Donohue on Winters on Sirico

Bill Donohue really can’t help himself. Michael Sean Winters wrote some posts on how the Acton Institute’s Fr. Robert Sirico was one of the first people to preside over a same-sex wedding, back in the early 1970s when he was a Protestant minister.  True to form, Donohue throws a petulant hissy fit, as he often does when defending his friends when unsavoury aspects of their life are made public. True, this fit wasn’t as bad as his attempt to blame the girl in Deal Hudsongate, but he does lash out at Michael as “a Catholic dissident”.

This is part of a pattern. You see it with Catholyc Vote/ American Papyst and a couple of people at this site – the tendency to accuse fellow Catholics with different political views as dissidents. To them, heterodoxy is not taking a stance against the single sacred deposit of the Word of God, but refusing to get with the program of the Republican party and the associated fake conservative movement. Donohue falls squarely into this camp. Anybody who knows Michael Sean Winters knows that he loves the Church deeply, and is incredibly passionate about the faith. Unfortunately for Donohue, Winters accepts the faith in its totality.

This is where it gets interesting. Donohue claims that Winters is “unhappy that Sirico is not in rebellion against the teachings of the Catholic Church”. I almost laughed out loud at that one! The whole premise of the Acton Institute is to promote an economic liberalism that goes directly against the tenor of Catholic social teaching. I believe he even opposes the government regulation of pornography. Sirico might have changed his coat since the 1970s, but since there is a direct connection between the individualism that fed the sexual revolution in the 1960s and the individualism that fed the resurgence of laissez-faire economics in the 1980s, it appears that his new coat looks suspiciously like his old coat. It’s certainly made of the same material.

But there’s something far worse. Sirico is on record defending torture. Specifically, on EWTN with his buddy Raymond Arroyo, Sirico made jokes about waterboarding, and said that torture might be fine if conducted by a competent authority, if proportionate, and if the threat is imminent. In words, he takes something the Church defines as intrinsically evil and creates circumstances when it might be licit. Of course, he quibbles over the definition of torture but I’m pretty sure he would not be equivocating over these techniques being a “prudential judgment” by a “competent authority”  and “depending on circumstances”  if (say) the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were the acting agent.

But this is all fine and dandy for Donohue, but poor old Winters is a dissident! Talk about the topsy-turvy land of the American Catholic right!

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  • Cindy

    It does seem like the land of confusion to say the least. So I just found out last week that in our country, cheaper energy trumps human life. The big oil and gas lobby in our country is coming into states like PA, and WV and NY, and they are actually going to be fracking in my local water reservoir. So they are going to frack the location of the reservoir where our drinking water comes from. Yes off the subject, but Halliburton none the less. Thanks Republicans and all the corrupt politicians out there that don’t defend life and our water supply.

  • Kurt

    Sirico is on record defending torture. Specifically, on EWTN with his buddy Raymond Arroyo…

    You are being unfair to Father Sirico.

    I don’t think there is any direct connection between Father Sirico’s past as a ‘leather daddy’ and his support for torture. Those are quite unrelated.

    And EWTN has never allowed Sirico to come on air and torture Raymond Arroyo, even in a playful way.

  • Matt Bowman

    You take Donohue to task for calling Winters a dissident. Perhaps Winters does not actually reject Church teaching on women priests, or same-sex so-called marriage, or even abortion, like other prominent authors at the National Catholic Reporter frequently do. The basis for calling those people “dissidents” is their public rejection of Church teaching on such issues, and nothing to do with the Republican party. If Winters has not rejected Church teaching on any issue, then it would indeed be unfair to call him a dissident, though not perhaps to say that he writes at a dissident publication and always attacks the same people with whom those dissidents disagree on their dissident issues. However, you yourself state that “I believe [Fr. Sirico] even opposes the government regulation of pornography.” You “believe” so? This is a serious charge. The Acton Institute’s website and Fr. Sirico himself has plenty of bad and nothing good to say about pornography that I can see. As someone willing “to accuse fellow Catholics with different political views”, as you are doing in this statement, I assume you have some specific knowledge on this issue, knowledge specific and reliable enough to sustantiate this charge. If it is not true, however, what is the difference between you calling Fr. Sirico a pornography permitter and Donohue calling Winters a dissident?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Kurt, you are cracking me up!

  • Blackadder

    The whole premise of the Acton Institute is to promote an economic liberalism that goes directly against the tenor of Catholic social teaching.

    So you say. And yet, Father Sirico was one of the two priests picked by the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace to edit its collection of Magisterial texts associated with Catholic Social Thought. Kind of an odd pick if he is such an enemy of everything CST stands for.

  • Morning’s Minion

    So where is the burden of proof, Matt? Winters needs to prove to the likes of Donohue that is is an orthodox Chalcedonian Catholic Christian? Donohue cited not a shred of evidence, but that is par for the course. The real sin is that Winters supports the Democratic party, as I do today.

    You miss the larger point that Sirico is on record defending an intrinsically evil act – torture. Unlike Donohue, I’ve actually provided some hard evidence of this. And if NCR is to be classified a “dissident publication” then we must call EWTN a “dissident Catholic channel” and the Acton Institue a “dissident organization”. Are you willing to do that?

    And I’m not going to bite on the pornography thing. There is nothing in Catholic teaching that suggests the goverment must regulate pornography, just as there is nothing that says it must provide healthcare or at least faciliate universal coverage. As a prudential matter, government needs to have a role, as the free market simply is not compatible with justice in either case. Sirico is not a pornography supporter, he just idolizes the free market. In this, he is no different from those who oppose the regulation of health insurance markets.

  • Matt Bowman

    This is a very simple empircal question. It is not whether the government should restrict pornography (it should). It is whether your statement, that Fr. Sirico “opposes the government regulation of pornography,” is true or false. Does it have any evidence, or no evidence, or contrary evidence from all the things that Fr. Sirico always seems to say against pornography? You’ve made an allegation. Where did you pull it out of? The question isn’t where the burden of proof is, on the accused or the accuser. The question is, now that you have flamed Donohue for not meeting the burden of proof in accusing Winters, are you willing to live by the same burden of proof in accusing Sirico on pornography regulation? Your post imposes a burden on Donohue. Fine. Live by it yourself. Support your allegation that Fr. Sirico “opposes the government regulation of pornography.” If not, whatever. Butter battle yourself all day long if you want to.

  • Morning’s Minion

    “If you want to see pornography banished, you must recognize that federal government censorship is not going to accomplish that goal…So what can parents do to keep pornography out of their homes? The market has already provided solutions. Internet users can subscribe to growing numbers of “parental control” programs. These filter out offensive materials by screening key words or simply limiting kids to a “white list” of approved sites. It’s as easy as downloading a file and nearly impossible to outwit.”

    – Robert Sirico, Don’t Censor the Internet.” Forbes 29 July 1996: 48.

    See also here:

    And here:

  • JohnMcG

    This is part of a pattern. You see it with Catholyc Vote/ American Papyst and a couple of people at this site – the tendency to accuse fellow Catholics with different political views as dissidents.

    A similar pattern is MM posting detraction against fellow Catholics with different political views.

    Maybe one day, one pattern will be broken.

  • Matt Bowman

    Thank you for at least telling us why you made this allegation, so we could determine whether and to what extent the allegation is true.

  • Thales

    I read Winters’s two posts on Fr. Sirico, and I don’t really understand where Winters is coming from.

    Apparently Winters’s whole purpose of his posts is to make the point that Sirico is too “sanctimonious.” Whether Sirico’s statements regarding Catholic Notre Dame honoring President Obama are sanctimonious or not can be a matter of reasonable debate (for that matter, whether the award was a good or idea or not can be a matter of reasonable debate). Personally, Sirico’s comments don’t strike me as sanctimonious, especially considering the very critical comments from dozens of other prominent Catholic leaders and bishops during the Obama debate.

    What I don’t get is why Winters brings up the long-dead skeleton in Sirico’s past. It’s clear that Sirico has had a 180 turn of heart and mind, and completely rejected his past views as deeply mistaken. So why bring up the skeleton? Winters apparently sees relevance between Sirico’s current “sanctimoniousness” and his past mistaken beliefs from long ago, but I don’t see the relevance.

    Winters wonders whether EWTN will react in light of Winters’s bombshell and whether Sirico will continue to be a featured EWTN guest. Some comments in Winters’s posts question Sirico’s credibility, in light of this revelation. But Winters also says that Sirico’s past is not evidence of his lack of integrity and that it shouldn’t reflect badly on Sirico….. so why does Winter make a big deal of Sirico’s past in the first place?

    Winters says that he fears his story might make many people call Sirico “the ex-gay priest” and implies people might wonder about his sexuality. Then in the comments, someone says that it is highly likely that Sirico was actively gay. Winters then wonders whether people might link Sirico to the Church’s sex abuse crisis. But Winters had first said that all of this type of speculation is wrong…. so why did Winter make a big deal of Sirico’s past in the first place?

  • Vermont Crank

    There is, of course, quite a bit of material, easily discovered, which calls The Acton Insititue to task for its ideology

    And, of course, it is well-known that The Acton Institute is funded by Neo-Con outfits like The Bradley Foundation and The Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

    ON a Mission form God?

    Well, you decide:

    The mission of Atlas, according to John Blundell (president from 1987 to 1990), “is to litter the world with free-market think-tanks.”

  • JohnMcG

    Here’s an thought — perhaps we can talk about the merits of different ideas, rather than allegations against people.

    Whether Fr. Sirico officated a same-sex marraige, whether MSW is a exaggerating the facts, whether Bill Donohue is wrong in his defense, and (putting myself in the crosshairs) whether MM is engaging in detraction have absolutely no impact on how I or anybody else here should live their lives, with the possible exception of anybody who considered any of the above 4 individuals to be an absolute moral authority.

    All 4 are likely right about some things; all 4 are likely wrong about some things. All 4 are sinners.

    As am I. Considering the failings of public and not so public figures isn’t going to change that.

  • Vermont Crank

    9) What is your view of the Austrian school of economics and related organizations such as the Ludwig von Mises Institute?

    The much vaunted “Austrian School” – by which is usually meant Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek – two agnostic positivists – involves mainly an attempt to restore the “Free Market Economy of the Victorian era.”8 It is opposed to the Church’s social teachings, and Pope Paul VI and John Paul II cited that opposition referring to the new attempt at revival as “neo-liberalism” (Octagesima Adveniens 35-36; Ecclesia in America 56).9 Mises is old stuff, and Pesch already dealt with his free market advocacy as “neo-Manchesterism.” (Lehrbuch V,bk 1, p.v).10 The movement was advanced by American Presidents, both Democratic (Carter and Clinton), and Republican (Reagan and Bush I and II).

    10) What is your impression of the Acton Institute? Is it aligned with the tradition of von Ketteler and Pesch or some other school of philosophy and economics?

    The Acton Institute is more of the same. It is a “think tank” headed by a Catholic priest, well financed by business interests which fit perfectly the papal designation — neo-liberalism — therefore another advocate of free markets.11 It is my understanding that there are Calvinist roots, but I cannot substantiate this.

    It is legitimate to bring-up Fr Sirico’s past because when he was ordained a Paulist, the Paulists were in violation of the prohibition of accepting and ordaining homosexuals.

    And, less than a year after his ordination, he was already searching for a new gig…

  • alex martin


    You are the other side of the Bill Donahue coin, just as unable to pass up opportunities for buffoonery and judgment.

  • Zach

    Heaping accusations on top of accusations…

    I like how you write “goes against the tenor of Catholic Social Teaching” rather than “goes against Catholic Social Teaching”

    It must be a Freudian slip.

    You don’t really know if The Acton Institute is in contradiction with Catholic Social Teaching because you don’t really know Catholic Social Teaching and you don’t really know what the Acton Institute teachings either.

    You deal in caricatures and make accusations, rarely substantiated.

    Do you love the controversy and the attention these asinine posts get you?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Sorry Zach, there I was thinking that the papal social encyclicals and recent conciliar documents formed the basis of Catholic social teaching. What an idiot I am! Clearly, I should be reading the Amercan phony conservatives instead! And why did I bother getting a Ph.D in economics when I could have learned all I needed to know from the Acton Institute!

  • Zach

    Wow you have a PhD in economics!? You must know what you’re talking about!

    But your response to my comment does not follow; I did not say you should read phony American conservatives, nor did I say you could “learn all [you] needed to know from the Acton Institute”; nor did I suggest that the papal social encyclicals and conciliar documents were not the basis of Catholic Social Teaching.

    What I said was that you don’t understand Catholic Social Teaching, and that you don’t understand the Acton Institute.

  • Nate Wildermuth

    It does seem rather odd that Fr. Sirico, a torture apologist, edited a document headed up by a torture survivor, Archbishop François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân.

    That was before 9-11, however.

  • ctd

    Too often Fr. Sirico writes something that can be refuted by the Catechism itself. He is a dissenter. That said, I don’t know why what he did long ago before he was a Catholic priest is relevant. Both Winters and Donohue are wasting time on this.

    And, really, Sirico’s role in reviewing the social teachings in preparation for the Compendium does not tell much. It was some years ago, but I remember that at the time it was much discussed that he maneuvered his way into that role only to be later politely ignored by those who suspected a he had ulterior motives. In the end, the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church did not look like something from the Acton Institute.

  • John Henry

    So you say. And yet, Father Sirico was one of the two priests picked by the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace to edit its collection of Magisterial texts associated with Catholic Social Thought. Kind of an odd pick if he is such an enemy of everything CST stands for.

    It is remarkable how few people correctly understand CST by MM’s lights.

  • Adolfo Rodriguez


    I note your phD in economics. Ever run a business?

  • Kurt

    Fr. Sirico has been most helpful to the Office for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, putting them in contact with various associates of his. He has done so largely on his own initiative without the Office even reaching out to him. I am sure they are grateful for his kindness.

    On the other matter, in 2005, many conservative Catholics including James Hitchcock, Catholics United for the Faith (who compared persons with a homosexual orientation in the priesthood to alcoholics in a bar), Lifesite “News”, Catholic Answers, etc. pushed hard demanding a church policy that even chaste men with a homosexual orientation or past should be banned from the priesthood.

    In fairness, Fr. Neuhaus (since gone to Jesus and Mary) and some very quiet voices among conservative Catholics cautioned their gay-bashing inclined brethren that such a policy could severely backfire on those seeking “orthodox” men in the priesthood. Their behind the scenes advice seems to have been heard as one curial official did clarify that, Holy Mother Church, ever loving of her children, would not apply the ban to priestly candidates who were not “that way” but just had gotten drunk a couple of times and…

    Now, with the five year anniversary of this decree, it does seem appropriate to take a look back and also consider the insights of the one and only Catholic priest received from the clergy of the Metropolitan Community Church and someone familiar with the leather/levi subculture of the GLBT community.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Not at all, John. My criticism is directly solely against a small group of (almost exclusively American) laissez-faire liberals. It is clear to me that their approach is not compatible with CST. But outside the bubble, in the rest of the world, there are plenty of vibrant debates going on.

  • c matt

    The real sin is that Winters supports the Democratic party, as I do today

    Admitting it is the first step to recovery, my friend.

  • Pinky

    I just read those articles. Pathetic insinuation and covert gay-bashing in the NCR. Horrible and hypocritical.

  • Matt Bowman

    Catholics talking about Church social teaching and excising solidarity from the discussion is kind of like a public official quoting the government’s role in the Declaration of Independence but excising the Creator.