Commonweal vs. Weekly Standard

The usually mild-mannered Paul Baumann, editor in chief of Commonweal (left), has taken aim at Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things (right), writing in the Weekly Standard.  Don't let all that concatenation of magazine names fool you; this is important stuff.  What's the issue?  Bottum's commentary on CW's coverage of the Notre Dame/Obama affair, as covered in print and on the magazine's blog Dotcommonweal.  In other words, as did the Obama controversy, the CW/FT conflict lays bare some of the conflicts in the Catholic church today.  Baumann's response is scorching. 


Here it is in part:

If you had a penny for every time a First Things writer has pronounced this or that Catholic (and especially this magazine) “out of date”–well, you’d have almost as much money as First Things gets each year from right-wing foundations. To be sure, Bottum takes pains to inform his readers that the Obama/Notre Dame controversy was not about politics, but culture. Reaching for the highest rhetorical notes in his impressive register, he argues that legalized abortion is irrefutable evidence of America’s corruption and decline, if not impending doom. “For American Catholics,” he writes, “the church is a refuge and a bulwark against an ambient culture that erodes morality and undermines families.” Notre Dame’s alleged squishiness on abortion, exemplified by its invitation to President Obama, means it lacks “the cultural marker that would make [it] Catholic in the minds of other Catholics.” Until Catholic universities understand this, the essay pronounces, “they will not be Catholic–in a very real, existential sense.”

Bottum’s writing has always been brightened by a wonderful indifference to mundane facts, a winning embrace of the fantastical. Still, it is rather stunning, in the aftermath of the clergy sexual-abuse crisis, to read that Catholics find a refuge and a bulwark for their families in the church. (That must be why every parish in the country requires anyone involved in church work to attend a “safe environments” workshop. And you have to attend in the real, not merely the existential sense.) Just as problematic is the attempt to define who is or isn’t Catholic. Granted, reading this or that person or group out of the church is a passionate hobby for some. But doing so in the “existential sense” seems a bit squishy for the editor of a magazine that prides itself on its gimlet-eyed defense of “orthodoxy.”

Read the rest here.  

James Martin, SJ 

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9 years 9 months ago
I miss Tom Reese, a very fine journalist.
9 years 9 months ago
You know that when they have to fall back on the ''clergy sex abuse crisis'' that they don't have an intellegent response.
9 years 9 months ago
This is largely just cattyness and the sort of cultural thug behavior that news editors seem to love to become involved in. Bottum's point that being pro-life was a cornerstone of group A's Catholic culture and therefore made those who failed to show a similar commitment as existentially outside the Church a good one. He isn't saying Fr. Jenkins is a bad Catholic or that he isn't Catholic at all, he is saying that he is no longer culturally an American Catholic. Now you and I may dispute as to who should hold the reigns of current American Catholic culture and I, personally, would prefer if it was neither of Bottum nor Baumann, but some group somewhere does hold the reigns. I do think, though, that the more liberal side of the Church in America is suffering from an identity crisis. The traditionalists can point to a bunch of markers which identify them as a group and I don't see nearly as much agreement on our side of the fence. Which you may or may not think is a good thing. I, personally, think it is terrible. In many ways, it puts the liberal Catholic in a disadvantage not only in engaging with fellow Catholics or agnostics, atheists, people of other religions (lends itself to a poor, squishy definition of Christianity, rather like the definition of liberal politics in America seemed squishy before Obama put the backbone back in it) but also because it fails to present to its constituents a set of coherent arguments and principles from which to "push back." I can be fairly certain what any traditionalist might say about the contemporary Mass I just attended or my love for Greek Orthodox prayer, but I have very little idea what a more liberal Catholic might say. Inclusiveness/acceptance are good things but they are not a "platform" or moral code in and of themselves. And wow, potshots at the sex abuse scandals? I'm rather disgusted. I would expect that from one of my atheist friends, not a fellow Catholic.
9 years 9 months ago
I don't know if I'm saying something shocking, but I have to say that I and most of the 2,000+ people who show up at Mass every Sunday at my suburban parish DO "find a refuge and a bulwark for their families in the church." The sacraments and the other people who make up the Body of Christ have saved my family morally and physically more times than I can remember! In fact I don't know any Catholics who don't feel the Church is good for their families - except for the ones who are now Protestant.
9 years 9 months ago
It seems to me like Baumann either missed the point of the First Things article, or deliberately misrepresented it.  Bottum was writing about the way many Catholics FEEL about the Church.  A big part of his point was that this was not necessarily entirely a matter of "orthodoxy."  Bottum was trying to classify the very real sense of betrayal many Catholics felt over Notre Dame's actions, and I believe that his point was that no matter what defense you can erect of Fr. Jenkins' decisions, many of the Catholic faithful feel wounded, nonetheless. The whole point was that even though Fr. Jenkins didn't see any contradiction between his decision and Catholicism, and even though CW agreed when it came to all of the documents of the Church, canon law, etc., that, in itself, is indicative of the fact that they're out of touch with the Catholic identity and culture as it exists for many of us. Baumann can try to thrown insults back, but Bottum was right.  In the setting of an ultra-secular university, I go out every day and find myself under siege.  For standing up for the rights of the unborn, and not even in an in your face or aggressive manner, I've been smacked, spit on, publicly cursed out, etc.  I've been asked my opinion on the abortion issue and then shunned for expressing it. I count on my Church for support.  When my beliefs are under attack, I fall back on the Church.  And, when Notre Dame selected Barack Obama as its commencement speaker, it encouraged those who oppose my beliefs, as they made very clear, and I felt betrayed.  I know that there are many more like me.  Baumann can write off our beliefs, feelings and experiences, claim we're partisan hacks, etc., but once again, it only shows that he doesn't understand the realities of many Catholics.
9 years 9 months ago
This controversy would not exist if ALL Catholics would assent to all the elements of the Truth of the Church rather than dissent from the Truth. John Paul II's , "Theology of the Body", is necessary for the Catholic Church, especially in a Time of so much dissent. The University of Notre Dame should consider holding a conference on the "Theology of the Body" in order to create a curriculum to be taught at every Catholic High School, Catholic College, and Catholic University that witnesses to the Truth about Respect for the Sanctity and Dignity of every Human Life from the beginning.
9 years 9 months ago
Magdalena: I suspect that those Catholic families who have had their children abused and then suffered disgusting maltreatment by "the Church" might feel that this church is NOT good for their families!


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