Fr. George Rutler’s Shameful Ad Hominem Against Jimmy Akin

Fr. George Rutler’s Shameful Ad Hominem Against Jimmy Akin May 5, 2019

Fr. George W. Rutler‘s words will be in blue; Jimmy Akin’s in green.


This is very disappointing indeed. Akin wrote a piece at National Catholic Register in which he claimed that the recent effort charging the pope of heresy is inaccurate and wrong. The well-known Fr. Rutler wrote the following comment underneath it: repeatedly referring to Akin as ” ‘Jimmy’ Akins” and states:

I am unfamiliar with this man, but from what information I could find, he is from the scenic Ozarks, likes being photographed in a cowboy hat, and advertises himself as a “Catholic apologist” while apparently shy of mentioning any academic credentials beyond one year in an unnamed college.

Here is the entire comment (posted on 5-3-19):

I have been asked to respond to Mr. “Jimmy” Akins’s criticism of the scholarly statement imputing heresy to the Holy Father, and which Akins calls “loopy.” One is surprised that such a screed, which engages the pedantry of an amateur, was published in the National Catholic Register. While prescinding from any judgment about the juridical force of that scholarly statement, which may be frail in the case of a Sovereign Pontiff, the content of the document speaks for itself and strikes me as considerable if not even irrefutable. Noting among the signatories some figures I know and even highly esteem, I was amused to see that they are dismissed as incompetent and unqualified by “Jimmy” Akins. I am unfamiliar with this man, but from what information I could find, he is from the scenic Ozarks,likes being photographed in a cowboy hat, and advertises himself as a “Catholic apologist” while apparently shy of mentioning any academic credentials beyond one year in an unnamed college. Nonetheless, his efforts seem to be well-intentioned, and for them he receives an impressive income. However, I am moved to defend a man who needs no defense since he is one of the most distinguished theologians in the English-speaking world: Father Aidan Nichols. Perhaps “Jimmy” Akins would be willing to debate Father Nichols in that distinguished Dominican’s alma mater, the University of Oxford -the only requirements being that the debate be in the Latin with which Father Nichols is adroit, and that “Jimmy” Akins not wear a cowboy hat.

Since Fr. Rutler seems to be hung up on academic credentials, he might be interested in learning that G. K. Chesterton (also an apologist) obtained no college degree at all. He spent one year studying fine art, and one more taking courses such as English, French, literature, and Latin (no theology there). See Fr. Ian Ker’s 2011 biography, pp. 27-31. Fr. Rutler wrote the Introduction to the 1988 book, More Quotable Chesterton, and he waxed eloquent indeed about his achievements:

He was more than a Renaissance man, [for] his reference is positively deep, and deep enough to dig beneath anything so occasional as a renaissance until he strikes the radical birth of order and truth. . . .

He was a foremost example of Quintillian’s vir bonus docendi peritus: the good man who speaks from practical knowledge. And he was not content to pass on interesting bits of information as isolated items; as surely as the whole Mediterranean had once washed well within the circumference of Virgil’s fine skull, and the Brooklyn Bridge spanned the lobes of Roebling’s brain, the whole experience of Christian humanism cavorted in the head of Chesterton at his weekly dictation.

But come up to the present time, and with regard to one of the very best lay Catholic apologists working in the last twenty years, and all we hear about is his lack of educational credentials [in fact, he does have a college degree in philosophy, and some grad school, too], making fun of his name and spelling it wrong, unfamiliarity, engaging in apparently anti-Southern regional bigotry, by mentioning the Ozarks (as if that has any relevance whatsoever), making an issue of the wearing of a cowboy hat (Chesterton wore some very “colorful” attire as well, such as long black capes) and mocking his status as an apologist: complete with quotation marks.

It’s quite remarkably snobbish and condescending: especially coming from a preeminent priest-author. It’s a disgrace.

And where does Chesterton (like Akin) get off deigning to seriously write about heretics and orthodoxy, minus any college degree or training in theology whatsoever? He wasn’t even a Catholic when he did so. He was an Anglican. Orthodoxy was written in 1908: 14 years before he was received into the Church (1922), but continues to be highly revered among Catholics. At least Akin is a Catholic and has been associated with the largest and most influential Catholic apologetics organization in the world, in the last quarter-century: Catholic Answers, which itself has been massively endorsed by bishops:

Catholic Answers works each day to ensure our content is faithful to the Magisterium. Our seven staff apologists have decades of practice in apologetics, and several hold advanced degrees in theology and philosophy. We maintain a broad list of associates (clergy and laymen) who are experts in the fields of liturgy, history, bioethics, theology, philosophy, canon law, and more. We have close friendships with members of the Church hierarchy across the United States and in Rome. Catholic Answers is listed in the Official Catholic Directory and is recognized as an apostolate in good standing by the Diocese of San Diego, where our main office is located. (“Why the World Needs Catholic Answers”)

Yet rather than deal with his arguments. Fr. Rutler chose to put Jimmy Akin’s first name in quotation marks, get his last name wrong over and over, and make fun of his love of cowboy hats and being raised in the Ozarks? This is so ridiculous and absurd that it’s beyond belief.

Since Fr. Rutler wants to make a big deal about credentials, Jimmy Akin wrote a clarifying piece on his website, dated 5-3-19, in which he stated:

On the Matter of Credentials

At the beginning of my piece, I noted that none of the signatories of the Open Letter had doctorates in the relevant fields of canon law and sacred theology and that none appeared to be ecclesiologists or had published books on the Magisterium and how it exercises its infallibility. . . .

The National Catholic Register asked me to discuss the signatories’ credentials, and I agreed that this was needed because various press outlets were presenting them as highly respected scholars who would have expertise in this area.

In fact, only one of them is prominent as a theologian, and this isn’t his area of specialization.

I thus included the reference to help provide context for ordinary readers in understanding the degree of expertise the signatories have in this area, to keep them from overestimating the matter.

Also, because they aren’t experts in ecclesiology, it was my way of letting them off the hook, which is why I said that it made some of the flaws in the letter understandable.

Noting that someone is not an expert in a subject is a matter of fact that in no way disparages the person or diminishes their expertise in other areas or their other contributions.

Also, my critique of the letter’s contents did not involve their level of expertise. I did not argue that their charges should be dismissed because of lack of credentials. I never make that argument, for anyone, on any subject. That’s the ad hominem fallacy.

He also responded to the reactionary signatory Dr. Peter Kwasniewski [and a second time as well], and made a further clarifying statement.
Lots of apologists and theologians (besides Chesterton) wear or wore fancy / goofy / colorful (take your pick!) hats; for example, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Steve Ray, myself. I’ve even been known to wear a cool fedora hat and “Ray Charles” sunglasses, so that’s proof-positive that I am no apologist and have nothing whatsoever to say that is of any value! Maybe Fr. Rutler (if he ever learns of my existence) can call me ” ‘Dave’ Armstrongs”.
I’ve been called much worse, and would surely appreciate the laughs and frivolity.
See further discussion on my Facebook page.
Jimmy Akin paying a visit to my house in 2004.
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Photo credit: G. K. Chesterton, by Herbert Lambert, 1920’s (National Portrait Gallery) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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