter’s use of the word “credentialed” strikes me as a bit disingenuous or self-serving. If we do not believe that academic theologians have anything distinctive to contribute to public debates, and if we believe their training makes them not experts but just self-inflated blowhards, then let’s go all the way with this.  If Massimo Faggioli’s PhD and professoriate in theology does not matter, then neither does Mr. Douthat’s magna cum laude graduation from Harvard.  

Let’s also not forget that Mr. Douthat’s position owes in no small part to the credentials of race and gender that he has accumulated but not earned. We take white men much more seriously than we take others, even when they say very silly things.

86 thoughts

  1. Firstly, I don’t accept the fact credentials make one the best commenter on religious issues but if they have to publish factual representative stories about a religion, why not from the experts in that religion? Otherwise it will be what it is, OPINIONS.

    1. oh, was Tupac Shakur an editorialist for the New York Times in his brief 25 year life? I somehow missed that.

      But you are right, I do quite prefer Mr. Shakur’s theology to Mr. Douthat’s.

      1. So what exactly do disagree with in regards to Mr. Douthat’s theology? I guess the context for this is the recent Synod 15, so do you agree with the Church Teaching on homosexuality and adultery and whether those who commit these sins should be admitted to Holy Communion?

        The Council of Trent doctrinally teaches:

        “For this reason we must remind those intending to receive Holy Communion of the commandment found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:28): ‘But let a man prove himself and so let him eat of that Bread, and drink of the Chalice.’ The traditional and immemorial custom of the Church has always been unmistakably clear on this question: let a person wishing to receive Holy Communion truly examine his conscience and if he be in the state of mortal sin, let him not receive Holy Communion (no matter how contrite he may consider himself to be) without first availing himself of sacramental confession.”

        I look forward to your response.

      2. very worthy topics of discussion. I have written about most of these at length both on the blog and in professional journals. I encourage you engage with me on these topics there, if you would like. But no, these questions have nothing to do with either Faggioli and O’Malley’s writing the letter or my signing it.

      3. But you are right, I do quite prefer Mr. Shakur’s theology to Mr. Douthat’s.<<

        And that tells us all we need to know about you, sweetie.

      4. Oh the irony of an anonymous, rap-hating, male commenter who has chosen “NorDog” as his nickname being driven into a frenzy about a young white woman’s love for a male rapper.

    2. Katie Grimes: “Oh the irony of an anonymous, rap-hating, male commenter who has chosen “NorDog” as his nickname being driven into a frenzy about a young white woman’s love for a male rapper.”

      I suppose I should not be surprised that you choose to view everything through the prism of race. Most Leftists are racists after all.

      In any event, your proclamation of Tupac as your fav still tells us all we need to know (and none of it has anything to do with race even though you (and at one time he – undoubtedly) are obsessed with race.

      It tells us first and foremost that in your chosen career you are not to be taken seriously.

      It tells us that in your chosen career you would laud a thug as a theologian over, well, Augustine, or Thomas Aquinas, or Thomas More perhaps, or Cardinal Newman, or any number of others throughout the history of the Church.

      It tells us not only are you not to be taken seriously, but also that you missed the true irony that Massimo Faggioli arguably has far greater potential to be a heretic than Tupac had to be a theologian.

      Stop the H8.
      Start with yourself.

      1. I am not to be taken seriously, and yet, here you are, taking me seriously.<<

        Oh, I take you seriously, just not as a theologian. You know, that chosen career of yours.

        Your statement here demonstrates that you either have abysmal reading comprehension (not good for a theologian) or you deliberately misquoted me in order to sling some snark.

        Neither speak well of you.

        I will give you this. I suspect the Late Mr. Tupac would have made a better theologian than you. I could be wrong on that point.

      2. Totally agree about Tupac! He already managed to be a brilliant musician and wordsmith by the age of 22 or so, he was an up and coming actor, he was on the verge of being one of our most important public intellectuals, and he would have made an amazing professor. He gave more to the world in 25 years than I could ever give even if I live to be 100.

      3. I will look forward to your response to my peer-reviewed article in a peer-reviewed journal. If the quality of your comments here is any indication, I can only expect that your well researched response will make me a better thinker and scholar and enhance the quality of theological debate in general.

  2. Ross Douthat is an op-ed writer, not the New York Times’s is official consultant on all things religious. He gets paid to have opinions about all manner of issues concerning public life, among which religion is one. If Maureen Dowd can air freely her decidedly hostile opinions towards Catholic church teaching, there is no reason Douthat should be prevented from giving his. The only difference is that in Douthat’s case, he’s actually friendly to church teaching. It is ironic, to say the least, that this letter sent to the New York Times comes from a certain segment of thinkers in catholic an American life that claims to favor freedom of opinion and open dialogue…

  3. Yesterday I happened to look at the Daily Theology post of the letter, to see what names had been added. It felt weird and a bit awkward to see my name alone, with no corresponding school. You see, I did study theology, but my MA is in Pastoral Studies, so in the end, I elected to not list anything. Hairsplitting? Maybe.

    Your post offers words that put a great deal of this issue into perspective; it is a matter greater than credentials. I can think of one very well credentialed conservative blogger who is posting things that make go beyond Douthat’s words. Credentials may have been a tough place to hang all of this on.

    Thanks for your words here. It is a gift to walk with you and others on this way. Not just for this issue, but for all.

  4. Sorry but you’re in the wrong on this. That letter you singed isn’t a request for the New York Times to hire a credentialed religion columnist. It’s a rebuke for letting a layman write about Catholicism in a partisan fashion. If you wanted the Times to give Faggioli or someone like him column space to write about religion, that would have been great. What you signed was a call for one LESS voice, not one more. It was the wrong thing to do, sorry but it was. And BTW if you want people to see academic theologians as self-important blow hards, this is the way to do it.

    1. it is unfortunate that you believe that the blog post to which you are currently responding in which I explained that my beliefs were the exact opposite of the ones you attribute to me was either insincere or dishonest.

      I hope you will understand why I see no point in continuing to converse and dialogue with a person who believes that I am a liar.

  5. In the history of the Catholic Church (as both faithful and dissenting members would know it), heresies have come from Bishops, Patriarchs, experts, etc., so accusing a theologian or a Bishop of heresy should not be something that would send a man (especially a real man) into a fit of uncontrollable thirst for destruction of the person who used the word heresy, ESPECIALLY when the theologial/Bishop is question is clearly advocating practices that the Church has rejected in the past firmly, consistently, and insistently!

    To want to get Mr. Douthat in trouble with the NYT is simply a real scandal when other writers for the NYT have written so many evil and defamatory things about the Catholic Church and Catholic religious leaders in the past and these people who are now signing the letter stood by without the least protest. This is the other “h” word: hypocritical!

    1. yes but they have not portrayed themselves as authoritative insiders. that’s the difference. and how do you know what all I have protested? you’re saying I have not uttered the “least” protest to such offenses. How do you know? You don’t.

      Could you say a bit more about what you mean by “a real man?” Could you precisely and in detail identify the characteristics of a “real man?” Could you then provide me with extensive documentation proving that you yourself qualify as such? Can you also ensure that I, a woman, will not possess many of the characteristics you attribute to “real men?” I usually find that men who are preoccupied with discerning real men from fake ones tend to suffer from a toxic mix of gender insecurity and misogyny. I surely hope neither of those characteristics apply to you.

  6. Fair enough. I am not sure whether you have protested. So, then I ask: have you made those possible protests public? Have you signed a letter of protest against such anti-Catholic articles (of which are very common for the NYT)? If so, please provide the links or letters so we can all read such articles/letters/protests.

    Well, one of the characteristics would be not to go ballistic on Twitter and pretend to be so offended that one would like to destroy the career of the person who accuse one of something (for which there is some base). If a theologian (cleric or lay) wants Communion for those living in adultery, or whose situations are not according to Catholic teaching, then he has to have the strength to take it when some concerned Catholic faithful questions his (or her since there are female theologians now) faithfulness to Catholic teaching. Simply having a degree in moral theology or any field of theology nowadays (as we all know) does not guarantee faithfulness to the Church’s Magisterium.

    You may (or may not) possess the characteristics, but simply signing a letter “primarily because I wanted to support my colleague” is not the trait of a virtuous man (or woman).

    I have read your post a couple of times, and I still cannot see examples of “I signed the letter because I believe he has uttered several factual errors.” What are the “factual errors” uttered by Mr. Douthat?

    1. For me, the accusation of heresy was the one and only tipping point. I have never experienced a colleague of mine being called such in such a public forum before. As for the inaccuracies, I encourage you to hunt down the several essays that Prof Faggioli has written on this because it is not my area of expertise.

      Since you do not know anything about me and would have no way of knowing this about me: I will let you know that a significant chunk of my teaching is trying to bring the Catholic tradition into conversation with contemporary questions and to defend it against distortions and common misconceptions promoted by people such as the New Atheists. I may not have written letters to every paper that misrepresents the faith, but I can guarantee you that my career is devoted to defending it, even if I am a sinful and limited person.

      And yes, “having a degree in moral theology does not guarantee faithfulness.” I said as much and agree with you. And again, no one who signed the letter did so because Mr. Douthat believes that the re-married should not receive communion. That has literally nothing to do with it and there is no evidence that it does. We know this because many people share Mr. Douthat’s opinions about communion and yet we only wrote a letter criticizing him. I think if you will stop importing your (so far completely false) assumptions about me into this, you will find me much less objectionable. So far you have yet to take issue with something I have actually said or done.

      And there is no “hypocrisy” because, one, I have never called anyone a heretic or accused them of heresy on a public forum before, two, I have never supported anyone doing so, and three, I have never witnessed a colleague being called such before and stood by and done nothing.

    2. Oh, and if not “being so offended that one would like to destroy the career of the person who accuse one of something (for which there is some base)” is what makes one a “real man,” then I guess you do not think the United States bishops are “real men” for “trying to destroy the careers” of feminist theologians like Margaret Farley and Elizabeth Johnson who have long accused the church and its leaders of sexism?

      And no one who belongs to the Newman society is a “real man.”

      And of course since you are a “real man,” you will not seek to “destroy the career” of any Catholic theologian or minister who “offends” you, yes? May you be an example to all the fake men out there.

      1. If those women are coming up with heretical positions or positions that flirt with heresy or ideas that the Church has condemned, then the Bishops are correct in opposing the views of those feminist theologians — just like Douthat was correct in calling out what was underneath the ideas being disseminated by the liberal theologians on Twitter. Real Catholic men (and real women) stand up against false teachings and false notions of mercy, truth, and justice.

        Sexism could mean a lot of things in this context: those women may be referring to the teaching that says that females cannot be ordained, the practice that women are not Cardinals, etc. That’s not simple “sexism,” as you will, I am sure, easily understand.

        I for one would not have written such a letter as the one Faggioli sent to the NYT and encouraged others to sign. If Faggioli has liberal views that flirt with views the Church has condemned (and did not approve at this past Synod), then Douthat was right in asking him to “own your heresy,” and not hide his views under some unclear, confused phrasing.

      2. sir, with all due respect, grab a dictionary and look up the word heresy. you are under the false impression that “heresy” and “dissent” are synonyms. They are not. And the bishops never called them heretics. But either way, looks like your definition of a “real man” leaves a bit to be desired, huh? maybe you should leave critiques about a person’s perceived gender out of your arguments in the future.

    3. also, if the above trait is a defining characteristic of “real man-hood,” then I’m not sure why you are upset with me for falling short of it. Aren’t I just conforming to my God-given womanness? Shouldn’t I be praised for being so offended that someone would accuse someone of heresy that I sought to make a public critique of them that indicates they are not so good at their job? If I acted as you said, wouldn’t I be “acting like a man” and therefore defying church teaching?

  7. What’s the point of having a paper of record if it publishes people whose views differ from ours (especially non-academics!)? Someone at the NYT should kick Douthat to the curb… and quickly. Better that one man silenced than that the whole liberal theological establishment be exiled. #DoYouEvenPHD

    1. I’m posting this even though I don’t understand the point you’re making. From where would the “liberal theological establishment be exiled?” Aren’t we mostly at colleges? How does anyone’s job at the NYTIMES affect that all?

      1. Sure, but the Old Grey Lady is supposed to be our public microphone. What will the cultured despisers of the faith think of us if Ross is allowed to continue writing about how Catholics believe these dusty, old traditions? It’s embarrassing!

      2. that would be a witty take-down if that were what the letter was actually protesting. did you read my blog post? I explicitly said I have no problem with someone being “conservative.” So I’m not sure why you are wasting your precious life critiquing me for things I do not believe and have not said.

      3. In the end, I go back to the original letter: Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject. He should refrain from pontificating on theological matters or lose his job. At the very least, the NYT should require him to train under Maureen Dowd and Frank Bruni about how to write factually correct, nonpartisan op-ed pieces on the Catholic faith. As Faggioli et al. write, this is not what we expect of the New York Times.

      4. right. did you catch the part where I apologized for and admitted my error in not realizing how that wording would be interpreted (even though I did not write the letter)? and then explicitly clarified my intention so as to distance myself from any sort of elitist ideology? it’s quite uncharitable and in fact mean-spirited to hold someone to their mistakes when they have made a good faith effort to admit and correct them. I hope that’s not how you treat your friends and family members.

    2. You misunderstand: I’m saying let’s not back down from the force of the original letter. The New York Times should have never published Douthat’s tripe: he’s NOT credentialed, and he writes silly things that are potentially embarrassing to established academics like Faggioli who are trying to make Catholicism palatable to modern women and men.

      Plus, he’s a white male! #Strike2

      1. and if you were to track down the work of those who signed the letter, you will find that many of them routinely make arguments that the average “modern” woman or man would find very unpalatable. so your argument just does not withstand the facts.

    3. and if you were to track down the work of those who signed the letter, you will find that many of them routinely make arguments that the average “modern” woman or man would find very unpalatable…

      Yes, in some cases. But, overall, I think Faggioli is fighting the good fight. His hermeneutic of aggiornamento is just what we need to soften the rougher edges of Catholicism so that it is easier for progressive Westerners to accept. [As an aside, Faggioli’s takedown of Benedict XVI in True Reform was delightful!] If Cardinal Kasper and his allies are not undermined by the modern day scribes and pharisees, I truly think we will see a resurgence of Catholicism in places like Germany and France.

      Admittedly, my comment on Douthat’s privilege was not properly nuanced. With you, I was trying to make sure that others do not forget that Mr. Douthat’s position owes in no small part to the credentials of race and gender that he has accumulated but not earned. Yes, Faggioli is a white male, but his viewpoints are much more respectable, and not silly and partisan, like Ross’. Just to be clear: I’m fine if the New York Times wants to run opinion pieces by Faggioli, O’Malley, and really any active member of the CTSA.

    1. oh, hi, wes. I see you have multiple email accounts. You must be the lovely person who just sent me that very productive mean spirited email. You surely have a strange definition of “weakness.” Maybe you should create your own dictionary. I bet it will be as big as Webster’s.

  8. Did it ever occur to you that Douthat might spend time with theologians in his inner circle? He’s not the first Catholic to make those comments, and they do spill out of the mouths of “conservative” Catholic theologians. Also, thanks for the racist and sexist remark at the end. Very classy. Do you think that it was easier for me because I’m white and male? Have you looked at college stats lately? Men are lagging. I’m actually the minority in my office in terms of whiteness and maleness. And I’m a MEDICAL DOCTOR. In fact, four women were given promotions and no men were considered. I would tell you where I work but I don’t want to lose my job due to my comments. I promise you that I am not lying. Remember CNN’s article last year about women in the workplace and how discrimination trends were now going in the other direction, i.e. towards males? Or do you have selective vision? I’m going to assume you are a liberal, which means you are intolerant of other people’s positions.

      1. I’d love to preach the Gospel but the Catholic Church does not allow women to be priests. But I am inspired by your courageous willingness to dissent from church teaching in such a public forum.

  9. Katie:

    I appreciate that you wrote a post explaining your reasons for signing the letter, and I appreciate your apology for the “credentials” argument in the letter. But the letter is an embarrassment for all the academics who signed it and support it because it is devoid of any argument. This is the substance of the letter you signed: (1) an assertion that Mr. Douthat is not worthy of the NY Times because he lacks the appropriate credentials, (2) an assertion that “the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is” (without any further explanation or argument), (3) and a statement that “accusing other members of the Catholic church of heresy, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly, is serious business that can have serious consequences for those so accused.” The letter does not contain an argument. If a student was tasked with writing a response to an op ed and handed in this 1-paragraph essay the student would be heading for a big fat “F.” The next time your colleagues decide to write a letter to the NY Times they should consider making an argument that includes both assertions and facts that support those assertions. Otherwise, the academics who have time to blog but not time to write coherent arguments will not be taken seriously by lay people who look to them to understand “what Catholicism really is.” This is not the academy at its best!

    The letter to the editor that you signed claims to be a response to the column that Mr. Douthat wrote for the NY Times on October 18, 2015. The letter suggests that Mr. Douthat’s column on Oct. 18 contained an accusation of heresy against “other members of the Catholic church.” The problem is that Mr. Douthat’s article of October 18 contains no such accusation (or if it does contain such an accusation you and your colleagues never say so; perhaps it was very subtle!). The letter you signed never explains with any specificity what the accusation of heresy was, who it was aimed at, why it was false, or even why it is “serious business.” I suspect you will cite to Mr. Douthat’s tweet where he said “own your heresy” but that, of course, was not in his column of October 18 and, I am sure, is of no concern to the editors of the NY Times. If Mr. Douthat’s tweeting concerned you, why not say so in your letter to the editors? The fact that academics appear to be incapable of stating clearly what they are talking about and why it matters is concerning to those of us who have no credentials and assume – perhaps naively – that out tax dollars and donations are being used by our theologians to develop reasoned arguments that can enlighten us about these important religious and social issues.

    Like the letter to the editors you signed, this 8-paragraph explanation you have provided here fails to answer any of the key questions: what the accusation of heresy was, who it was aimed at, why it was false, and why it is “serious business.” In fact, your post consists almost entirely of assertions about Mr. Douthat that are not supported with any facts. You state in your post that: “I signed the letter because I believe he has uttered several factual errors.” You never explain what those factual errors are, but apparently they are so serious that you felt inclined to denounce Mr. Douthat’s work by signing a public letter to the editors of the NY Times that made no mention whatsoever of any of the factual errors. If you are going to publicly denounce someone’s writing you should be courteous enough to that person and other readers to explain what you mean and what it is you are actually upset about. Simply asserting that Mr. Douthat made factual errors, and therefore deserves to be publicly rebuked by you and your colleagues, is not an argument that supports your decision to sign the letter to the editors.

    In your post you also assert that: “Mr. Douthat has tended to portray himself as one who recites Catholic teaching rather than one who interprets it, especially over the course of the past few weeks. This alone I take issue with.” You never explain how Mr. Douthat has done so or why you take issue with it. Again, you have failed to make an argument to support your decision to sign the letter to the editors.

    Lastly, after apologizing for signing a public letter that implies that Mr. Douthat is not worth of the NY Times because he lacks the appropriate credentials, you then go on to explain why, in fact, the NY Times should have chosen someone to be their op ed writer who had more credentials (or, at the very least, someone who was not a privileged white male). You start your argument by asserting that the NY Times is “inconsistent” in its selection of op ed writers. In this one instance you actually provided some examples of situations where the NY Times choose Noble winners to serve as their writers, rather than regular Harvard grads with no other credentials. But you conveniently failed to address any potential responses to that argument. For example, you failed to mention that Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristoff often write for the NY Times about Catholic issues but also lack the credentials that you and your colleagues find so important. So your argument that the NY Times is inconsistent is a very weak one. The opposite argument could be made: when it comes to Catholic issues the NY Times is entirely consistent in its willingness to let lay people serve as leading voices. Are you going to write a letter to the NY Times editors complaining about those writers as well, or at least a letter to the editors explaining that this apparent inconsistency is a real concern to you?

    You also assert that the NY Times in selecting Mr. Douthat to be its writer has provided him with the opportunity to be the “arbiter of theological truth.” Do you really look to the NY Times for theological truth? Do all theologians look to the NY Times for theological truth? I thought it was a secular newspaper.

    You then complete your argument by pulling out the race and gender card. Specifically, you assert that: “Mr. Douthat’s position owes in no small part to the credentials of race and gender that he has accumulated but not earned. We take white men much more seriously than we take others, even when they say very silly things.” What are the silly things Mr. Douthat has said you never bother to say. Nor do you explain why, if you value reasoned argument over race- or gender-based privilege, you did not respond to Mr. Douthat’s silly arguments with a reasoned argument that blows his position and factual errors out of the water. Again, you really did not make an argument here: you just asserted things about Mr. Douthat (he is a privileged white male) that were never raised in the letter to the editor and, at best, are only tangentially related to the issue of Mr. Douthat’s tweet about heresy.

    I am in no way defending Mr. Douthat’s actions, including the tweet that you and your colleagues appear to have found so offensive; I am just trying to explain why many of us with no credentials have a hard time taking academics seriously when they, rather than making in their public communications serious and well-developed arguments supported by facts, spend their time engaging in “twitter wars,” making unsupported allegations about their intellectual opponents on their blogs, denouncing their intellectual opponents for having insufficient credentials, writing incoherent 1-paragraph letters to the editors of the NY Times, and playing the race and gender card. If you want to take on Douthat in an intellectual discussion about difficult theological issues, including heresy, I would encourage you and your colleagues to do it; I am sure he would welcome a serious debate. If your goal is to teach the rest of us what Catholicism really is, I do not believe that twitter, 1-paragraph letters to the editor, or race-based arguments will serve as very effective tools for you and your colleagues to accomplish that objective.

    1. oh, crap! Is that the letter I signed? I would have had no clue had you not shared its contents with me. And you are absolutely right, it was totally silly of me to treat a letter to the editor of the NYTimes differently than I treat an essay written by a college freshman.

      And yes, I would love for Mr. Douthat to engage in conversation with me. Perhaps you could pass this blog post along to him for me? https://womenintheology.org/2015/10/19/is-there-a-place-for-women-at-our-lords-table-some-questions-for-ross-douthat/

      But I’m sorry, I will never be “embarrassed” to stand in solidarity with a cherished colleague. If you like to let your friends get unjustly maligned without speaking up on their behalf, that’s totally your business. But it’s not how I choose to live my life.

      1. Katie: What is embarrassing for you and your co-signers is that as theologians, boasting about your credentials, you voluntarily wrote a 1-paragraph letter to the editors of the NY Times that is incoherent. Regardless of the reasons you had for signing the letter, you and your co-signers should be embarrassed that your defense of your colleague and your criticism of Mr. Douthat was so unintelligible. You could have written a 5-page letter to the editors outlining the ways Mr. Douthat committed factual errors or had the wrong narrative about Catholicism or falsely maligned your colleague, or you could have published something substantial on this blog, but instead you and your co-signers published a letter containing a fuzzy set of assertions about Mr. Douthat with no facts to support those assertions and you issued the letter to a body – the editors of the NY Times – that had nothing to do with the tweet that caused so much offensive.

        Your letter to the editor and your response to my post do not explain why Mr. Douthat’s tweet maligned your colleague. To do so you would have to actually explain who Mr. Douthat maligned, when and how he did so, why Mr. Douthat’s allegation of heresy (if he made one at all) is false, and why it would constitute an offense against your colleague that justified your signing the 1-paragraph public letter issued to the editors of the New York Times, who did not having anything to do with the allegedly offensive tweet.

        As it stands, your argument seems to be that it is okay for you and your colleagues to make public accusations about Mr. Douthat on your blog and in your public letters (e.g. he has no qualifications, he commits factual errors, he is only writing for NYT because he is a privileged white male, he may have subtly accused someone of heresy in some NYT column at some point in time, he holds himself out as speaking as one who recites Catholic teaching, etc.) without providing readers with any factual support for those assertions so long as when you do so you are “in solidarity” with a colleague. I cannot believe that is really the best that well credentialed academics can do. Solidarity is not a justification for cowardice. If you disagree with Mr. Douthat on the merits, fight him on the merits. Running to the editors of the NY Times and calling Mr. Douthat a privileged male who has no credentials (an ad hominem attack) is the opposite of serious intellectual engagement.

        I am being completely serious here: Why not take this opportunity to write a well-reasoned, thorough refutation of Mr. Douthat’s arguments so that lay people can understand how he wronged your friend, what factual errors he made, and what Catholicism really is? You claim that is your goal; why not do it? Why resort to a cheap, poorly-worded 1-paragraph letter to the editors of a secular newspaper who had nothing to do with the tweet that you and your colleagues find so offensive? Perhaps there is something else going on here you and your academic colleagues are not admitting?

        The Church needs its theologians to be much better than they are showing themselves to be right now in this debate and in this important discussion about families. It does no one any good to have Catholics denounce each other in public forums without engaging their opponents’ ideas and arguments. You have an opportunity on this blog to write out complete arguments, to respond thoughtfully and fully to those who challenge you, to take the time to address your intellectual opponents with charity, and to offer real insight – not opinions unsupported by facts – about issues of importance to Catholics and others. I hope you will help raise the bar here and encourage your academic colleagues to offer the public something more than incoherent 1-paragraph letters and smug twitter responses.

      2. Yes, I wrote a blog post attempting to do most of the things you have just accused me of failing to do and it earned me hundreds of hateful comments, emails, and tweets. As I have told others here, the nature of the dispute between Prof Faggioli and Mr. Douthat is easily accessible. As for giving the more detailed account you demand, as you can see here, the New York Times prefers letters to be between 150 to 175 words so I’m not really sure how Prof Faggioli could have given a more detailed account. It looks like your real beef lies with the NYTimes. Why don’t you direct your outrage at them? http://www.nytimes.com/content/help/site/editorial/letters/letters.html

        (I’m sorry I’m not the unreasonable and shrill lunatic you need to be me. I know it would make things a lot easier on you. Perhaps that’s what you’re so angry about?)

  10. Excuse me, but I do not see a post that I wrote yesterday in response to your (Katie Grimes’) response to one of my comments with regards to Margaret Farley. You gave her as an example of a lady who is in “dissent” (not heresy) and that she has been opposed by Bishops for accusing the Church of sexism.

    Now, in that comment, I cited that that lady (Margaret Farley) had been reprimanded several times not only by Bishops, but by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I surmised then that her views therefore are more than just simple dissent. Her books hold and preach views against the Church’s Faith and Morals, and that lady has refused to correct her views. That is more than mere dissent. That is heresy.

    I would like to know why my comment (from yesterday) was not published. Thank you.

    1. because I see no reason to indulge someone who refuses to look up the definitions of the words they are using. I never said the charges against her weren’t “serious;” I said she was not accused of “heresy.” The questions of homosexuality, abortion, divorce do not fall under “heresy.” As a Catholic, Margaret Farley would have been excommunicated had the bishops convicted her of “heresy;” yet they still allow her to teach and she remains a religious sister.

      So yes, I’m not going to waste my time explaining the same thing to you over and over again.

  11. Katie: I am not accusing you of being shrill or a lunatic; nor am I angry at all. I actually have no devotion to either side in this debate, but seeing professional theologians erupt over a “twitter war” and then go running to the editors of the NY Times with an incoherent letter raises legitimate questions about how you and your colleagues are doing theology and what you are trying to communicate to the public about Catholicism. Given your recognition that the “credentials” part of the letter you signed was off base, I was hoping that by engaging you I would elicit from you a defense of the public statements that you and your colleagues have made about Mr. Douthat and his writing on Catholicism. I am not here to defend Mr. Douthat’s actions (I think all people who want to promote a culture where real thinking occurs should eschew twitter and should probably eschew the NY Times), but I think it is fair to ask: upon reflection, is this really the way Catholic theologians should be engaging in public dialogue about important issues for the Church and society? I would be interested in your answer to that question.

    1. Like I said, please read the first blog post I wrote about Mr. Douthat and then track down Prof Faggioli’s essays on the subject. I’m not your researcher or ghost-writer. If you are incapable of googling, I can’t help you. I’m not going to re-write something I have already written.

      And yes, clearly this is the way I think Catholic theologians should be engaging in public discussion because it is what I have repeatedly said. I absolutely believe that it is theologians’ duty to correct publicly influential thinkers when they portend to an authority and a competency which they lack. Again, I wonder why you find my behavior so egregious yet are completely fine with Mr. Douthat’s (erroneously) accusing someone of heresy, a claim that, if true, would lead to excommunication.

      I think what you want is for the Times to give Prof Faggioli a guest column so that he can explain himself more adequately rather than being confined to the 175 word limit for letters that the NYTIMES has in place. Maybe you should contact the Times about that.

  12. Anyone who starts a letter with “Although I admire Mr. Douthat’s intelligence, piety, and passion for the faith…” and then slanders Mr. Douthat is like a person who flips someone off and then says, “God Bless you” or “Have a nice day.” It’s fake admiration. It “strikes me as a bit disingenuous or self-serving.”

    I also find this post disrespectful, condescending, and (the left’s favorite word) “hateful”, and lacking charity. “Let’s also not forget that Mr. Douthat’s position owes in no small part to the credentials of race and gender that he has accumulated but not earned. We take white men much more seriously than we take others, even when they say very silly things.” Typical response that demands a writer worthy of the NYT in “truth” and “credentials” (when it’s convenient), yet lacks any whatsoever in the post attempting to discredit Mr. Douthat.

    This post was supposed to further explain why you signed the letter, but it lacks clarity, substance, and facts among other things. Like Bishop Barron wrote today: “So in the spirit of Howard Sudberry, I would say to those who signed the letter against Ross Douthat, ‘Make an argument against him; prove him wrong; marshal your evidence; have a debate with him; take him on. But don’t attempt to censor him.’ I understand that the signatories disagree with him, but he’s playing by the rules.”

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I also believe that I have accumulated a tremendous amount of unearned privilege from my whiteness and class background. I feel that it is relatively unlikely that I would have the life I have now if I were a person of color.

      And yes, if you do a little googling, you will find that several of the letter’s signatories did in fact attempt to converse with him. He responded to that attempt by calling Prof Faggioli a “heretic.” I find it interesting that you find my post “hateful” but not Mr. Douthat’s accusation.

      Also, as I’ve said elsewhere in the comments section (you guys are not very good at reading things before jumping to conclusions about them), the NYTIMES asks that letters be between 150 and 175 words. Not sure how much more explaining one could do in such a brief space. And again (the reading thing) I actually did write a post explaining at some length some factual errors that Mr. Douthat has made lately in a post just a few days ago.

      But I will just continue sitting back and chuckling at the massive sausage fest that is this comments’ section and the fact that so many men (and only men) are expressing so much rage at a single letter’s sole female signatory. You guys are really making it way too easy for those of us committed to proving that sexism is alive and well.

  13. If your favorite theologian is really Tupac Shakur and you’re serious and not trolling, then you are 100 percent unqualified to comment on any matter of Catholic theology, or probably anything else. Do you really expect to have a career as a theologian, if this is the best you can do?

      1. Really? You’ve taught how long and have tenure where? I was a waiter for a year one time, but I didn’t call it my career.

        I have a friend whose favorite brain surgeon is Nicki Minaj. Oh, Minaj isn’t even a brain surgeon, you say? Well, Tupac isn’t a theologian, either. Hence, your profound misunderstanding of your “career.”

      2. Since this is a public forum, I won’t point out to you the very unintentional pun you committed in your response to me nor will I share how much it made me laugh.

        But I will make sure to submit my letter of resignation FIRST THING Monday morning.

  14. Katie: Thanks for your responses. As I said before, I am not here to defend Ross Douthat. In fact, I think his use of twitter – what he said on twitter and how he said it – was inappropriate. But that is not the issue. I have been responding to what you wrote on this blog.

    I am surprised you keep playing the gender card and accusing those responding to you of “sexism.” If you are a serious intellectual, why would you care whether the person responding to you is a man or woman? Why not engage the argument, not the person? Claiming that you are the victim of sexism is just an easy way out of a discussion. I agree that some responses may not be charitable, and I think you would be right to ignore those responses, but many of the people responding here have asked you serious questions and a charge of “sexism” hardly seems an appropriate response. Yelling “sexism” is very much like yelling “heretic” at your opponent – it is a charge made about the person speaking rather than a response to the argument the person is making.

    I think you are missing the point about the NY Times. The fact that the NY Times only allows 175 word responses is the problem. It is the same problem as using twitter to say something meaningful about the synod, heresy, or “what Catholicism really is.” Massimo Faggioli was not required to send out a tweet stating that Ross Douthat’s column was “appalling” and calling him “ignorant” of basic Catholic teachings – he chose to use twitter with its 100-or so character limit to “comment” on the thoughts of one of his intellectual opponents. It did not produce good fruit. Likewise, you and your colleagues were not required to write a letter to the NY Times – you chose that as the forum in which to respond to criticize Mr. Douthat. You cannot now say: we were really unable to say anything intelligible because the Times limited us to 175 words. The limitations of 175 words (or whatever the limit is) was known to you and your colleagues in advance. Why, then, did so many theologians with great credentials not notice that a letter to the editor of NY Times was an inadequate venue for a serious public debate? Moreover, if you and your colleagues were really worried about a tweet from Mr. Douthat, not Mr. Douthat’s Oct. 18 column, why did you not say so in the 175 word letter you wrote? Something here is off base. People seeking serious engagement, which leads to new insight and clarity, would eschew forms of communication that by their very nature are so limiting. The medium is, at least to some extent, the message. So again I ask: upon reflection, do you really think this was the right way for Catholic theologians to engage in public debate about these issues?

  15. Katie, I am so impressed with your humility and courage in acknowledging the problematic part of the letter–and inspired by your calm, witty, well-reasoned, and gracious engagement with commenters who are not offering you the same charity and respect. Keep nonviolently fighting the good fight, sister!

  16. “I signed the letter primarily because I wanted to support my colleague who was slurred as a heretic on the very public forum of Twitter.”


  17. This entire saga is deeply embarrassing to me as a feminist and liberal Catholic. Your excuse for signing the letter that you now acknowledge was grossly exclusionary was that you wanted to “support a colleague” about whom mean things were said on Twitter. Sorry, this wouldn’t be an acceptable explanation from someone with a penis and it also doesn’t fly from a writer of the “nurturing” “gentle” sex. Lots of subconsciously gendered excuses on display here.

    Your post is confused (and confusing) as you first acknowledge that credentials do not make one a more worthy theologian or Christian, but then go on to critique the NYT for its publishing of non-experts.

    Journalism is, ironically, not your area of expertise, so let me advise you, opinion columnists are not hired for subject matter smarts. They are chosen because they are gifted writers. Paul Krugman was not brought on with the Times because of his 2008 Nobel; in fact that’s impossible, yet another “error” you should correct. He was hired in 1999 on the basis of his ability to write well on complex issues for a broad audience. I invite you to review the biographies of the other op-ed columnists. You will find that most just have a background as writers. Because that’s what they do. They write.

    Nevertheless I am sure your letter was the cause of a great deal of mirth for the editors. Ink stained wretches never tire of humorless pedants instructing them which opinions they have permission to print.

    1. I’m sorry to have embarrassed you, “Jen.” Your opinion surely means a lot to me so I will go and take my name off that letter now. (But a word of kind caution: don’t assume you know what my genitals look like.)

      1. (But a word of kind caution: don’t assume you know what my genitals look like.)<<

        She presumed you didn’t have a penis. Was she wrong?

      2. You and that other feminist are the one’s who started talking about genitalia. Not me.

        In any event it is hardly presumptuous of her to have a general idea what a woman’s genitals look like.

        It is, generally speaking, a creepy subject matter, but I’m not the one who brought it up.

        I’ll also note you didn’t deny she was wrong.

      3. Katie, if a white person posted as part of their argument “don’t assume you know my racial background!” would you understand how offensive and outrageous that comment is? You are a privileged progressive white lady. Please don’t try to appropriate for yourself one iota of the authentic voice of the trans community.

        From your very emotional responses it’s clear you are are not accustomed to dissent. Your piece unfairly criticizes the Times for alleged “inconsistent standards of credibility.” Of course, the Times is perfectly consistent in this regard as has been pointed out to you.

        Leaving aside simply getting the facts about journalism wrong – In spite of all that “Queen of the sciences” humbug there’s nothing so scientific about theology as to make credentials indispensable. You belong to a faith tradition that locates theological brilliance not just “outside the academy” but in a consumptive Carmelite nun and an illiterate French peasant girl. Douthat’s education doesn’t make him credible on the subject and neither does yours. It’s this last point you seem to miss. Perhaps some extended reflection on the nature of “credibility” and the qualifications to serve as an “arbiter of truth” in a religious context are in order. You definitely seem to think you and you colleagues are qualified “arbiters.” The letter is a perfect example of the intellectual constipation plaguing our elites.

      4. I actually agree with everything you said here and is what I was trying to clarify in this post. I am glad for your follow-up comments so that in agreeing with them, I can successfully clarify my own. I initially thought you were making a (most likely unintentionally) transphobic comment when you implied I lacked a penis simply because I am a woman, but I’m glad to see we’re on the same page about transphobia being evil!

  18. Dear Professor, still haven’t heard back from you on whether or not you have a mandatum from the Archbishop of Philadelpia. Your prompt reply is appreciated. Cheers, PG

    1. oh, you’re upset that you don’t have the power to make me do what you want? aw, how sad for you. treat yourself to chocolate ice cream and a bubble bath tonight. you’ve had a hard few days.

  19. Ms. Grimes:

    I come here from National Review. I’m certainly not a “theologian”, but I am a Catholic concerned about the direction of my church. I really don’t understand the point of the letter by the academics to the New York Times. Is it that Douthat, a faithful Catholic who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, has no standing to write about current issues in the church? It’s almost…almost…like the typical leftist academic silencing and censorship of conservative opinions we normally see outside the Catholic Church. We can’t formulate arguments against you, so we’ll try to shut you down so we don’t have to deal with you.

    Douthat is in his position because he provides a service that people want. As an American, moreso than as a Catholic, he has every right to give his view on what his happening in the Church. If you or anyone else doesn’t like his opinion, you can disagree. Thank goodness he is willing to speak out. In the age of a “Pope” who is more interested in praising refugees and homosexuals than he is speaking out for the sanctity of life and marriage, Douthat is rightly concerned that Pope Francis is trying to subtlely move the church toward a modernist, secular, post-sexual revolution mentality. And Douthat is only asking for the church leftists to be forthright about their intentions. We true Catholics are ready for a fight against those who want to destroy our Church by making it stand for nothing. Our intentions are to keep the Catholic Church Catholic. If they don’t like it, they can find another church.

    “We take white men much more seriously than we take others, even when they say very silly things.”

    You spout this leftist PC nonsense without mentioning anything “silly” that Harvard magna cum laude graduate Douthat ever said. You just wanted to let out some seething hatred toward “white men”, presumably including all the males in your family.

    I always thought of Villanova as a pretty traditional Catholic school and I root for their basketball team. The fact that someone as radical as you got a teaching position there makes me wonder about what’s going on there. I wonder about how the “white men” who send their kids to your school and pay your salary would feel about this.

    1. as I said in the blog post to which you are responding, no, I don’t think that Mr. Douthat lacks standing to contribute to the church’s collective search for truth nor do I think one has to have a PhD in theology to do that. But while I do believe that all Catholics are entitled to their own opinions and of course are bound by their own consciences, I do think they have an obligation to inform themselves when possible and consult others with expertise in certain areas when necessary. I do not think Mr. Douthat should lose his column; I really have no interest in that. I actually took a straw poll on my private fb page asking friends who they think would be an excellent conservative theologian to write a “Catholic” column in the NYTimes. So no, my opinions are not what you attribute to me. I will repeat a final time: I have no problem with Mr. Douthat’s being conservative. He’s been conservative for his entire public life (I read him when he blogged for the Atlantic) and yet I only just last week signed a letter of concern about him. Why? It was only a couple of weeks ago that he slurred a colleague.

      And I’m a bit confused at your opinions: you call me an elitist for thinking that Mr. Douthat should consult those with more training than him yet you continually refer to his graduating magna cum laude from Harvard. You can’t have it both ways: if Prof Faggioli’s PhD doesn’t matter, then neither does Mr. Douthat’s graduating from Harvard.

      And again, I am even more confused: you are angry that I signed a letter asking the most influential publication in the English-speaking world (the New York Times, not the National Review, in case it wasn’t clear) to ensure that Mr. Douthat represent Catholic history and tradition accurately, but you are not angry that Mr. Douthat slurred another Catholic as a heretic.

      As for your employment at the National Review, I’m not really sure why you mentioned that, but, I don’t really have much respect for one of the most vocal champions of the regime of terror known as Jim Crow. No wonder you think hatred of white supremacy equals hatred of white people.

      But you “conservatives” have really showed your hand: as your comments reveal, you can never again say that a Catholic has any obligation to obey, give deference to, or even respect the pope. It turns out that your “love” for the Catholic papacy was really just a form of egotism: you loved the popes when they validated your worldview. Now that we have a pope that tells you that you are not ecclesially special anymore, you think him an enemy of the Church. Pope Francis plays the long game and you guys don’t even realize that you are playing on his team.

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