Catholic Theologians Ask New York Times To Stop Letting Ross Douthat Write About Theology
On October 17, New York Times opinion writer and prominent Catholic conservative Ross Douthat penned a scathing critique of Pope Francis entitled “The Plot To Change Catholicism.” In it, he blasted the pope for supposedly endorsing the idea that divorced and remarried Catholics should receive communion without an annulment, and slammed the famously egalitarian pontiff for his “ostentatious humility.”
The piece is one of several Douthat has written about Pope Francis and Catholicism in recent months, most of which are deeply critical of the Church’s left wing and Francis’ relatively progressive take on various theological issues. This week, however, American Catholics are fighting back.
On Monday, a group of Catholic theologians published an open letter directly challenging Douthat, who reportedly has little if any formal training in theology or Church history. The signers took particular umbrage with his most recent article, but also appeared to decry Douthat’s larger body of work on Catholicism — especially his tendency to bat about accusations of heresy, often at Catholic theologians.
Initial signers of the letter included prominent theology professors affiliated with major Catholic universities, such as Georgetown University, Loyola University Chicago, and Catholic University of America. Dozens of other Catholic theology professors, academics, priests, and PhD students have also signed onto the letter since Monday, most hailing from other Catholic schools such as Boston College, Fordham University, and Santa Clara University, among others. Catholic theologian Francis Schussler Fiorenza of Harvard University, Douthat’s alma mater, also added his name.
The letter quickly drew ire from religious conservatives who saw it as an attempt by academics to silence a Catholic layperson, since Douthat is not ordained. But the chief signer of the letter, Rev. John O’Malley of Georgetown University, told ThinkProgress that Catholic frustration with Douthat isn’t about his right to say what he wants, but his apparent unfamiliarity with crucial theological concepts — all while writing for an international news outlet.
“[Douthat] gets into very technical theological stuff, and you should have some professional background in that — studying church theology, church history, that kind of thing,” he said. “These are big issues.”
A similar sentiment was expressed on Wednesday by James J. Martin, editor at large at America magazine, a renowned Catholic publication affiliated with the Jesuit order of priests. In a lengthy treatment of the debate, Martin acknowledged that the letter itself was “poorly worded,” but defended the spirit of the theologians who are rushing to support it.
“What the signers meant, it seemed to me, was that when it comes to some theological matters Mr. Douthat has no idea what he’s talking about. And that’s true…” he said. “This does not mean [Douthat is] 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 out of his depth.”
Katie Grimes, an assistant professor of theological ethics at Villanova University and another signer of the letter, explained in a blog post her annoyance with Douthat’s repeated claims to theological certainty.
“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,” she wrote. “This alone I take issue with.”
“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?” she added.
Ultimately, several of the signers defended Douthat’s ability to write as he pleases, but insisted his theological diatribes — which often include condemnations of others — will not go unchallenged.
“I wholeheartedly support fully anyone’s right to write whatever he or she wants, including Ross Douthat,” Martin wrote. “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.”
MY COMMENT: Isn't this the way that liberal politics silences its opponents by pulling out the "hate" card, such as racist, homophobic and the like? Now Ross Douthat is a hate monger, that surely will neutralize the opponents of the rubbish of Fr. James Martin and the like, no?
Wouldn't the signers of this letter to the NYT's have spent time not wasted in correcting so many errors that come from reporters who report things as hard news that are simply false? Ross Douthat's piece was a commentary, an editorial, not hard news.
But the piece below, says a Catholic nun was ordained a priest and it states it as a matter of fact. Was she ordained a priest. NO, NO, NO! She feigned being ordained a "priest" in quotation marks because she wasn't ordained a priest--it was a bogus "ordination" like an ordination in a play or movie--it wasn't real. The reporter does write that and she should be castigated for her reporting abilities. But where is Fr. James Martin in all of this, AWOL!
Read it for yourself. What's interesting, the article uses a video of my bishop, Bishop Hartmayer ordaining a former Episcopal priest and bishop and married for our diocese a few years back! What a hoot!
Nun Excommunicated for Becoming a Priest
After nearly five decades as a Catholic nun, Tish Rawles became a priest—and found herself cast out. Now she’s calling on Pope Francis to do what Jesus would’ve done and bring her back.
When Letitia “Tish” Rawles was ordained as a Catholic priest in April, it was the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of yearning—and a practical fix to ministering to the sick and dying at her Cincinnati assisted living facility, where it was often hard to find a priest to administer last rites.
“I’ve wanted to be a priest since... probably the fourth grade, as soon as I started attending Catholic school,” she told The Daily Beast. “I always wondered why there were no women at the altar, only men.”
But Rawles didn’t know any female priests then, so she became a nun despite feeling the “deeper calling” of the priesthood. “And I’ve loved being a nun,” she said.
The 67-year-old had that taken away from her last week, though, when the Ohio-based Sisters of the Precious Blood, the order she’d been with for 47 years, found out about her ordination and told her she was out. She was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church, which bars women from the priesthood and shows no signs of budging from that position.
Now Rawles and her supporters say they’re appealing to Pope Francis during his Year of Mercy to restore her to the church and to her order. That’s what Jesus would have done, they say.
“This is an opportunity for Pope Francis to take a step towards reconciliation and healing misogyny in the church,” Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Woman Priests told The Daily Beast. “The full equality of women in the church is the voice of God in our time.
The ARCWP is one of many organizations pushing for allowing women to be Catholic priests but an outlier in that it ordains women. Meehan said the ARCWP’s female bishops were even ordained by an anonymous male Catholic bishop, linking them to an unbroken lineage leading back to the apostles.
“Did she know it was against the rules, did we know it was against the rules? Of course,” Meehan said. “But we are the Rosa Parks of the Catholic Church.”
The ARCWP emphasizes the Catholic concept of “primacy of conscience,” which it says allows it to choose to dissent from an unjust teaching. “We’re walking in the footsteps of prophets and saints,” Meehan said. “Look at Joan of Arc. They burned her at the stake for what? For following her conscience.”
For Rawles, though, joining the priesthood wasn’t an easy decision.
Even after attending services led by women priests, she tried to convince herself that she was too old, too sick to take on the task herself. Rawles said she suffers from multiple sclerosis, late stage liver disease, and diabetes.
“But that gnawing, that call....that primacy of conscience, as we call it, was always there,” Rawles said. Then she began taking classes, “and the feelings just got stronger and stronger and stronger.”“If you stay and fight for what’s right, what’s just, what’s loving, what’s compassionate, then changes can happen.”
Two years of studying culminated in her ordination in Cincinnati on April 18. Her family, who “never” visit, she said, were in attendance, but she didn’t tell the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
“As I was being ordained, I was thinking about the more in-depth ways I could touch people’s lives, that I could be there for them,” Rawles said. “Especially for the dying, to hold their hands as they go to their loving God, whoever he or she may be for them.”
She quietly began performing last rites and leading prayer services in homes. Friends at the nursing facility were just “happy to know that there’s a priest on the premises,” she joked.
She she doesn’t quite know how the Sisters of the Precious Blood found out, she said, but she received a call from the group’s president earlier this month, demanding to know whether rumors of the ordination were true.
Rawles refused to sign a letter of separation from the order. A few days later, she got a note saying she was out, as a result of her automatic excommunication for seeking the priesthood.
“I don’t blame them, I mean, they’re following the rules, manmade rules of the Vatican,” Rawles said. Both she and Meehan emphasized that the sisters are doing what they must to avoid the wrath of the church. “I still love the sisters, I still wish I could be part of them.”
The sisters, for their part, have promised to keep picking up the tab for her assisted living facility: Rawles may no longer be a member of the order, but she’s still a person in need. “We are in the process of setting up some means of financial support,” Sister Joyce Lehman told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
But Rawles, who devoted 47 years to the order, said that’s not enough.
“The pope has declared this the Year of Mercy. We’re asking him to act on that by removing all excommunications,” she told The Daily Beast. “Because Jesus would not excommunicate anybody, he accepted all.”
Getting Pope Francis’s attention is another matter. Meehan acknowledged that, as excommunicated Catholics, Rawles and the ARCWP have practically no line to the Vatican. Rawles said a woman at her assisted living facility suggested gathering petition signatures.
A Vatican spokesman contacted by The Daily Beast said he had no comment on the matter. “I know nothing about it,” Thomas Rosica said.
But for Rawles, a lifelong Catholic, leaving her church for a more open one is not an option: Doing so would be forfeiting hope that the church can change.
“If you leave something, then problems and issues don’t get addressed, and things don’t change,” she said. “Whereas if you stay and fight for what’s right, what’s just, what’s loving, what’s compassionate, then changes can happen.”
“And that’s why we say we’re not leaving the church, we’re leading the church,” Rawles said.