The National Catholic Review

Over the last few days, I’ve refrained from writing about a Catholic contretemps that has directly affected me because, basically, I wanted it to go away.  But now that it has not, and that my words are being twisted, my name is being dragged through the online mud, and I’m receiving an avalanche of hate tweets and emails, and moreover, that some people are saying some of the most ridiculous things I've heard lately, it’s time to say something. 

To recap: Ross Douthat, a usually thoughtful and intelligent columnist for the The New York Times, has recently written some hateful things about Pope Francis, including that Francis’s “plot” against Catholicism finally is destined to be a battle between the pope or “the faith.”  In that same piece, Mr. Douthat also attacked the Pope’s “ostentatious humility.”  Mr. Douthat has also attacked people on his Twitter account, sending out comments about my friend Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor of La Civilta Cattolica, like “Is Spadaro Italian for Sophist?”  And calling him a “cartoon Jesuit villain.”   

But it was an exchange with Massimo Faggioli, a well-respected church historian, during which Mr. Douthat randomly tweeted "Own your heresy,” which sent things over the edge.  By the way, just to make sure that tweet could be plausibly denied to refer to Mr. Faggioli, it was tweeted out separately.  To put it in perspective, imagine my engaging in a back-and-forth with a journalist on Twitter and then randomly tweeting out, “Don’t you just hate journalists who plagiarize?” 

In response, several theologians wrote a letter to the Times saying two things.  First, that Mr. Douthat wasn’t a professional theologian.  Which he isn’t.  (Neither am I.)  Second, that a charge of heresy is a serious matter.  Which it is.

I retweeted it and offered my support of the letter, mainly because I was so incensed over Mr. Douthat’s treatment of good theologians, especially the church historian John W. O’Malley, SJ, who has forgotten more theology than most of us will ever know.

The first part of the letter was poorly worded.  What the signers meant, it seemed to me, was that when it comes to some theological matters Mr. Douthat is out of his depth.  And that’s true, as Brian Flanagan pointed out in this piece.  A conflation of dogma and doctrine, of tradition and practice, and so on makes for bad theology.  This does not mean he’s a bad person or a bad Catholic.  Or a “heretic,” to use a phrase from his lexicon.  It just means that he’s not a professional theologian and on many matters, particularly church history and ecclesiology, he is not an expert.  He should be free to write what he wants, but we need to read what he writes through that lens.  And we should be happy to engage him, as I did last year in a lengthy exchange.  

But I’m not a professional theologian either.  Nor do I have expertise in other areas.  If I wrote an article on, say, European history, I’d be doing it as a non-specialist.  That doesn’t mean I can’t write about the Treaty of Versailles.  But if a professional historian took me to task about what I wrote, I’d listen.  And I’d expect others to listen to the historian more.

So if I were writing that letter I’d have said things differently.  Maybe I’d have written, “Of course Mr. Douthat, even though he is not a professional theologian and makes some fundamental errors, has the right to say what he wants.  In fact, the Second Vatican Council’s document Lumen Gentium states that laypeople are ‘sometimes duty bound’ to speak ‘on matters concerning the good of the church.’” The signatories know that well. Many of them have not only taught about that but have written books on the Council.  In fact, I first learned about that quote in a class taught by John O’Malley, SJ.

Inevitably, it’s been that first part that has been pounced on, since it was poorly worded, with people attacking the signatories for all sorts of things that they never said: That Mr. Douthat should never be permitted to write about theology.  Which they did not say.  That they wanted him silenced. Which they also did not say.  That they think lay people shouldn’t speak out.  Which is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve read in the last few days, since many of the chief signers are laypeople.  Others accused them of clericalism, which was also risible since most were not clerics.

Worse, as R. R. Reno, the editor in chief of First Things, ridiculously interpreted it, the theologians wanted him “purged.”  That theologians who know fellow theologians who have actually been silenced would want anyone “purged” is absurd.  Worse, it is a malicious twisting of words.  Speaking of twisting words, Mr. Reno said, in the most absurd comment yet, that yours truly wanted anyone who didn’t have a Ph.D to “shut up.” 

News flash to the editor of First Things: I don’t have a Ph.D. either.  And I'm now writing an article about theology.  So I obviously don't think that people without Ph.D.'s should "shut up."  Again, fact checking is always a good idea.  So is giving people the benefit of the doubt.  

By the way, it’s  ironic that so many voices are so upset about a possible “purging” when so many supported the actual silencing of theologians under the papacies of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  (If we’re now allowed to be critical of Pope Francis, as Mr. Douthat has been, and First Things has lavishly been, and everyone else has been, I suppose it's acceptable to be critical of his predecessors on this particular point.)

But it is the second part of that letter that deserves  more attention.  That is, Mr. Douthat’s use of slurs like “heresy” and, what went unsaid, the use of ad hominem attacks.  

In the world of theology, where Mr. Douthat is more than welcome to speak and write, words  have meaning.  Calling someone a “heretic” is like calling a journalist a plagiarist.  These aren’t funny punchlines to be taken lightly.  They are attacks on one’s faith, and for theologians possible career-enders.  And for those protesting that they come from a lowly New York Times columnist who is merely tweeting, one needs to ask if I casually tweeted out that Mr. Douthat had plagiarized an article, or if someone had tweeted out that I had sexually abused someone, what the response would be. 

Lies are lies whether they are published in a book, appear in a newspaper or are sent out in a tweet.   The Commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” holds true everywhere.   

Worse, calling people names is disgraceful.  Especially in the name of religion.  These ad hominem attacks—an attack not on the argument but on the person--has no place in theology. It doesn’t matter if you’re attacking Pope Francis, Antonio Spadaro, Massimo Faggioli, John O’Malley, me, or anyone else.  It’s unchristian.  Feel free to disagree with us, but questioning our fidelity is out of bounds.  Speaking of doctrine, one of Jesus’s lesser known teachings, and completely ignored because it’s so hard to adhere to, is his admonition against calling people names.  “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt. 5:22) Thus, saying that Antonio Spadaro’s name is synonymous with sophist is sinful. 

In response to this contretemps, in which my words have been twisted, and commentators have held me up for contempt, I have received hundreds of hateful tweets.  And this is where commentators whose tactics egg people on, fanning more mistrust.  And if they know it, then they should stop.  If they don’t know it, they do now.  It’s a participation in sin. 

So for example, Rod Dreher posted a photo of a blurb that I did for Mr. Douthat’s last book, as if that were proof of something deceitful.  Yes, I liked Mr. Douthat’s last book.  So much so that I offered a generous blurb.  And, no, I don’t agree with everything he’s writing today.  People change their minds.  Is that so hard to comprehend?   But rather than giving someone the benefit of the doubt, my sincere praise for Mr. Douthat's book was held up as evidence of my deceit.   And if you don't think that leads to more hatred, read the comments below Mr. Dreher's piece.  

The twisting of words.  The personal attacks.  The calling into question people’s faith.  As these commentators know, it serves to increase hatred.     

This is where Mr. Douthat can rightly be held accountable.  Isn't it clever how when someone says that Pope Francis is dishonest in his humility?  Yes, ha ha, and isn’t it funny when someone calls Antonio Spadaro a "sophist" and a “villain”?  Ha ha.  And isn’t it funny when someone calls another person a heretic?  Ha ha.  Can’t they take a joke?  Isn’t it funny to use words like "sophist" and "villain" and "heretic"?  Then the inevitable response when these people--actual people, not Twitter accounts--take issue against those kinds of attacks: you’re thin skinned.

These commentators are too smart not to know where this leads: mistrust, contempt, hatred.    

Here is where the first part of the letter from the theologians is, in the end, true.  Anyone who engages in mean-spirited invective is in fact not doing theology.  Yes, I know that St. Jerome once attacked Rufinus, but true theology is, as St. Anselm said, fides quaerens intellectum.  That’s “Faith seeking understanding.”  Snide comments, veiled attacks on people’s faith and malicious insinuations are not theology because they do not proceed from our faith, which is founded on love.  Nor do they not seek understanding, because they foster contempt and prevent anyone from listening.    

I’m disgusted with malicious slandering that passes itself off as thoughtful theology.  I’m disgusted with mean-spirited personal attacks that pass themselves off as Christian discourse. I’m disgusted with the facile use of words like “heresy” and “schism” and “apostate,” passing itself off as defenses of the faith.  Basically, I’m disgusted with hate being passed off as charity.  Needless to say, this is not entirely Mr. Douthat’s doing, or Mr. Reno’s doing, or Mr. Dreher’s doing.  And I know that they are good and loyal Catholics (and in Mr. Dreher's case, formerly-Catholic, now Orthodox). Obviously. But they and others--who are far more culpable--have engaged in enough of that kind of uncharitable behavior to have fostered an atmosphere of hatred and mistrust in our church. Instead of Thomas Merton’s famous “Mercy within mercy within mercy” we get “Hate piled on hate piled on hate.”

Invective.  Disdain.  Contempt.  Attacks.  Insinuations.  And hate.  An endless river of hate that is the result of these kinds of articles and essays and speeches and tweets.  

That is not theology, and it does not flow from the love of Jesus Christ.  It is a malicious desire to wound people and to score points. To "win." And if you think it’s amusing, then you’re missing Jesus’s point about not calling people names and praying for our “enemies.”  And by the way, if you take Jesus as your model, and feel the need to judge people, and call them names as he did, like “hypocrite,” feel free to do so when you are the sinless Son of God.  We risk being so Catholic that we forget to be Christian.  

So I wholeheartedly support fully anyone’s right to write whatever he or she wants, including Ross Douthat, whom I respect.  And, as an educated and faithful Catholic layperson, much of what he writes is thoughtful, insightful and deserving of our full attention.  But be sure that whenever you’re reading ad hominem comments, thinly veiled attacks on people’s fidelity to the faith, snide insinuations and malicious twisting of words, you are not reading theology. 

You are reading hate.  


Tim Reidy | 11/2/2015 - 11:25am

Comments have been closed on this thread. In the future, please remember to use full names as per our comments policy.

Enrique Lopez | 11/1/2015 - 12:38pm

Since the "theologians" raised the issue of "credentials" how many of them have have even attempted to obtain the mandatum? After all, it "requires professors to attest, “I am committed to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and to refrain from putting forth as Catholic teaching anything contrary to the Church’s magisterium.”

Enrique Lopez | 11/1/2015 - 12:32pm

Ross also wrote a great reply in today's NYT:

"You are reading hate"... hmm... so I am reading hate when I read in the Gospels that Jesus said: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!..." among other things?

Aren't Mercy and Truth linked?

Douglas Fang | 11/1/2015 - 4:06pm

Again – I don’t see anything good coming from Mr. Douthat’s op-ed. He just continues to spread his own FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) because of his very limited understanding about the nature of God and the modern society.

It is funny when you quote Matthew 13… For me, whenever I see this quote, the first thing come to my mind is the previous statement “For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens* [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them”. You understand whom I have in mind as the equivalent of the modern scribes and Pharisees… The most blatant example of this hypocrite is the requirement for married couple to practice NFP. A burden that they don’t know, don’t understand, don’t share, and simply don’t care…

Guillermo Reyes | 10/31/2015 - 1:53pm

Here is a suggestion by a woman who was accused of being a heretic by a bunch of holier than thou men:

"Be sure, my daughters, that true perfection consists in the love of God and our neighbour, and the better we keep both these commandments, the more perfect we shall be. The sole object of our Rule and Constitutions is to help us to observe these two laws."

St Teresa of Avila
Interior Castle, First Mansion, Chapter 2, n. 20

Charles Erlinger | 10/30/2015 - 2:25pm

I don't think Douthat is a journalist, but rather, a pamphleteer. 63 years ago I was a journalist (junior grade). What he does isn't journalism, not that pamphleteering is not a legit way of making a living.

Tim O'Leary | 10/30/2015 - 5:27pm

You could make the same criticism of many of the opinion writers at the NYT, like Krugman, Bruni, Blow, Cohen, Dowd etc. While I would certainly not have interpreted the synod as Douthat had, this whole controversy seems to have jumped the shark. But, as we are discussing dialing down the rhetoric, let's stop using the H word (homophobic) for everyone who adheres to Catholic teaching on that subject, or the D word (denier) for everyone who doubts part of the global warming/climate change/anti-fossil fuel advocates, or the C work (creationist) for anyone who thinks biological evolution theory doesn't tell the complete story of our origins.

Steve Kellmeyer | 10/30/2015 - 1:37pm

But, of course, if the journalist IS a plagiarist, then the journalist should be called out on it.

So, laying the charge is not the source of the problem.
The truth is a complete defense against this column.

Richard Murray | 10/30/2015 - 11:19am

This long, incoherent tract below by F Filip needs tons of correction, of which I can only add a few:

So Fr. Martin does not have a PhD. Let's see, though: He's a priest, he works in and for the Church, he lives in a community where religion and theology are spoken of all the time, and he has a Master's Degree in Theology (an M-Div, I am guessing).
Whereas Ross Douthat runs around screaming weird things about the Pope.
Also, when Ross Douthat got simply whipped in a theological debate with Massimo Faggioli, he fled the conversation and threw a parting backstabbing cheap shot, calling Professor Faggioli a heretic.
F Filip, you still need to administer a lot more corrections to your comment.

F Filip | 10/30/2015 - 8:32am

From David Warren:
hater, you’re a hater, you’re a hate hate hater!”

This would be my hateful pastiche of the criticism that “conservatives” receive when they mess with the self-conceits of “liberals.” Not all of the time, of course; sometimes it goes on for pages. As a general rule, it should all be ignored. They only want you to shut up and die, and the best response is to continue speaking.

Humor is good, when they’re getting a little loud: it stings them like holy water. I have just read a long piece by James Martin, SJ, the glib amateur theologian in America magazine, entitled, “Theology and Hate.” He is freaking because, on Twitter, Ross Douthat called his friend Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a “sophist.” Which struck me as just a glancing blow. As Douthat actually put it: “Is ‘spadaro’ Italian for ‘sophist’?”

Better yet he called the editor of La Civiltà Cattolica a “moustache-twirling cartoon Jesuit villain,” which had me giggling convulsively. Again, let me confess (hateful creature that I am), that I found this merely playful. Much worse things could be said about Spadaro.

They are odd, these liberals. They step into the boxing ring with brass knuckles, then express shock because, “Somebody punched me!”

And as for poor Massimo Faggioli, the “well-respected Church historian” (by his own perverse faction), I gather Douthat did not even mention the gentleman in the course of some Twitter pillow fight. But whatever it was, the shoe fit so well, that Martin imputed a charge of heresy against him.

“That is an extremely serious accusation and in this case unfounded,” Martin parried, borborygmatically in the same medium. But while I would be happy enough to pitchfork the hay, the truth is that the Catholic Church hasn’t burnt anyone at the stake, for years now.

Perhaps that’s why things are going to hell. To my reasonably secure knowledge, heresy is now preached casually from the pulpit, most Sundays in a Catholic church near you.

The storm in the bell jar began, most readers will know, with a recent column by Douthat in the New York Times entitled, “The Plot to Change Catholicism.” It was about the maneuvering, by the pope himself in recent Family Synods, to advance the Kasperite scheme to permit communion for the divorced and remarried.

“The Church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it,” Douthat opined.

This, according to my email inbox, is the view of almost every “conservative” in Christendom, and the only surprise is that it was published by the Grey Lady of Gomorrah. But Ross Douthat is, after all, their token conservative, a position whose vexations I recall from my own history as the token conservative in a “mainstream” Canadian newspaper – a position something like General Custer’s.

Ross Douthat
Douthat’s piece attracted an “open letter,” from an A-list of mutually admiring, progressive, academic Catholics, that read very much like a petition to the New York Times to get rid of the guy. He was arraigned, among other crimes, for not having a Ph.D. in theology.

The most side-splitting line was, “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.” This underhand accusation of McCarthyism was so obviously McCarthyite itself.

For the truth is, there are NO consequences at all to being accused of heresy today, or for uttering heresy, as the thirty-five signers should know perfectly well. The heat may pass both ways, between “right” and “left” in public fora, but in Rome at the moment, maintaining Church doctrine would seem more likely to endanger one’s livelihood. In American academia, it is almost suicidal.

My own experience, as not only a token conservative columnist, but a “social conservative,” and a practicing Catholic on top of that, is not fondly remembered. Quite literally hundreds of such complaints were lodged against me by leftists, exploiting formal complaints procedures that kept my newspaper-chain bosses, as well as me, tied up in knots. We endured years of daily headaches, formally replying to frivolous accusations. Finally I was offered a generous buy-out, if I would just go away.

Which is to say, I know this game from the inside: the “progressive” tactics for muzzling the discordant voice. Yet throughout I was sustained by the knowledge that I was often speaking for the disenfranchised: the many readers who thanked me for expressing basic truths that have been anathematized by the guardians of our brave new world.

Moreover, you cannot know that you have hit the target until those guardians howl. And there is a quiet satisfaction in watching the nest crumple, much though the hornets may sting.

As the Pope Emeritus confided to at least one visitor, “When what I have said is not criticized, I must examine my conscience.”

And here is the joke: that those neo-ultramontanists, saying, “How dare you criticize the pope!” were so very free in criticizing his more orthodox predecessors.

Meanwhile, Germaine Greer is now getting the treatment in international media. She pointed to the fact that a “trangendered” person is not really a woman. She did so politely, but also firmly, and I was especially amused to watch a BBC interview with her in which the journalist essentially rephrased the question, “How dare you?” – about one dozen times.

Among radical feminists, I have long had a soft spot for Ms Greer. She is unique in her intelligence, her graceful English style, and the genuine independence of her thinking. It was about time the shriekie sisters disowned her.

In my experience, you can’t start a riot by saying something new or strange. If you want to bring the house down, you say something everyone secretly knows to be true.

Douglas Fang | 10/29/2015 - 11:28pm

Fr Martin,

I would like to show my deep respect and gratitude for your courage, honesty, and kindness in this age of hatred and distortion. I read some articles from Mr. Douthat and have nothing but feeling pity for him. He and people like him show a deep level of FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt when they fail to understand the modern society.

They just try to hang on to an image of Catholicism that is dying… I speak this based on my own experience. I am a cradle Catholic with 5 brothers and sisters. Most of my nieces and nephews are either non practicing Catholics or just go to Mass occasionally as some of my own brothers and sisters. My children are the only ones who receive Confirmation from the next generation. I still make them to go to Mass every weekend and pray together at night. My daughter told me that when her friends talked about Catholic, the 2 most common things that come to their mind are pedophiles and anti-gay stand.

That’s it! This is the image of Catholicism in the modern world! It is no wonder why Ireland, one of the most fervent Catholic country Europe overwhelmingly voted for gay marriage in the face of a fierce opposition from the Church.

How about Poland? The birth place of JP II and one of the last bastion of Catholicism in Europe? It is interesting to learn that Poland has the lowest birth rate in the whole world!!! What does it mean? That means that an absolute majority of Polish don’t practice NFP. So, are they Catholic in name only? The Catholicism of the past are dying and hollowing out as a house of cards.

The message of Pope Francis is precisely what God wants to bring to this modern world – the message of mercy, of hope, of joy. I’m completely and totally shocked to see people like Mr. Douthat fail to see it and instead, attack him viciously. In the end, it is them who are lost because they can no longer feel the compassion and love of God who has chosen Pope Francis in this precise time in history to be continue to be the Vicar of Jesus to the modern world.

I’ll always keep the Pope and you in my prayer.

Patrick Murtha | 10/29/2015 - 9:26pm

Why must everything that is disagreeable be chalked down either to some sort of hate or phobia. A person speaks reasonably again gay marriage, and he is homophobic. A person refuses to bend to the whims of liberal clergy and laity, and he is uncaring and not listening. A journalist sees problems with Rome and even with the Sovereign Pontiff, who may be questioned unless he speaks infallibly on matters of faith or morals, which has not heard for a long time from Rome. Regardless, suddenly this critical type of speech is hate. How is it hate? Where is the proof for the judgement?

Charles Erlinger | 10/29/2015 - 5:51pm

I would categorize Douthat as an essayist in the 21st century version of the political/cultural/religious pamphlet writing tradition exemplified by Addison and Steele in early 18th century England. One of their characteristics is a kind of hateful righteousness as distinct from righteous hatefulness.

alan macdonald | 10/29/2015 - 5:38pm

Another good review of this situation may be found at Father Zuhlsdorf's blog Under the title How liberals handling their defeat at the Synod.

Chris Colon | 11/1/2015 - 9:03am

Dwight is an interesting example of not being faithful to one's word.
His blog is reminiscent of "the Cafeteria is closed". One decade Dwight is an evangelical Christian, then he is Anglican, then another Catholic, next a conservative with authentic "bona fides": visits monasteries, rides his hog, tools around South Carolina and a prolific writer - it is hard to keep up with Dwight's numerous writings. And yet one wonders how faithful he is to his present vow: husband, father of 4 children and pastor of a Catholic parish. We keep waiting for the proverbial itch and are looking for his next act.

For good reason Dwight is standing on his head.

Where will the Evangelical - Anglican - Catholic - Conservative - Bob Jones University - Oxford - Curate - Country Parson on Isle of Wright - Hog riding South Carolinian land next? What of his next strident his ilk perhaps?

Perhaps he will be picking up photography ala Gerald Augustinius

Bill Mazzella | 10/29/2015 - 5:26pm

Paige, this retort is a contradiction in terms. The blog you reference is the quintessential pumper of hate. So give us a break. Or are you just wanting us to know where you hang out?

Paige Smyth | 10/29/2015 - 5:32pm

I don't see hate. But that term is used loosely these days ;)

Bill Mazzella | 10/29/2015 - 4:32pm

I would think that Jim Martin has had time to calm down by now and that he would contact Douthat and have something like that the excellent dialogue they had on these pages some months ago. At the same time people should appreciate that some have taken the liberty to write some hateful comments to Martin. Like some shameful comments on thsi thread.

Bill Mazzella | 10/29/2015 - 3:34pm

If truth be told both sides are overheated. Such confrontations were inevitable after Francis convened the Synod and asked all to speak their minds. In politics the world is in a terrible mess. The ill-advised invasion of Iraq, the unbridled civil war in Syria and the unprecedented refugee crisis. Finally, Russia, Iran, US and Syria are having discussions. Took them too long. If they can talk why can't the members of the Catholic Church learn to dialogue. Sadly, the many wars are due to lack of religious leadership. Both liberals and conservatives have a lot to answer for. They have to learn to talk to each other.

Vatican II had these battles galore. Many unhealed wounds resulted despite the many good results. Can we learn from that and promote ecumenism within the church.

Gerard Walsh | 10/29/2015 - 1:24pm

I read Ross Douthat's column on what he characterized as a "plot" to change the Catholic Church. It was tough, clean, -- the word "heretic" was not used once -- and judging by the screeching of his liberal critics, it hit home hard.

In contrast, the letter of response sent by a group of academics to the New York Times was remarkable for its haughtiness and lack of substance.

As for Father Martin's contribution above, some of it is thoughtful and worthy. However, Father needs to stop accusing people who disagree with him of "hate." It's an unfortunate reflex action of many liberals: paint ideological or religious opponents as ignorant, bigoted, and hateful. This way one doesn't have to actually address an argument, as indeed, the signatories of the aforementioned letter to the Times did NOT.

One more thing, and it pains me to say it as a lifelong practicing Catholic: on two separate occasions at the conclusion of the recent Synod, Pope Francis made slashing attacks on and impugned the Christianity of people who opposed his theological views at the gathering. It was, frankly, a shameful performance. When Father Martin gets done accusing others of "hate," maybe he can go back and take a close look at some of the words he, and for that matter the Pope, have said.

Robert Lannan | 10/29/2015 - 9:44am

I am a big fan of both Ross Douthat and Fr. James Martin. Both are highly intelligent, extremely well informed and insightful writers. Both have enriched my understanding of my own faith with their books, articles and blog postings. But I'm afraid each has hit below the belt in this latest exchange. In his OpEd piece, Mr. Douthat's statement about "ostentatious humility" was gratuitous. Some of his other choices of words ("plotters" and "counterplotters," for example) were unnecessary punches he should have pulled. Meanwhile, Fr. Martin and his co-signatories did themselves (and their readers) no favor by highlighting that Mr. Douthat lacks a Ph.D. in theology. Douthat has probably read and written so much on theological subjects that if he could receive academic credit for it all, he'd have one by now. Moreover, I think the word "hate" is often misused, and Fr. Martin's article above does this more than once. Ross Douthat may strongly disagree with the Pope on some things but he surely doesn't hate him. (I would add that most liberal Catholic critics of John Paul II and Benedict XVI who used strong language didn't hate them either.) I think it's time for Fr. Martin and Mr. Douthat to remember that they, and the Pope for that matter, are all playing for the same team. That becomes obvious if one looks beyond the pages on which each writes to other articles in their own publications about crises in the world that the Church is challenged to confront. I feel like I've just witnessed a fight breaking out between two teammates at a high school football practice. C'mon guys, shake hands, make up and start working together to gear up for all of the big games this team has to face.

Richard Murray | 10/29/2015 - 11:55am

Well that's just it. What team is Ross Douthat playing for?
The traitorous White Sox of the early 1900's?

Paige Smyth | 10/29/2015 - 1:10pm

Catholicism. Whereas Father Martin and the lib Catholics are Team Episcopalian. Not sure where the Pope is yet bc he really doesn't take a stand on ... Well anything really

Anne Chapman | 10/29/2015 - 1:50pm

My, my, you are judging the Pope now too. Should he also step down and leave the church?

Paige Smyth | 10/29/2015 - 3:02pm

I think you and I have different viewpoints on judgement. Not judging doesn't mean you can't state a fact or opinion about another person. A good question is where does someone's thoughts come from. Me, like a lot of Catholics, find the Pope intriguing because unlike other Popes he very much leaves a lot in the air. At least so far. Maybe his report from Synod will be more concise

Anne Chapman | 10/29/2015 - 2:53pm

Please respond to my comments and questions below - at Anne Chapman | 10/29/2015 - 1:49pm

Bill Dykstra | 10/29/2015 - 2:28am

This is all deflection. When all you can say is that R.D. was mean, yet totally disregarding his argument, I'm going to assume he's right.

BTdubs, Jesus made a whip and kicked people out of the temple. I bet the people on the other side of that whip thought he was a pretty mean dude.

Geoff Robinson | 10/29/2015 - 12:14am

If I were told I was a heretic or holding to heresy, instead of complaining for several hundred words about it, I would just actually go to Scripture for back up.

Mr. Martin seems more concerned about decorum. Is the priest from a traditional Catholic perspective holding to heresy or not? It's a yes or no question. And that's the better way to handle the situation.

Paige Smyth | 10/29/2015 - 3:03pm

He can't quote Scripture ;)

Richard Murray | 10/28/2015 - 11:53pm

I think that one of Fr. James' points if very simple and valid: Theology that's in visible public venues should be done well, and with care. (I hope that I'm not misrepresenting Fr. James in saying that.)
Let's take, for example, Ross Douthat and Matthew Schmitz, who both wrote simply idiotic reviews of the Pope's Encyclical, Laudato Si'. Their reviews of this holy encyclical were immature, delusional screeds.
Yet because institutions such as the Washington Post, First Things, and NYT give them a venue, these really bad writers on "Church" themes get publicized far more widely than they deserve. And a short time later, these slick public operators who don't know theology are calling the excellent young Professor Faggioli a heretic.
That's messed up.

Will E | 10/28/2015 - 9:30pm

Seems a rather defensive and small article, hardly fitting for a Catholic priest. All the "I" "me" "mine" references seems too self focused. I could be wrong, but perhaps it would have been better if Fr. James had just mortified himself and been stronger and stayed quiet, letting this moment pass, even if it was a bit painful.

But the pain wouldn't have been that big a deal, not like he was in real tribulation, in combat for example,
undergoing painful medical treatment. Just take it like a man, take it in stride with a sporting spirit, perhaps.

Guillermo Reyes | 10/28/2015 - 11:54pm

that is a great deal of attacking of a Jesuit priest - a 10+ years formation process few of us would endure - coming from someone who hides in anonymity "Will E"

man up?

Will E | 10/29/2015 - 11:34am

So pointing out the too many "I me mines" is now tantamount to "great deal of attacking"

And that years of formation itself should INSULATE someone from comments about such a defensive tone, rather than to HIGHLIGHT the fact that someone with so much formation should have moved way beyond such self focus?

Apparently 10 years isn't enough for some.

Don't think you made a compelling case.

Toby Lees | 10/28/2015 - 6:52pm

"Calling other people names is disgraceful"

Yeah, I remember somebody once calling this group of people "a brood of vipers". Shocking!

Fr James, your major issue seems to be that he called Massimo a heretic, but he didn't do that in his article; so there's a slight conflation of issues going on in your article to try and justify something, which if the ball was in the other court, I'm sure you'd be outraged about.

Guillermo Reyes | 10/29/2015 - 12:03am

Toby, read his article again. His major issue, running consistently through his entire piece, is the spewing of hate. You cant miss it.

"Im sure you'd be outraged about (sic)" is really disrespectful towards a Jesuit priest. Given his two earned Masters Degrees, 3 honorary Doctorates from Catholic universities, and the 4 solemn vows he has taken as a Jesuit after enduring a hellacious spiritual formation, you need to put yourself in check. The tremendous work Fr Martin has done for our Lord, documented all too well in books, websites and interviews with the leadership of our Church, makes what you and I have done look like pittance.

Please show him some respect. He has earned it

Joseph Anthony | 10/28/2015 - 6:49pm

Cody, I completely agree that all attacks toward Father James or anyone is wrong, and I know what he is talking about, my point is that Father James is often guilty of the same thing, my quote from yesterday proves the point, he is assuming the worst about an entire group of people, when he knows that most conservative Catholics are very loving towards not only gays but everyone. Cardinal Sean Omalley is a perfect example of a conservative that is very loving

Jason C | 10/28/2015 - 5:13pm

Three things:
(1) Douthat is obviously well-read and has thought a lot about the majority of topics he discusses. He's a Catholic, and is therefore qualified to discuss Catholic things through the medium of Twitter or the NYT. If I want to read theology I know where to find that--not on Twitter and not in the editorial pages of the NYT.
(2) Cosacchi's fear is misplaced because no one will be confused: if he's the partisan hack you fear he is, then Douthat, if he ever became appointed an "expert" in the media, would only be called by conservative media to represent conservative views: Fox isn't going to call James Martin and MSNBC won't call James Schall.
(3) The "Cafeteria is Closed" guy is now......a pornographer.

Nick Arthur | 10/28/2015 - 10:41pm

..and what pray tell constitutes a professional catholic?

Joseph Anthony | 10/28/2015 - 4:13pm

Father James, the thing I'm struggling with, and I will acknowledge that you get a high volumn of personal attacks, but in your column yesterday, "a hatred of LGBT Catholics that masks itself as a concern for their souls", that is complete news to me, and living in the Northeast, I have many conservative, and liberal friends, and I can honestly say, I have never met one conservative that harbors hatred toward gays. Why do you feel so free to throw huge comments like that around? Its a double standard, and that is not an attack on you, its just a fair reading of the situation. Most orthodox Catholics just think marriage is a specific thing, 1 man, and 1 women.

Cody Serra | 10/28/2015 - 6:25pm

I am a practicing Catholic and also have long time friends of all political stripes. Many of them are Christians, and live up to their values. However, living in Texas, I have to confess that within the very Catholic conservatives (who are also politically conservative) the righteous ideologies are stronger than the merciful acceptance of diversity our church teaches.

I've seen some "ad hominem" postings in the Web against the Pope, the LGBT persons, the change in pastoral direction from legalism toward mercy, the divorced and remarried..., written by the very practicing members of parishes and theirs associations.

How can they separate their participation in their Catholic parishes from the gospel teaching of love for all, inside and outside of it, and show such anger and hate? How do they interpret the call to love, forgiveness and compassion for the 'other' and write hateful opinions, blows my mind.
How can they be so different within the parish walls than when they are outside them? Or are they? Some are parish leaders. It scares me.

KC Mulville | 10/28/2015 - 3:22pm

More often than not, conspiracy theorists only “alert” their audience to the conspiracies so they can brag that they didn’t fall for it. Douthat’s column was nothing but conspiracy gossip, and Douthat’s boast that he was too smart and too faithful to have been deceived.

Douthat’s comments are not theology. His right to offer theological opinions without a degree is just a red herring. His post isn’t about the theological weight of any supposed proposal. Instead, his comments are an imagined soap opera of political maneuvering. Douthat had no facts, or theological argumentation. Even the evidence he cited (of “rigging” the process) was thoroughly debunked – by conservative clerics.

In crass American politics, the policies don’t matter. All that really matters is the tribal battle between entrenched factions. What’s infuriating about Douthat’s column is the casual assumption that the synod and the church are no better than the sewer of politics, and that any internal debate among clerics must obviously be as tribal and as deceitful as the battle between American liberals and conservatives. To call that “theology” is absurd.

The offense is not that Douthat speculated about theology without a license. The offense is that he dragged the synod down to the level of Fox v. MSNBC. He portrayed the synod as nothing different, and just as sordid, as the media-driven political soap opera he’s used to reporting. Dragging the church down to that level has only one goal: to assure the readers that he is above it all.

Terry Jones | 10/28/2015 - 1:56pm

Wonderful, sensitive response to what is so obviously painful! I have been through similar which is why a friend alerted me to your writing. May God bless you richly in your ministry and service of Him and His Church.

Ann Johnson | 10/28/2015 - 1:12pm

I have made a conscious effort to refrain from reading comments on stories that concern religion because so many of them contain quite hateful statements. Ditto for stories dealing with refugees; the ignorance that comes through is so complete (I work with newly arrived refugees) that it's too depressing to read. Mr. Douthat sounds beyond the pale as he is not an ignorant man but perhaps a very mean-spirited man. I am glad you spoke out, Father Martin. More people need to do this.

Crystal Watson | 10/28/2015 - 1:06pm

It is almost frightening the level of hatred that can be found in some comments on different religious issues online, not just at twitter, but also blogs. I haven't read much of Ross Douthat because his views are so conservative, but being a convert (like me) maybe he doesn't understand the full significance of calling someone a heretic. For many, it's seen as an amusing anachronism ... see this at The Guardian ...

Samuel Howard | 10/28/2015 - 12:58pm

Fr. Martin, concerned for the effect of heresy accusations on theologians' careers, is blithely unconcerned with accusations of "hate" speech against a journalist. As if journalists never lose their positions or have their careers damaged by such accusations. Why should theologians be protected from intense criticism in a way columnists are not?

Even if we assume, arguendo, that Ross Douthat was in the wrong this time out, Massimo Faggioli hardly has clean hands here. In September, Faggioli wrote on Twitter that Douthat was promoting schism with his New York Times column and should face "canonical penalties."

That's not a "thinly veiled" attack on someone's fidelity, it's a direct frontal assault.

Yet it's not mentioned here by Fr. Martin? Shouldn't he be holding Faggioli accountable? Why is that?

Guillermo Reyes | 10/28/2015 - 6:27pm

"Code of Canon Law


"Can. 1339 §1. An ordinary, personally or through another, can warn a person who is in the proximate occasion of committing a delict or upon whom, after investigation, grave suspicion of having committed a delict has fallen.

§2. He can also rebuke a person whose behavior causes scandal or a grave disturbance of order, in a manner accommodated to the special conditions of the person and the deed."


The letter to the Editor of the NYT, as signed by some Catholic theologians, state clearly the obvious:

"Moreover, 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. "

Indeed it is serious business. We are glad these Theologians wrote the NY Times

Roger Brown | 10/28/2015 - 12:30pm

I'm so glad to read SOMETHING in response to all the hate you can find on social media regarding the state of our Church today. They may know we're Christian by our love but today we could sing they will know we our Catholic by our hate!