Defending Rebecca Bratten Weiss at LifeSiteNews

Defending Rebecca Bratten Weiss at LifeSiteNews September 16, 2017

Fairness

Full disclosure: I happen to think that Rebecca Bratten Weiss (fellow Patheos writer and co-founder of the left-leaning New Pro-Life Movement) is a very brilliant writer and thinker (and have told her so), which is (mind you!) different from agreement with her on any given social or political issue. I think she (unlike others) is relatively balanced when she writes about “old” pro-lifers, and has more of a “both/and” outlook, but she still has plenty of false ideas about the nature of the existing movement before hers (however large it is) began.

Thus, my present defense is not about her ideas and opinions, but about her right (like anyone) to be treated fairly and to have her say. This should be all the more the case among fellow Catholics (Galatians 6:10). Sadly, this is yet another “civil war” within the ranks (I recently wrote about eight types of divisions among Catholics).

LifeSiteNews did a hit piece on Rebecca which a lot of people have been talking about. I have biases in that regard too. I have advised folks for years to avoid that site (I found such recommendations of mine in a search, made on 6-20-15, 12-15-15, and 4-9-16), because it’s radical Catholic reactionary (an ecclesiological stance; not a political one). Thus, I’d be predisposed to discount one of its articles, though of course it has to be judged on its actual merits, too, since even an unplugged clock is right twice a day.

I’ve also vigorously defended Franciscan University of Steubenville against various calumnies directed against it with regard to this matter, in my lengthy treatment of the controversy on my Facebook page.

I went over to the article at LifeSiteNews and commented in its combox. After 19 hours and my further comment, “Hello? Is anybody home?” I finally received some replies (in the broadest sense of that word), but no answers to my questions. Here is the exchange: already over there in full view of the public. Moderator Steve Jalsevac’s words will be in green. Words of Timothy J. Williams (who turns out to be a Professor of French at the University of Steubenville) will be in blue. Words of Mrs. Harris will be in purple, and words of “NH” will be in brown.

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Was Rebecca Bratten Weiss contacted to get her side of the story, prior to the article being written? Is that not rudimentary ethics and fair play?

If not, will you allow her to respond on your site or else prominently link to her response on her site? If not, why?

She is very extensively quoted throughout the article. Those are her words.

Am I to interpret that as a “no” to my first three questions?

Oh, I’m sure she will be responding. Over at Patheos, the usual hate-fest will be in overdrive for weeks, if not months. It will be the habitual accusations against the “racist… neo-con… white supremacist… neo-nazi” pro-life community. But certainly nothing like the “calumny” here, where Bratten Weiss is allowed to hang Bratten Weiss!

That has nothing to do with my questions, which neither you nor Steve have touched with a ten-foot pole thus far. What is so difficult about the notions I mention, and providing simple answers to my questions? If you can defend the article and actions of LSN, by all means do so.

I also write for Patheos (have one of the most-visited Catholic sites), and I have been critical of the seamless garment and “new pro-life” in many articles; although I approach the issue as a dispute between brothers in Christ, not among enemies.

I seek to build bridges, not explode them with inflammatory rhetoric. I’ve also dealt repeatedly with attacks by pro-lifers on other pro-lifers and idiotic charges of racism and white supremacy flung about indiscriminately.

There is certainly a predominance of political liberals at Patheos, but I am freely allowed to express my opinions there, too, and I am by no means a political liberal, and am rock-solid theologically orthodox.

My questions here have to do with “rudimentary ethics and fair play”, as I said. Everyone is entitled to that, regardless of what we think of them personally, or their views.

“If you can defend the article and actions of LSN, by all means do so.” The article requires no defense, something you do not seem to understand. To quote – to quote, not paraphrase mind you – the bizarre writings of an author does not require that the author be given even more space to continue the same sort of screed. I have repeatedly invited those who find this LSN article to be a “hatchet job” to simply go over to Patheos and read what is there, in its entirety. I think a rational person of good will can draw his own conclusions. I would recommend starting with the August 29 article that begins with this pithy phrase –

“In recent weeks, I have observed an alarming uptick in tolerance for racism among Catholic pro-lifers.” – before descending from calumny to incoherence. But almost any column by Bratten Weiss will suffice. It’s nice that you try to avoid “inflammatory rhetoric” in your writings at Patheos, but this isn’t about you. And if what you say about your own work is true, you are certainly the exception at Patheos.

Again, you fundamentally miss my point. I’m not defending everything she says. I have a lot of disagreement with her and her pro-life philosophy, as seen in my many articles on pro-life.

The article makes many serious charges against her, bearing on her Catholic faith and moral views. It seems to me that given the gravity of the charges, that LSN would extend the basic courtesy of contacting her first. Many people who know her much better than I do have contended that the article contains many inaccuracies and is a hatchet job / hit piece. Many people who disagree with her views on many things (as I do) feel the same about the article.

And so I asked my questions, that continue to be ignored. I will paraphrase them again:

1. Was she contacted prior to the publication of the article?

2. Is that not standard practice and fair play?

3. If not, will you let her respond on your site or prominently link to her reply elsewhere?

4. If not (to #3), why?

And now I’ll add a fifth, too:

5. Do the folks here (mods or whatever) absolutely refuse to answer my four questions?

Look, I don’t know you from Adam, but the fact that you write at Patheos raises many red flags for a lot of Catholics. Maybe you have just burned too many bridges to be taken seriously. This is not my article. I didn’t write it, and did not contribute to it as a source. However, I also find nothing slanderous about it. I don’t care about Bratten Weiss as a Catholic or a person, and the article does not focus on that. It discusses things she has publicly written and raises the issue of whether she belongs in the classroom, a question a lot of faculty members were discussing. And by the way, the entirety of her own articles of Patheos amounts to hatchet jobs of fellow Catholics whom she relentlessly vilifies in the most outlandish and unjust manner – in a style remarkably similar to Mark Shea’s – and this is NOT done by quoting what others have actually said or written, but by attributing secret motives to them that only Bratten Weiss, in her superior intelligence, is able to see. Some faculty members at FUS felt that it was outrageous that someone who writes with such blatant dishonesty was in the business of teaching students how to write.

Blah blah blah (nothing to do with my comments). Then I await Steve Jalsevac’s answer, as a mod. I won’t hold my breath, but hope springs eternal. I don’t know you from Adam, either, but at least you threw up some sort of reply: albeit utterly off-topic as regards my actual questions. Non sequitur replies are at least a bit better than none at all. Credit where due . . . Have a great day!

I also want to thank LSN for at least allowing my comments to be published in the first place (unlike over at The Remnant, which did a hit piece on me and didn’t even allow me to post a link to my rebuttal).

The article does not so much make many serious charges against her as it quotes her extensively, providing much evidence of her positions which should deeply concern any faithful Catholic. The evidence is solid. It is right there for you to read. Those are all Ms Weiss’ words. The author did not make any of it up.

There are some things that could have been done better with the article, but that does not at all change the realities of what has been reported which is what all readers should be concerned about, rather than your questions about how you believe journalism should have been done in this case. All of that is taking the focus off of the far more important matters of this story. These are diversionary tactics.

Even if we grant relatively more importance to the “substance” of the article (which I am inclined to do, myself), it still doesn’t follow that my expressed concerns (which are shared by many: including many who disagree a lot with Rebecca, as I do) are of no importance, let alone that they are supposedly a “diversionary tactic.”

You refuse to answer my questions, and so here instead are the inevitable psychoanalyses of my motivation and why I ask the questions. Rather than you being the one who is diverting, as a tactic (if anyone is), you switch it over to me and presto! now the topic is myself and what I am supposedly trying to do, rather than the topic at hand. That may work with some. It doesn’t with me, because I will expose it every time for what it is.

This ain’t rocket science. Your non-answers are actually very loud answers in another sense. How pathetic.

But why is it unfair to make people aware of she has publicly said, her own words and opinions? Why is it unfair to write about that? Why is it unfair to call into question her fitness for teaching at a catholic school? As a parent, I find it unfair that “teachers” seem to be able to subvert catholic teaching but if someone calls them out on that it’s “slander”. Whatever. She has no right to sneak her agenda on sexuality into her literature class.

Those are all perfectly legitimate questions and things to discuss. But (like all answers so far) they have nothing to do with my stated concerns, which have to do with how she was treated, and about journalistic ethics, and how we should charitably approach people: in this case a fellow Catholic.

Alright, I must be misunderstanding then, because to me it sounds like you are claiming that it was unfair to write/publish this article about this person’s publicly stated views without talking to her first. I must not be catching what it is that you mean by how she was treated unfairly. I have no issue with hearing her side, however, I think that’s what we already are talking about…her views, her side. What exactly is unfair? How was she not treated appropriately? Is it not fair to write about this? I don’t understand what your complaint is.

Thank you. This is the first reply that is even remotely connected to what I asked about.

Yes, I’m claiming that it is unfair and atrocious ethics to publish the article without contacting her first, because of the seriousness of the charges, and the fact that she seems to have been fired based on something to do with the subject matter of the piece. She deserves to have been heard: to give her side of the matter. She’s already lost her job. Is that not enough for the people who have become so opposed to her?

No matter how hard we may try to present another person’s position fairly, there is no way that this will ever happen (all the more if there is any prior strong hostility to views and/or persons) by only presenting what we think is another person’s view. That’s already biased from and filtered through our view.

This will virtually always be the case (I don’t ever remember an exception in my 40 years of serious dialogues on all imaginable topics). It’s easy for anyone to test this. Take a close friend or a spouse, and pick a topic where there is strong disagreement. Now, summarize what you think the other person’s view is, and then ask the other person if it’s totally accurate. Almost always there will be distortion, because we rarely fully understand another person’s view, especially if there is conflict, and also in direct proportion to how complex and multi-faceted (and/or emotional) an issue is.

That’s why it’s ultimately irrelevant that she was widely cited in the article. There are still things such as selective citations, omissions of other relevant material, out-of-context quotations, ignoring of the overall context of a piece of writing or lecture. Rebecca needs to be heard: to give her side. Why is this even debatable?

Instead, LSN seems to regard itself as judge and jury and that Rebecca is so guilty that there is no reasonable doubt about it that any reasonable person could possibly hold. This is wrong. It’s sinful. Guilty as charged and any evidence otherwise is not even allowed to see the light of day here, at LSN.

No one who represents LSN will explain why it is that she wasn’t consulted (nor were at least two other people who were bashed in the article) and/or why they are unwilling to allow her to reply here or to at least link (from this article) to any sort of reply on her part.

It was just pointed out to me as well that a representative of FUS who was cited the end contradicted himself.

Dr. Kempton states, “Our longstanding policy is not to speak publicly about current or former employees.” Yet in the section previously, he wrote: “the University expects our faculty to publicly support, and minimally to not publicly oppose, Catholic teaching. This includes the Church’s clear teaching on life issues.”

Why make such a statement unless the insinuation was that Rebecca does not hold to the correct teaching on life? Therefore, it sure seems to be a roundabout, subtle accusation of grave error, but without proof. The article provided none that I can see. I don’t see where Rebecca has dissented against the Church’s teaching on life, and I am familiar in more than a passing way with her work and opinions.

We still don’t know if this is the reason why FUS fired her and whether this person’s thoughts represent the reason or the school as a whole. If so, I would fully agree that it was unjust, because it’s based on falsehood. Why is he there commenting at all if school policy is “not to speak publicly about current or former employees”? His very statement is self-contradictory.

If FUS’ concern, on the other hand, was with excesses in sexually graphic language, etc., which they feel to be inappropriate at an orthodox Catholic college, that’s a completely different issue, where I think they could conceivably have a more plausible case of a disconnect with the university outlook and policy. But even if so, wouldn’t warnings or reprimands before firing be the proper thing to do? And if so, why wasn’t that brought up in the “statement” at the end, rather than the insinuation that Rebecca is somehow not pro-life, according to Church standards?

This thing stinks to high heaven: and I mean the traditional biblical meaning of that: it’s a stench in God’s nostrils. God sees everything we do. We don’t pull any fast ones on Him.

It sounds like you are really mad at FUS for firing her. That decision lies solely with FUS (not LSN) it is on them to decide what criteria they use for vetting, hiring, firing etc.

I can’t be “really mad” (or mad at all) about a thing where I don’t have sufficient information to make an informed judgment. I don’t operate that way. “Just the facts, ma’am.” (Dragnet)

Yes, it seems that it is slander and calumny to report on what an author has written, since her only offense was to describe the Pro-Life movement in the most vile terms imaginable and attribute to us all kinds of evil intent and motives. As I have said, it is classic Patheos and Mark Shea journalism.

As many have similarly noted, to no avail, because the concepts seem to be lost on those here who are intent on misrepresenting others [to use my own past words], there are still things such as selective citations, omissions of other relevant material, out-of-context quotations, ignoring of the overall context of a piece of writing or lecture.

Every article in the Washington Compost or New York Slimes or report from PMSNBC cites the words of President Trump in their hit pieces against him. Does that make them fair and unbiased? Of course not. Independent studies have shown that the mainstream liberal media in its reporting is between 91-97% or so hostile to President Trump. Their possible defense of saying, “we cited his own words!” is no more plausible than your repeated mantra.

If that is the answer to every objection about bias, it’s empty-headed, naive, and shallow at best; intellectually dishonest at worst.

***

Bravo! No one, no matter his or her opinions, deserves to be treated in such a manner. Simple courtesy, as well as journalistic integrity, demands that the subjects (in this case Bratten-Weiss, the Lewises, Franciscan University) of an article such as this be allowed to respond. This is neither an endorsement of or objection to their opinions. This is simple respect for the other person. That is pro-life.

**

Dave, You state that you’re confused by Dr. Kempton’s statement and that it is self-contradictory as it seems to imply that Rebecca is not really pro-life and then says the University does not discuss personnel matters. Might I suggest an alternate reading?

When this article first came out the headline was “The Seamless Garment at Steubenville.” You can still see this title in the URL link to this article. In addition there was a picture of FUS’ chapel at the top of the article. Though the article has now been edited, at first print Rebecca was referred to as currently teaching at FUS. Further, the article still contains statements such as this “Until recently, Bratten Weiss was an instructor at a university reputed for its Catholic orthodoxy. Stop and think about that for a moment,” which seem to call into question the orthodoxy and pro-life stance of FUS.

We know from admin Steve above that the author never talked to anyone in administration and therefore in a position to comment authoritatively for FUS about these statements before this article was published.

Therefore I suggest that another way to read the Dr. Kempton’s reponse is thus: FUS was faced with this article out of the blue. There were two falsities in the article. 1) That Rebecca was currently teaching at the University and 2) the University’s orthodoxy and pro-life credentials are somewhat suspect.

FUS proceeded to notify LSN that these errors existed in the article and Dr. Kempton’s response is addressing these two errors. Therefore, paragraph 1 of the response is addressing the implications in the article that FUS is somewhat less committed to orthodoxy and being pro-life and paragraph 2 of the response is addressing the issues of Rebecca’s employment and questions from LSN for details of her employment. You’ll see from admin Steve’s comments on this htread a bewilderment that FUS would not disclose employment information so it’s clear that LSN was asking for it.

In this reading Dr. Kempton’s statement about FUS employing those who profess orthodoxy and are pro-life has no connection to Rebecca’s employment but is trying to offer clarity to the charges in the article that orthodoxy and pro-life positions are weakening at the University.

If this is the true reading perhaps more consideration should have been given before sending the statement to the fact that it would be interpreted as you have. But, it would, I think, make it a less puzzling statement.

This is a helpful, plausible explanation, and quite possible. However, if we grant it for the sake of discussion, problems still nevertheless exist, since Dr. Kempton felt compelled to respond to this article by reiterating that FUS is totally, solidly pro-life!

Well, think about it. Why would he feel that he had to make that proclamation, in defense of his own university? Obviously it was because it was felt that this article cast doubt on that. And why did it cast such doubt? Clearly, because of the example of Rebecca Bratten Weiss (the subject of the article): so goes the (highly flawed) reasoning of the author.

Therefore, even if I agreed with your explanation, it doesn’t remove the existing aspersion against Rebecca, to the effect that she is not pro-life.

The fact that she was fired makes it all the more confusing. 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.

So, for example, we pro-lifers might note that George W. Bush and his father: elder President Bush were inconsistently pro-life, in that they allowed abortion in the cases of rape and incest. The babies killed in such cases (as consistent pro-lifers always contend) are no less innocent than any other, and deserve no less right-to-life. But we don’t deny that these two Presidents were pro-life, or call them pro-abortionists as a result. The latter charge is exponentially more serious.

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 more pro-lifers divide amongst themselves on the basis of mere politics, the more victory the devil achieves. We know better than this, but as usual, we choose to act like fools and ignorant dupes of Satan, by allowing him to divide us and thus render us far less effectual and salt and light to our dying society.

Dave, Thanks for the discussion. I agree with you that the article does not say anything that would indicate that Rebecca is not pro-life. Nor would I add does it says anything that proves that she is not Catholic. Whether or not you agree with her positions is a different question.

As for Dr. Kempton’s statement I’m not quite following your reasoning that the statement still implies an aspersion on Rebecca as not being pro-life even if the school is just defending itself against charges of being less than pro-life. Granted that the reaction is to an article that implies the University is not as pro-life as it once was for employing Rebecca. But, could not the statement be seen as rather a support of Rebecca as pro-life? I mean if Kempton is saying that the University hires pro-life people and it had hired Rebecca wouldn’t that be to say that she is pro-life?

The only way it’s an aspersion on Rebecca is if you assume that she was let go for not being pro-life. But, if there were other reasons for not keeping her as an adjunct (off the top of my head a few other situations present themselves to me: they cut the class for money reasons, they didn’t have a need of her class at the moment, another instructor presented who had better credentials, they preferred her not to teach the book list she was presenting) wouldn’t that make the statement one of support?

By the way FUS has only stated that Rebecca is no longer teaching there, not that she was fired. I don’t know too much about adjuncts but I’m pretty sure they’re very part-time and not regular employees. My experience in HR with teachers is that they work on a year to year contract such that the school has the option of renewing the contract each year. Therefore a teacher who does not return the next year either did not sign the new contract or the school did not offer a new contract. Anyway, this is all speculation on my part based on my limited HR experience and may not apply.

Interesting. I grant that this is a possible explanation, and even plausible. I hope you’re right. We simply don’t have enough solid information.

The continuing gossipy snippets from Timothy J. Williams do not help advance the desire to know what happened here. He tells us that many professors at FUS were highly concerned about Rebecca, etc. I guess he thinks that is close enough to the line (but not over it) of the university not publicly talking about its employees (or former ones).

Apparently professors there are under no such constraint. I’m not sure that is helpful or a net gain, seeing the scandalous rumormongering garbage that is taking place here. Dr. Williams must be tenured. Yeah, looks like it . . .

We still have no definite knowledge of even whether she was fired (as you say), or what the reason was. Hit pieces like the article do not clarify. All they do is encourage the bashing and trashing of a fellow Catholic and pro-lifer. There is no desire to have a serious discussion. If so, Rebecca would have been consulted before this piece ran.

Any serious critical piece of journalism about anyone on TV news shows, for example, will either include the person being criticized, or make a disclaimer upfront that the person was contacted and asked to comment, and declined.

***

Rebecca has now weighed in:

No, I am not going to address that absurd LifeSite article smearing me, nor the recent changes in my employment status. That would involve descending to levels lower than I care to go, given what passes for journalism in Catholic tabloids, . . . 

***

See also the two follow-up articles:

New Info on Bratten Weiss Controversy (National Catholic Reporter) (+ Facebook discussion) [9-19-17]

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

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Photo Credit: image by johnhain (3-22-15) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]

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