How very 'definitive'!

How very 'definitive'! March 14, 2008

It’s always nice to be noticed…sort of caters to that desire for recognition for work done. Well, Vox Nova got noticed this week by someone named David Hartline, the administrator of The Catholic Report. Though I have never heard of him or his project, he describes The Catholic Report as the “definitive source” for all things Catholic.  I better put down my Catechism!

Within the context of his brief mention of Vox Nova, Hartline exemplifies the sort of confusion that befalls Catholics when they conceptually conflate the doctrine of the Catholic Church with independent, idiosyncratic ideologies. Often, this exercise in undiscernment results in the inability to differentiate between essential Catholic principles and contingent, circumstantial political preferences. Whether this ailment infects one who fancies oneself politically conservative or liberal, its most troubling symptom is the ostentatious mocking of Catholics who, whatever may be the face of their political leanings, seek to uncompromisingly inform their socio-political outlook by the revealed principles of the Catholic faith and the self-evident foundations of natural law.

Such was the display at the Catholic Report earlier this week. Commenting on a letter to Pope Benedict XVI signed by over 1200 Catholics and non-Catholics, which Michael Iafrate posted here at Vox Nova, Hartline launches his misguided salvo:

A who’s who of Church dissidents and radicals. Sadly, they have become so blind in their political activism that fail to see the obvious. The one who started the genocide was Saddam Hussein, but they don’t even mention him. You would think from these radicals that it was Christianity who caused all of the turmoil in Iraq. What a tale of two worlds, the early Christians (including some Apostles) came into Iraq as peaceful messengers of the Good News, a far cry from those came some seven centuries later. Thank you for all who sent this to me and to Gerald over at the Cafeteria is Closed for reminding us that the gentleman who posted this for the liberal Vox Nova blog dubbs himself the “Catholic Anarchist.” This band of dissidents regularly denounces the US and Catholics in general who have any roll in giving spiritual assiatance to the armed forces. Reading the writings of some of these folks you might think it is a parody skit right out of Saturday Night Live or South Park. Nope, they really are that far out. Politically some of the stuff you hear from them is right out of a Berkeley rally circa 1968, a Jefferson Airplane concert circa 1969, or for our younger readers something one might hear on a Rage Against the Machine album. Yet we are talking about the Church. I am sure most of these folks started out with the best of intentions but look where their rebellious path has taken them. Father Corapi has been heard to say that give him a wayward or rebellious parish and he can turn it around in a year or two by simply obeying the teachings of the Church. We can see evidence of that in the growing crop of orthodox-minded new priests, seminarians and women religious. The reverse might be said for these folks on the petition. Their religious orders are dwindling and no one is following their path to the seminary or convent. Their fate will soon end up like that of the Shakers. These folks need our prayers.

What reveals Hartline’s political and doctrinal dilettantism is his line about the “who’s who of Church dissidents.” Claiming that any person is a dissident is to level a serious charge, suggesting that this person is clearly and evidently rejecting or distorting the Catholic faith. Well, Hartline makes that charge about all 1200+ signers! Does Hartline outline any of the clear and evident dissent from any one of them? Of course not. That would require honest and arduous work with a dash of intellectual motivation. It is much easier to elevate one’s own orthodoxy and exaggerate one’s own familiarity with the history and teaching of the Catholic Church (“The definitive source for all things Catholic”) rather than to seek to understand the faith and the manner in which its contents spill over into action, political or otherwise. Such is the classic move of a Catholic who writes and talks more than he reads and meditates.

Not only does Hartline flippantly dismiss the faith and intentions of many individuals whose advice and example he sorely needs, he glibly groups them together as 1960’s liberals who fail to notice that the sun of militant radical protest set long ago. Such is the classic move of a self-proclaimed conservative who fears what he does not know and prefers to construct caricatures rather than engage in responsible, rational and generous discourse.

Hartline need not agree with the letter. In fact, I disagree heartily with its suggestion that Pope Benedict XVI snub President Bush. Hartline’s problem is that he lacked discernment when he read that letter, confusing his political persuasion with the true Catholic faith. What, pray tell, is fundamentally wrong with a large number of Catholics taking up a position against the Iraq War (after all, the U.S. bishops, Iraq bishops, and two popes did so)? What is the problem with writing to the Pope expressing concern over that same war and requesting that, minimally, he speak with the president about the topic? Where is the dissent? The only dissent I see is that which Hartline anxiously fabricates when he equates dissent from conservative political positions with both anti-Americanism and heresy. Sad thing is, Hartline is but only one of many, many Catholics in the United States who make the same tragic, modernist mistake.  Whatever “The Catholic Report” may think and boast itself to be, it most certainly is not definitively Catholic.

I welcome Hartline’s response, hoping he may accept some responsibility for his reckless words.  At least some sort of clarification would be nice and appreciated.

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