New Info on Bratten Weiss Controversy (National Catholic Reporter)

Censored

I recently wrote a post on this blog entitled, “Defending Rebecca Bratten Weiss at LifeSiteNews” (9-16-17). My perspective was not to defend everything she writes about and  believes. To me, that was quite beside the point. Indeed, we have many profound disagreements, and I’ve written several critiques of the New Pro-Life Movement and leftist pro-life outlook in general (see that section on my Life Issues web page).

My expressed opinion was that she was savaged unfairly without being given the simple courtesy of giving her side of things.  My paper was constructed of dialogues in which I directly engaged on the LifeSiteNews combox underneath their “hit piece” article. Challenged repeatedly on this score, the partisans there gave no answer except that her words were massively cited in the article (as if that proves there could not possibly be any bias, and that no one could possibly disagree with their opinion).

National Catholic Reporter (“‘New Pro-Life Movement’ co-founder loses job, attacked online”, Heidi Schlumpf, 9-19-17) offers significant new information on the whole incident. I note in passing that I have one little beef with the article. LifeSiteNews is not merely “right-wing Catholic media” or “one of several right-wing Catholic sites”. Rather, it’s a radical Catholic reactionary site: which means it is extremist, fringe, and what I would call “quasi-schismatic.” It by no means represents mainstream orthodox (or what some would call “conservative” Catholic) opinion. It doesn’t even represent mainstream Catholic traditionalist opinion. Other sites of this general category would include One Peter Five, The Remnant, Catholic Family News, and Rorate Caeli.

Mainstream Catholic venues would be sites like EWTN, Catholic Answers, or National Catholic Register (which this article itself labels as “conservative”). Much more accurate, then, is the statement in the article, “Bratten Weiss has been criticized by Catholics on the extreme right.” LifeSiteNews is one of these. I have urged my readers for at least two years to avoid it like the plague. And I’ve seen many of my friends do so as well.

I’ve been trying to find out exactly what happened, in terms of Rebecca’s contract as an adjunct professor of English not being renewed by Franciscan University of Steubenville (“FUS”). A spokesman has stated (cited in the LSN article) that it is not university policy to discuss such matters, and I’ve also heard from two reputable sources (including one attorney friend from Ohio) that there are serious legal issues constraining the university from doing so. I have remained basically neural as to whether FUS bears any blame; not having enough information. Full disclosure: I have very great admiration of FUS, having attended Defending the Faith Conferences there some eight or nine times since 1992. I am certainly not predisposed to have any hostility towards it.

I speculated about discussed hypotheticals in my article:

[I]f this [being insufficiently pro-life] is the reason why FUS fired her . . . I would fully agree that it was unjust, because it’s based on falsehood. . . .

Dr. Kempton felt it necessary to reiterate the pro-life bona fides of FUS (which I do not doubt, as a great admirer of FUS). Yet this article provides no proof that Rebecca is not pro-life: being predominantly about language issues. Perhaps she may be inconsistent regarding some aspects of the life issue (that’s arguable), but certainly no more than that (if even that) was proven here. . . .

If that was the reason she was fired, there is no evidence that she is guilty of the charge, that I can see. Therefore, there was no good reason for Dr. Kempton to affirm that FUS is completely pro-life, in response to an article that supposedly cast doubt on that by citing the example of Rebecca Bratten Weiss, yet failing to provide any undeniable evidence that she was not pro-life in the first place.

She’s a left-wing pro-lifer, which is a thing to discuss in and of itself (and I do quite often). But a left-wing “new pro-lifer” / seamless garment advocate / “whole-lifer” is still undeniably among the species of pro-lifers, and it’s not intrinsically a denial of Catholic orthodoxy, either, for that matter. Some may be personally heterodox, but it doesn’t follow inexorably from the leftist Catholic pro-life outlook.

The Reporter article offers the first evidence of any sort that her dismissal may indeed (as I feared, based on what minor clues I saw) have been based on an alleged shortcoming on her part with regard to the pro-life issue:

An updated statement provided to NCR from the university noted that the LifeSiteNews article has “significant inaccuracies.”

“This was not a case of termination,” the Sept. 18 statement said. “Ms. Bratten Weiss taught on an adjunct basis, and as is our practice, we reviewed adjunct positions earlier this summer and made the decision then not to offer her a contract.”

Bratten Weiss confirms that the English Department chair told her in late summer that she would not be teaching at Franciscan University this fall as originally planned, after he showed her “evidence” that essentially said she wasn’t “pro-life enough,” she said.

She feels betrayed by university colleagues, who she believes helped provide the documentation, and says she will miss teaching after 11 years at Steubenville. “It was a big punch in the gut to realize these people had been in an alliance against me and that the university had taken them at face value without giving me an opportunity to defend myself,” she said.

She added, “Nothing I have ever written has been contrary to church teaching.”

If true, this would verify what I feared and wrote about, in my speculations above. Taking her own report at face value, it would appear that FUS (departments and some number of colleagues) had questions about whether she was truly pro-life according to Catholic teaching. And it would again be the case (again, assuming the accuracy of her report) that she was essentially “tried” behind her back without being consulted or having any opportunity to defend herself: the same approach that LifeSiteNews took. Hints as to some sort of collusion or group effort among several FUS professors is not mere speculation. It was alluded to by more than one person on the hit piece combox (including one FUS professor). This is consistent with Rebecca’s suspicion.

I realize that, given FUS’ stated policy, it can’t “officially” say much about this whole affair, so that we can’t fully hear it’s side of things, but what we do know, looks troubling. It is what it is, prima facie. Unless Rebecca is lying through her teeth (which I don’t believe), she wasn’t given any opportunity to defend herself or her pro-life credentials, and was a victim of a concerted effort to (what seems to me) “shut her up.” As a writer who has often written about “unpopular” or “controversial” issues (including, no doubt, this very post, in some circles) — and has taken an avalanche of insults for it for over 20 years online — , and as a passionate defender of free speech and free expression of ideas, I think that (at least from what we can be said to “know” so far) stinks and is very disturbing.

According to her account, her dismissal wasn’t about language and sexual issues (more germane to the teaching of literature), which is what the LSN article focused upon, but rather, about pro-life. But fellow apologist Scott Eric Alt has recently shown how the planks of the New Pro-Life Movement are perfectly in accord with what the Church has taught.

We may disagree with NPLM on many scores (I do, believe me!): about strategy, who to vote for, emphases and focuses, tactics, uses of language and images, priorities, etc., but it’s untrue that it’s not pro-life, just as it is untrue when some of its adherents (not Rebecca, that I can tell) charge that those of us not in their particular wing of the larger movement are insufficiently pro-life. I know all about the latter phenomenon because I have been subjected to it myself (in fact, in the last two days, from a not insignificant figure).

I have passionately opposed extremes and divisiveness on both sides of this unnecessary divide. Presently and in my previous related article I have been critical of my own broad “side” (the non-NPLM or “conservative” wing of the pro-life movement). We’re in an age where no one who disagrees about anything seems to be able to talk about it with a person who believes differently.

The article (accurately) cites yours truly, as well as three other defenders of Rebecca (all political liberals or at least not conservatives):

Dave Armstrong, a blogger and self-identified Catholic apologist, admitted that he disagrees with Bratten Weiss on some issues but defended her right to be treated fairly, which LifeSiteNews did not do, he said in a Sept. 16 blog post.

He criticized the author and LifeSiteNews for not contacting Bratten Weiss for comment before publishing the article, noting that there could be issues of “selective citations, omissions of other relevant material, out-of-context quotations, ignoring of the overall context of a piece of writing or lecture” in the reporting of the piece.

Armstrong describes himself as “by no means a political liberal” and “rock-solid theologically orthodox.” He said he has disagreed with the seamless garment approach to pro-life issues, but sees the disagreements as “a dispute between brothers in Christ, not among enemies.”

The article ends as follows:

Bratten Weiss also believes attacks like the one against her hurt the pro-life movement. “It seems anyone who is doing damage to their ‘brand’ is going to be targeted for destruction,” she said. “That’s a distortion and misrepresentation of our faith. That’s not Catholic or pro-life, to my mind.”

I completely agree. I have made a significant effort lately, trying to build bridges and to help eliminate (in some small way) the sad divides within the Church and pro-life movement that benefit no one but the devil himself. I’ve tried very hard (and sometimes still it’s a rough road) to actually dialogue with and listen to people who have a different political view than I do (and my own political position and social views are not given to quick summary, either).

What has happened to Rebecca does not further the end of pro-life or Christian unity at all. And as usual, it seems to be the direct result of political differences, and demonizing and ignoring those who have different outlooks than we do. It happens on both sides (left vs. right / liberal vs. conservative) and I have vociferously condemned it on both sides.

Lord, please help us to do better! We believe; help our unbelief!

What this is starting to look like now is a flat-out “witch hunt.” It’s like McCarthyism. As always, I oppose such nonsense on principle, wherever it comes from. That’s why I’ve taken such a strong stand on this present issue.

German Lutheran pastor and Nazi opponent Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) wrote a famous poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I’m not a socialist or even a liberal. But I’m a pro-life Catholic, and so is Rebecca; therefore, she is on my side. Left and right don’t enter into that: being far less important considerations.

Endnote: I’m fully aware that National Catholic Reporter is properly classified as a left-of-center publication: theologically and politically. Their bias shows in the article itself (though it is not too great here), and is certainly indicated by the extreme nature in many of the comments beneath the article, which are as objectionable from the “left” as LSN comments are objectionable due to being far right. One of these comments will suffice as a classic illustration of what I am talking about. “Elagabalus” pontificates from some lofty position:

Even though Pope Benedict XVI has long since departed his post at the Vatican (if not his residence in Vatican City) it would seem that the culture of censorship he carefully cultivated during the entirety of his career at the CDF and later as pope is alive and well among his most ardent followers who will tolerate not one scintilla of dissent from absolute right-wing orthodoxy.

Thus, if a major complaint about LSN (that I agree with) is that it attacks Pope Francis, here we see a commenter (not a column-writer, granted) at National Catholic Reporter making outrageous accusations about Pope Benedict: back to the Panzer-Kardinal mentality . . . neither thing is worse than the other.

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See also the follow-up article:

Conniving Dirt-Gatherers & Gossips vs. Rebecca Bratten Weiss [9-20-17]

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Photo credit: (Self) Censored; photograph by Carolyn Tiry (10-3-09) [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

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