Douthat’s “To Change the Church”: Mini-Debate w Karl Keating

Douthat’s “To Change the Church”: Mini-Debate w Karl Keating March 24, 2018

Is Douthat’s book of strong criticism of Pope Francis a good or bad thing?

This occurred on my public Facebook page. Karl’s words will be in blue.


Dave, I presume you haven’t read Douthat’s book. I haven’t either. It isn’t due to be released until Tuesday of next week. Yet you haven’t hesitated to condemned the book, sight unseen. 

You seem to be relying on two things: first and foremost, a kneejerk reaction to anything critical of Pope Francis. You call Douthat’s book “pathetic” without having read a word of it. It well may be “pathetic,” though I would find that unlikely, given Douthat’s high level of writing and care in wordsmithing otherwise. 

Second, you have condemned the book based on a review by Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter. [see the link] Since when have you been putting stock in his opinions and representations–are you even familiar with much of his (very liberal and heterodox) writing?–and since when are you using the “Reporter” as a trusted source? 

Winters complains that Douthat doesn’t provide as many citations as he would like. He complains that Douthat quotes “articles mostly from Edward Pentin, Sandro Magister and John Allen.” This is rich! For years John Allen was NCR’s top reporter, until he went off to set up his own gig, originally under the auspices of the Boston Globe. Allen, despite his personal liberal predilections, is a fine reporter, but he seems to have committed the ultimate sin, in Winters’ eyes, of jumping ship, and so Allen becomes one with Edward Pentin.

That’s the kind of thinking Winters exhibits in his review. Once I read Douthat’s book, I expect to find what Winters claims to have almost no relation to what Douthat actually has written. Winters, it seems obvious to me, is cherry-picking–and not out of high journalistic principle. 

You’re doing something similar with your uncritical acceptance of Winters’ condemnation. In calling Douthat’s book “severely flawed,” even though you haven’t seen it yet, you diminish your own credibility as an analyzer. You’ve been throwing around words such as “garbage” with abandon, not just regarding Douthat’s book but others too. Such words aren’t the words of critical thinking but of kneejerk reaction. 

I expect better from you.


But he still hasn’t read the book [referring to me, talking to someone else]. Since when has it become okay to “review” books one hasn’t even seen?

Hi Karl,

I will not waste my time reading Douthat’s book, like I did reading Lawler’s. He and you and his wife were all carping at me to read it (I hadn’t even planned to), or else I couldn’t say a word about it. Well, I did read it, then wrote five lengthy reviews [one / two / three / four / five], with crickets from Phil, his wife, you, and everyone else: not one substantive reply to my critiques. Then I wrote the distilled Amazon review (by far the most substantial critical review there) and further articles. Crickets all around.

Nor did I review it before I read it (as I was repeatedly falsely accused of doing). I merely noted that Phil had two characteristics of the three that typify reactionaries (pope-bashing and Vatican II-bashing). Initially, I was going by direct quotes from the Introduction that you provided in your review, and was commenting on those only.

The same is the case with Douthat, as I showed today (I wrote about him two years ago). And it’s true that at least one prominent Protestant said about the book, “I don’t think Douthat could’ve written a better apologetic for Protestant arguments against the papacy.”

So I won’t read this trash, but I did read Lawler’s book, and you or anyone else is more than welcome to actually interact with my specific arguments against it.

I noted that his remarks about Allen and CWR were off. I don’t agree with everything he says, just as you say you don’t agree with everything Lawler says, or every argument he makes, just because you positively reviewed his book. Touche!

[here are my relevant remarks, made in the same thread:

I don’t think Catholic World Report is “lunatic fringe” but apart from that odd categorization, obligatory politically liberal digs at Trump and The Wanderer, and a few other things here and there, it’s worth recommending, . . .

I thought that was weird, too [Allen being considered anti-Francis] . But we’re in a sad age of hyper-polarization and cliquishness, and sometimes people get carried away, knowing who’s who anymore.

Even an unplugged clock is right twice a day . . . [referring to National Catholic Reporter]

Well, we have to take what we can get, warts and all. There are so few good critiques of the fashionable garbage now proliferating, and more and more venues won’t publish them. So we get a partially flawed, name-calling analysis of a severely flawed book in a far-from-perfect flawed venue. But it’s better to have it than not.]

I am using very strong, prophetic-type language with regard to our present situation and the pope, because it is extremely serious and dangerous, and people need to be warned. It also makes me very angry (I would say it is righteous indignation) at how stupid Catholics are being, and how the devil is winning such an easy victory, dividing us all over the place.

There is a time and a place for such warranted rhetoric, and plenty of biblical examples of it. On occasion I use such language and polemics: when I think it is justified and necessary.

But I’m not just ranting and raving with no substance. I’m providing plenty of substance, in my reviews of Lawler, on various aspects of reactionary connection to the current mess (such as their current attacks on pope Benedict) and now in this article I did today on Douthat.

That substance can be interacted with and refuted (if it is faulty). But no one (who is critical of Pope Francis) is willing to do so. You are capable of it, but thus far, you have chosen not to, since our discussions about Lawler in January [one / two], where you made a few substantive replies, but not many.

I expect better from you, too: some actual rational counter-replies to substantive, specific arguments that I am making.

[further related comments made by me in that thread and a second Facebook thread]:

God help us from our stupidity.

Malcolm Muggeridge famously wrote about “The Great Liberal Death Wish” many years ago: analyzing how liberalism inevitably self-destructs under the weight of its innumerable false premises. Now we have “The Great Catholic Death Wish.” The only thing saving us from the present madness and idiocy and a dreadful self-inflicted suicide of the Church is God’s promise of indefectibility.

Thank you Lord! Without that, we’d turn into Anglicans within five years, at the rate things are going. Even the hapless, ever-evolving, believe-in-less-stuff-all-the-time Anglicans aren’t stupid enough to countenance daily bashing of the Archbishop of Canterbury or Queen Elizabeth. Only we are dumb enough to engage in such self-evident ludicrosities against our own leader.


There is no question that in the past quotation, Douthat bashed Vatican II itself: precisely in the manner that reactionaries do.

I didn’t intend to engage in an in-depth critique of that. I am simply documenting it, as something most Catholics understand to be self-evidently wrong.


I have documented the fact that a Protestant reviewer wrote the statement: “I don’t think Douthat could’ve written a better apologetic for Protestant arguments against the papacy.”

I think that’s very troubling that his book is being perceived (rightly or wrongly) in that way. And to me it’s perfectly understandable, because in these respects he is thinking precisely like Protestants do: something I’ve noted that reactionaries do, for over 20 years now.

With all the incessant pope-bashing going on, it sure gives them comfort in their Protestant belief in the non-necessary, arbitrary nature of the papacy itself. We are causing the weak to stumble, in other words.


In the end, what it amounts to is a Protestant / dissident Catholic / quasi-schismatic reactionary ecclesiology.


They want to blame the thing itself in both cases (VCII, Amoris Laetitia), rather than the actual distortion: which is liberals’ distorted interpretation of both.

It’s one thing to say that Blessed Pope Paul VI was and Pope Francis is, too lax in correcting these distortions (I would tend to agree in both cases), but that’s not what is going on.

It’s direct attacks on VCII and AL as heterodox, which both Lawler and Douthat have done. Thus they follow the same fallacious, erroneous spirit in condemning AL, and Pope Francis with it.


Photo credit: A Protestant Allegory (The four evangelists stoning the pope, together with hypocrisy and avarice), by Girolamo da Treviso the Younger (1508-1544). The painting was commissioned by King Henry VIII of England and was hanging at Hampton Court Palace at his death in 1547. [Wikimedia Commons /  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


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