I was rather disturbed by R. R. Reno’s column “Global Culture Wars” (April). I understand that First Things is a monthly, and perhaps he would have written this article a little differently in light of Russia’s invasion of Crimea. (At least, I hope so.)
Reno mentions points about Vladimir Putin that are certainly being touted elsewhere: “He pledged to defend ‘family values’ and reject moral relativism” and so on. This may be so, but I think the invasion of Crimeacoincidentally (providentially?) a few days after the Ukrainian Catholic Church announced a new diocese in Crimeaand the subterfuge with which it was carried out, show that Putin supports “moral relativism” of a very developed sort in his foreign policy.
Not to mention the involvement of covert Russian agents on Kiev’s Independence Square last month, snipers killing protesters, including the unarmed Bohdan Solchanyk, a lecturer at the Ukrainian Catholic University.
I hope that Reno will take a good look at Russia’s activities and give some serious thought to his claim that Putin is “positioning Russia to lead an anti-Western coalition along moral as well as geopolitical lines.”
And, regardless of anything else, I’m sure you agree that Ukraine could use prayers now. Please say a prayer for Ukraine, and ask everyone you know to do the same.
One passage leapt out at me from ?R. R. Reno’s note on “radical” Catholics, “Whither Catholicism?” (April). Isn’t Catholicism at heart radical, countercultural, revolutionary? Isn’t Catholicism in its basic mission statement, issued by the (devout Jewish) founder, about mercy, humility, the last shall be first, the poor shall inherit, the meek shall be elevated? Where in capitalism and even the most admirable democracy is that anywhere part of the mission?
Indeed we do live in historical reality; which is why it has always seemed to me that the truest Catholics are the ones who keep pushing past political stances and shouting to shove at the cold fact that there are people starving, homeless, cold, despairing, lonely, and being murdered by the millions every year in our nation. There’s no fundamental contradiction between liberal democracy and Catholicism? In this particular historical reality, sure there is. That’s the point of Catholicism in action here, isn’t it: to keep pushing for reality to actually change?
In refuting Patrick Deneen’s false dichotomy between two camps of orthodox Catholics“radical” Catholics (e.g., David Schindler, Patrick Deneen) and neoconservatives (e.g., George Weigel, R. R. Reno)the neoconservative Reno defends liberal democracy by proposing that “our political vocations are lived out in the great confusions of historical reality, which is resistant to categorization by theory. . . . Man’s character is more than his ideas.” Deneen alleges the neoconservative assumption falsely to be “that human beings are essentially separate, sovereign selves.”
I have long wondered about this debate. At his 1992 book signing in Seattle for The Final Revolution, George Weigel (finally visible from his perch atop a table in a local watering hole) referred me to a published dialogue in a 1991 issue of Schindler’s Communio. But then Schindler produced his book Heart of the World, Center of the Church in which he writes in reference to (“radical”) fiat and to (neoconservative) creativity and “doing”: “What is at issue, rather, is what each theology assumes as first; and the relevant point is that what is first gets carried into, and thus informs, all of what follows. . . . Is it not precisely the loss of the sense of gift and receptivity, hence the loss of a sense of the primacy of the contemplative-interior, that spawns the activism and instrumentalism characteristic of the ‘culture of death’?”
Not presuming to summarize either orthodoxy, I still ask: Is the gnat with a difference less the separateness and sovereignty of selves than it is the primacy of being and the interior life? If so, the difference is not as Reno has it; it’s not really about mere ideas or even about historical reality and man’s character. Is fiat the first and final layer to this onion?
Peter D. Beaulieu
Reacting against Patrick Deneen’s “A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching,” R. R. Reno claims that the Church’s traditionalists and her neoconservatives should not oppose one another in their civic vocations. Because “we do not live theoretical lives,” Reno asserts, the disagreements between these two Catholic camps over the foundational principles of liberal democracy need not divide them in political practice. I appreciate the desire to unite Catholic thinkers in common cause, but this time I’m afraid that Reno is crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
Traditionalists and neoconservatives don’t just disagree theoretically about where we’ve come from; they disagree practically about where we ought to be going. For the neocons, the overarching political goal for American Catholics is just to bolster the constitutional order we have, stripping away the progressivist corrosion and restoring the United States to its original grandeur. As long as we can get abortion and marriage laws back on our side, secure sufficient religious liberty exemptions elsewhere, and lower federal taxes in the interest of subsidiarity, this group believes we’ll be doing okay with the system we’ve got.
The traditionalists, on the other hand, think this is a pipedream, and a nightmarish one at that. On this view, abortion on demand and same-sex marriage are symptoms of a much larger and much older disease, a disease called liberal individualism, which is also responsible for suburbs and stock markets. Trads like me think the Fortune 500 corporation is at least as threatening an enemy as the Leviathan state, and we believe the atomized nuclear family of three is as unnatural as the overgrown political society of 300 million. As far as religious liberty, for the traditionalist it could never be enoughand would never work anywayto have a radically pluralistic citizenry with a religiously indifferent state that merely gives us Catholics space to live out our eccentric faith together in private. Even Locke could see that that one was a recipe for disaster: Catholicism is too big to fit into any carve-out.
My vantage point is obviously limited, but it might surprise some readers to learn that most practicing Catholics I know in my “millennial” generation also tend toward traditionalism. While individually we might have a great deal of respect for some prominent neocon culture warriors, still we think that as a school of thought and a model of public Christianity, they are deeply wrong. From where we’re standing, there seems to be no way forward along the path they’ve charted. I bring this up not to sway undecided readers to our hip, youthful view of things, or some such nonsense, but simply to show that this in-house Catholic dispute isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. On the contrary, it’s just getting started.
I’m glad if we can be comrades on occasion, but Deneen is right: A showdown is upon us.
Michael W. Hannon
new york, new york
R. R. Reno replies:
Matthew Matuszak needs to read more carefully. I was not endorsing Putin in his self-appointed role as global custodian of moral truth. My point was in fact quite the opposite. In many parts of the world, the West is associated with libertinism, decadence, and moral relativism. This creates a backlash that Putin wants to exploit for his own purposes. Put more precisely: Our LGBT diplomacy is triggering a global culture war that (sadly) empowers leaders like Putin.
Over the last couple of months I’ve heard a great deal about Patrick Deneen’s distinction between neoconservative and radical Catholics. Those conversations and these letters reinforce my conviction that he’s pointing to a real debate, one well worth having. This is not the place for me to make my case against an overly theorized Catholic political witnessa problem I see in radical Catholicism. A few brief observations will have to suffice.
Peter Beaulieu is wrong: No concept or idea is “the first and final layer” of our engagement with politics and culture. Consider the implausibility of David Schindler’s analysis, which Beaulieu quotes. Opt for “doing”neoconservative Catholicismand you’ll end up with the “culture of death.” Roughly translated: Because First Things doesn’t denounce modern liberal democracy and capitalism, we’re actually allied with the abortionists and gay rights activists, and this in spite of our stated positions.
Michael Hannon spells it out only too clearly. A large corporation is as dangerous as the Leviathan state. Religious liberty “would never work anyway,” because pluralism and a secular state are antithetical to true Catholicism. Look, there’s plenty to criticize in all existing forms of capitalism, but to equate its failures with the radical evils perpetrated by the Leviathan states of the twentieth century? And to dismiss our no doubt flawed but quite real constitutional protections of religious liberty with a wave of the hand?
Of course ideas have consequences. That’s why the analysis of the metaphysical dreams of modernity by Patrick Deneen and David Schindler is so helpful. (I offer my own analysis in “Empire of Desire” in this issue.)
But societies never have single sources; our modern dreams of unfettered freedom that see reality as raw material to be shaped by our wills draw upon and often operate on top of older, saner commitments. Our common life is always metaphysically mixed and muddy. And so I’d like to believe a neoconservative Catholic can see the deep perversions of secular modernity. But we also can recognize that these perversions don’t taint everythingand that our Christian witness requires us to encourage the limited but real goods that can be achieved here and now: free markets rather than crony capitalism, constitutional rule of law rather than rule by judicial fiat, a global system under American leadership rather than Chinese or Russian.
Elizabeth Corey’s essay on the state of the humanities in our schools, “Learning in Love” (April), is the best that I have read in a long time. With what deft irony and wisdom she plies her stiletto, and leaves in a quiet pool of blood those who would “save” the humanities by grafting them onto the robotic acquisition of “skills,” whatever those may be!
I wonder, indeed, whether the reason why students flee the humanities is precisely because they know, if only instinctually, that a professor whose aim is to cause you to despise the object of his studyto reduce it to political utility or disutilityis someone to shun. Socrates long ago had the number of these self-promoting cynics. They attract young people to them, at least at first, because they pretend to show them, as Lysias pretended to show Phaedrus, that the object of their devotion is really not something of transcendent worth.
Tennyson is “only” an apologist for British imperialism; that is what we can “see” underneath “Idylls of the King,” and once we’ve seen that, we have “demystified” Tennyson, rather as one may give a sedative to a living human being, strip him, lay him on a table, and splay open the anatomy with stainless steel instruments. Fine way to get to know someone.
They may sense, in other words, that the game is not worth the candle. Cynicism they can have on the cheap; all they need to do is to turn on the television. They do not fall in love with teachers of poetry, because the teachers themselves are not in love.
providence, rhode island
When I signed up for classes freshman year at Baylor, I had heard all the names: Hobbes, Locke, Dante, Augustine, Homer, Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato. All I knew was that I wanted to know those namesto read their works and figure out how in the world they are still so relevant and why we have held onto them through so many ages. I knew there were more practical uses of my time and moneyI could take a foreign language or an extra anatomy coursebut I wasn’t interested in practicality. I was interested in quenching my thirst for knowledge.
Efforts to satisfy the thirst began with taking Elizabeth Corey’s class on Modern Constitutional Law. Next it was Ancient Great Texts, then a class on the Oxford Christians, then Modern Political Science and Philosophy. Often, I have to audit humanities classes instead of taking them for credit because they cannot fit into a science-major schedule without petitioning for a course overload. As a sophomore nursing major who has taken over twenty-four hours of classes in the humanities, this has been my modus operandi for four semesters now, and I am vying for one more semester at Baylor before heading to nursing school. My appetite for the humanities has been whet, and I’m not yet ready to end this love affair with liberal learning.
When my peers and professors hear about my crazy schedule, I am usually met with expressions of bewilderment and the single question, “Why?” I answer this: “As a nurse, I will be responsible for the care and healing of patients from a thousand different walks of life. If I can know even the slightest bit about a wide enough range of topics to be able to carry on a conversation with anyone, then they will feel loved and understood.” Liberal education is the means by which I have satisfied my ultimate desire: to make the people in my life feel as loved and engaged as possible.
Elizabeth Corey offers refreshing insight amid a recent profusion of pieces bemoaning the decline of the humanities in higher education. She clearly and gracefully captures the true value of the humanities and what is at stake in the current decline. She also places our situation in historical perspective, offering hope to those tempted to despair. Her allusions to C. S. Lewis and Philipp Melanchthon suggest that our dilemma is perhaps not as unique as we imagine.
One might look even further back to the example of Libanius, the renowned Antiochene sophist of the fourth century, whose students included notable pagans (the future Emperor Julian the Apostate) as well as Christians (St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great). Libanius lamented the “mercenary” tendency of young students to abandon the study of Greek rhetoric for a lucrative law career involving familiarity with Latin. He was so distraught that he threatened to abandon his oratory career altogether. St. Gregory of Nyssa’s letter of consolation to Libanius foreshadows Corey’s advice to humanities professors to “be faithfully present to those whom choice or chance have put in our paths.”
san jose, california
Sex and Sentimentality
Paul J. Griffiths would seem to be overly sympathetic to the tender, heartfelt homosexual loves of Richard Rodriguez (“Ulterior Lives,” April). Our world may be somewhat devastated, as he says, and genuine love may be scarce in some quarters, but it is also wildly confused about what the gift of deep, lasting love is all about.
There are many loves, and as Pope Benedict wrote, there is such a thing as “evil love.” Marital/sexual love is special, sacred, and especially protected in the divine law: Let us not blur the crucial distinction between sentimental/erotic friendly feelings toward either sex and the divine calling to the unconditional, selfless, lifelong commitment of sacramental marriage.
After all, the Church is simply following her Lord, and St. Paulshe did not invent this teaching. Chief among the clear prohibitions of homosexuality is the one found in Leviticus: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is an abomination.” It is the Holy Spirit who is speaking; we ignore him at our peril.
Too often these days self-identified Catholics, especially those who teach at universities, knowingly espouse views that directly (and quite simply) contradict settled Catholic teaching. For Paul J. Griffiths, chair of Catholic theology at Duke Divinity School, to state that “Insofar as such [homosexual] acts are motivated by and evoke love, they are good . . . [and] no different from heterosexual acts,” is pure scandal.
Through the wisdom of the Church, Catholics know that sexual acts are reserved for matrimony and are ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. All other sexual acts (homosexual or not) are unchaste and require of us the virtue of temperance.
In collaboration with the principal task of the Catechism, our job as Catholic parents is to “strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith.” Otherwise, once our children set foot on the university campus, they will be led astray by those peddling their own notions of “Catholic theology.”
It is one thing to recognize, as Paul J. Griffiths does, that homosexual relationships and acts can be “motivated by and evoke love.” It would be a denial of the obvious to disagree. It is quite another for a Christian theologian to defend homosexual activity on those grounds. All sorts of sexual relationships and acts share those characteristics. They do not thereby become licit. I’m sure many a man has authentically loved both his wife and his mistress.
If the Christian tradition knows anything about love, it is that there are disordered loves. Discipleship has a great deal to do with ordering our loves to the will of God, known in revelation, Church teaching, and natural law.
Similarly, asserting that “no sexual acts are undamaged” changes nothing and seems an effort to put a thumb on the scale. The Church sees in marital sexuality something more than acts motivated by and evoking love. It sees in it divine purpose and the realization of a sacrament.
Griffiths’s few words leave it somewhat unclear what he actually advocates, but they strike me as an invitation to embrace postmodern sentimentalism on sexual matters and to join much of mainline Protestantism in abandoning objective Christian teaching on marriage and sex. I assume he has more to say on the question, but his words in this review are deeply troubling and unconvincing.
Fr. Leonard Klein
Paul J. Griffiths replies:
A writer (this writer) hopes that those who read what he writes will attend to his words and think about them. The writers of these letters, with the partial exception of Fr. Leonard Klein, seem not to have done so. That’s sad. I wrote about what it means to call someone your darling, which is a central theme of Rodriguez’s book. His central example in the book has nothing to do with (e.g.) sodomy or fellatio; it has, rather, to do with selfless, sacrificial, supportive giving of oneself to another over the course of a life. Can same-sex couples do this? Yes. Should Catholics celebrate their doing of it? Yes. Is there anything in those two affirmations that runs counter to Catholic doctrine? No. There are, no doubt, further questions to ask about particular acts, since there is explicit Catholic teaching about some of these. Neither my review nor Rodriguez’s book were centrally concerned with those questions.
Daryl Glick seems to think it impossible that a man can have deep and lasting love for a man. He doesn’t say why. What he says is prima facie false, profoundly morally objectionable, and deeply opposed to essential Catholic doctrine.
Nick Manhart appears to think that no homosexual act can be motivated by or evoke love, and that to think the contrary is scandalous. He doesn’t say enough to make it clear why he thinks this, nor which acts he has in mind (sodomy? fellatio? kissing? hand-holding?). The principal problems here are two: first, unclarity about what makes an act sexual; and second, unclarity about the question of whether there can be goods present and efficacious in disordered and vicious acts. Thought about these questions is an important desideratum for Catholics.
To Fr. Klein: The relation between order and disorder in acts and their habituated patterns is more complex than he appears to think; I hope he will think about it. I agree completely that marriage is a sacrament, and that this implies, inter alia, that there are goods present in marital lovemaking necessarily absent from other fleshly intimacies. But it remains unclear what follows from this about the permissibility of other fleshly intimacies, marital or not. And I rather suspect that he is the sentimentalist: Marital intimacies are no less damaged than others, and not to think so is sentimentalism.
I was surprised by two points Meghan Sullivan made in her otherwise very insightful reflection on the relationship between faith and reason (“Uneasy Grace,” April). First, she appeals to the disciples’ faulty presumption that Christ’s return was imminent to fortify her conception of the “Way of Dilution,” in which a religious tradition rethinks an “article of faith.” I think I understand what she’s getting at, but I’m not sure the early Church’s expectation of Christ’s immediate return was just such an example. St. Paul and others’ exhortations regarding the Second Coming suggest they merely expected and hoped for a quick return, rather than upholding it as an article of faith, such as the Resurrection. Moreover, their words, however the Church has interpreted them through the ages, have had the intended beneficial effect of spurring wayward hearts of every generation onward to repentance and deeper communion.
Second, she refers to the “Way of Separation,” which accepts a strict dichotomy between faith and reason, a tendency I found all too common in many of my undergraduate classmates, who somehow compartmentalized their faith in the face of inconvenient or difficult information.
Sullivan’s reference to the Trinity as being “inconsistent” according to the rules of logic, however, puzzled me: Is she claiming the Trinity to actually be illogical, or only seeming to be so? If the latter, fair enough; if the former, I think the doctors of the Church from, say, St. Gregory of Nyssa to St. Thomas Aquinas would take issue with this characterization. Is it illogical for something to be in one sense three, and in another sense one? I hope Sullivan agrees that the Trinity is not only genuinely not a contradiction, but also logical.
?Meghan Sullivan says of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem: “this means that we know we will never be able to make several components of our best mathematical logic agree with each other.” This is not what Gödel actually proved. The axioms of mathematical logic were not shown to be inconsistent with each other, but rather were shown to be inconsistent with the proposition that “using only these axioms together with the rules of inference, it is possible to write down a list of all true mathematical statements without writing down any false ones.”
This proposition, widely believed at the beginning of the twentieth century but now universally recognized as false owing to Gödel’s result, was a product of the same Enlightenment-era optimism that had led many to believe that the most fundamental questions in physics had been answered already, and the rest was just details. (This was shortly before the discovery of quantum mechanics and general relativity.)
The fact that the “Way of Aporia” cannot be used in the mathematical world actually illuminates the reason why it can be used in other contexts. Our concepts do not always match with reality in a straightforward manner. For example, Sullivan says, “logic can show that the doctrine of the Trinity is inconsistent.” But the Trinity is a mystery, and her understanding of it is not identical to the reality itself, which contains no contradiction. Each statement in her inconsistent set may correspond to the reality in some way, but if so, the correspondence must occur in such a way that the contradiction gets lost in translation.
Another example is given later in her paper, where she discusses the inconsistency between general relativity and quantum mechanics. In a purely Platonic sense, general relativity and quantum mechanics are both false theorieseach of them is contradicted by the observations that support the other one. But each seems likely to be true in the weaker sense that it occurs as a “limit” of a unified theory (assuming such a theory exists). As a result, each theory is useful in certain situations, but becomes inaccurate once the parameters of those situations fall outside of certain specified ranges. Thus these theories are true in a practical, but not Platonic, sense.
By contrast, in mathematics, the Platonic sense of propositions is the only sense that existsthere is no practical sense. This is why inconsistencies in mathematics cannot be dealt with using the Way of Aporia.
ohio state university
Meghan Sullivan described mathematical incompleteness as “[knowing] we will never be able to make several components of our best mathematical logic agree with each other.” This is incorrect.
Incompleteness is a property of systems, which is at once less dire and more confounding. Phrased informally, it means that there exist true statements that are not provable by deduction. Of course most of us hold such views on the subject of metaphysics, not least Gödel, who was a lifelong Lutheran, but some were surprised to discover that it was also true of all but the most barren mathematical systems.
Those who were surprised tended to be logicians or philosophers, however, as most working mathematicians have always had an intuitive, sub-rational appreciation for the beauty and terror which lie at the heart of their craft. Those intuitions have been borne out by the work of Matiyasevich and others, showing that incompleteness lurks in settings as seemingly tame as the theory of Diophantine equations, and moreover that it can be drawn out without resorting to the sorts of logical parlor tricks with direct self-reference on which Gödel unfortunately had to rely.
William August Wilson IV
Meghan Sullivan is correct in rejecting the Ways of Dilution, Fundamentalism, and Separation. She errs slightly, however, when she speaks of “the very real conflicts between faith and reason.” There is only a conflict between faith and human reason. Between faith and divine reason, a conflict is impossible.
Any conflict between faith and human reason comes from human reason’s imperfection: On earth we see and understand only indistinctly, and so our reason is unable to explain everything. God, however, has perfect reason and sees all things perfectly clearly, and his divine reason explains everything perfectly.
Vigen Guroian’s heavy criticisms of Aristotle Papanikolaou in his review of The Mystical as Political reflect his suspicion that the author would remake Eastern Orthodoxy in the image of liberal democratic society by replacing the pursuit of holiness with a quest for justice and cultural relevance as defined by the current cultural fads of the West (“Godless Theosis,” April).
I doubt that Papanikolaou’s argument necessarily leads to this conclusion. For example, to claim that the Orthodox witness has a stake in a social order in which people have the liberty to accept or reject the faith, and to live accordingly within its broad limits, may be understood as calling for space for the Church to display the radical nature of discipleship in a way that highlights the distinctiveness of the Christian life. It does not by definition subordinate the truth claims and practices of the Church to those of secular society. Likewise, Papanikolaou does not reject the vocation of the Church to draw the world into the Eucharistic community; instead, he distinguishes between the Church’s evangelism by persuasion and its support for practices that sustain a diverse, free political community that is not identical with the Church.
The fullness of divinehuman communion is certainly not incarnate in liberal democratic social orders, but it is well worth considering what sort of civil polity is most compatible with the spiritual and moral freedom implicit in the Church’s invitation for all to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).
Fr. Philip LeMasters
Having read both Aristotle Papanikolaou’s book and Vigen Guroian’s review of it, I worry that readers of First Things will now be less likely to carefully engage The Mystical as Political; and that would be a great loss.
To be sure, there are points where Papanikolaou should have been more careful, or measured, in his claims. Guroian identifies some of them, perhaps the most significant being Papanikolaou’s contention that some respected voices within the Orthodox tradition saw liberal democracy as the “necessary precondition for realizing ‘divinehuman communion,’?” and his own implied agreement with this teaching. I trust that Papanikolaou, in hindsight, would modify this claim. Taken literally, it would undermine the entire tradition of Orthodox saints (at least those who didn’t live in liberal democracies). Other criticisms raised by Guroian, like the lack of explicit connections to Orthodoxy’s sacramental theology, also have merit.
Nonetheless, Guroian misses perhaps Papanikolaou’s greatest contribution; namely, he has skillfully reignited a line of inquiry and realm of discourse within present-day Orthodoxy that, lamentably, had all but disappeared in the North American context during the past twenty-five years. Ironically, the last really substantive exchange on Orthodoxy and American democracy stemmed from Guroian’s own heated debate with Fr. Stanley Harakas.
Furthermore, Papanikolaou has reengaged the topic by drawing from an extraordinarily wide scope of sourcesfrom early Christian and patristic texts, to luminaries of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian theology, to the prominent voices of todayboth inside and outside Orthodox circles. Papanikolaou’s work may not be the last word on democracy from an Orthodox perspective, but it has provoked and contributed to a much-needed dialogue.
Perry T. Hamalis
north central college
Vigen Guroian replies:
When in Incarnate Love: Essays in Orthodox Ethics I disagreed with ?Fr. Stanley Harakas’s endeavor to translate the historic Byzantine doctrine of a symphony of Church and state into a democratic context, my objection was practical. I simply did not think it could work. I did not on dogmatic or theological grounds question his attempt at retrieving symphonia. Symphonia is, after all, premised in the Chalcedonian two natures Christology. While I did not mention it, I respected Harakas’s painstaking effort to support his argument with a discussion of James Madison’s theologically informed justification for the separation of Church and state. Notably also, Harakas cited Sergius Bulgakov to this effect: “There is no inner and unchangeable bond between Orthodoxy and any particular system of government.”
My objection to Aristotle Papanikolaou’s translation of the mystagogical doctrine of theosis into a universally apprehensible transcendental for extra-ecclesial political use is theological. My objection to his claim that “The logic of the eucharistic ecclesiology demands the existence of a liberal democratic state” is also theological. I prefer Madison’s Christian realism and respect for the freedom of the Church to Papanikolaou’s premise that a liberal democracy may be judged by how successful it is in “realiz[ing] the divine in creation.” This is dangerous speech.
We see nothing of Harakas’s careful attention to the historical foundations of American democracy in The Mystical as Political. Rather, Papanikolaou relentlessly invokes the unforgivingly vague locution “liberal democracy.” The reader begs to understand just which historical “liberal democracy” he has in mind. Is it the unitary secular French republic, the British parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, or the American federal republic?
The Orthodox Church has not done well in interpreting its relationship to American democracy and pluralism. I have wrestled with this failure over the years. The Mystical as Political, however, is a gravely flawed venture at answering the problem. I have stated that Papanikolaou subordinates “the Church to the authority of liberal culture.” In fact, he comes perilously close to chaining the Church to a political ideology that imagines liberal democracy to be the endpoint of history. My friends have not persuaded me otherwise.
A member of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, I was surprised and disappointed to see that R. R. Reno, in his April “While We’re At It” section, attacked sex abuse victims advocate Jeff AndersonReno gives him the deeply wrong and inappropriate epithet of “anti-Catholic jihadist”and defended the actions of our acting archbishop, John Nienstedt.
From my point of view, Reno has things exactly backward. While it’s true that it is an old abuse casefrom the 1970sthat has occasioned the deposition of Archbishop Nienstedt, that case is hardly the only one causing concern for Minnesota Catholics. Over the past year, thanks to the whistleblowing of former chancellor Jennifer Haselberger and the reporting of Minnesota Public Radio, we local Catholics have been privy to the internal memos of Archbishop Nienstedt and his former vicar general, Fr. Kevin McDonough, who will also be deposed in April.
Among these leaked documents is one about a certain Fr. Curtis Wehmeyer. In spite of the fact that Fr. Wehmeyer had been booked for soliciting sex from a pair of nineteen- and twenty-year-old men outside a local bookstore in 2004, Archbishop Nienstedt saw fit to appoint him pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish in Saint Paul, where the priest would go on to abuse two teenage boys. ?Fr. Wehmeyer is currently serving a five-year prison sentence.
I invite First Things readers to look into Minnesota Public Radio’s continuing coverage of what can only be described as a sex abuse crisis in our archdiocese and prepare to be dismayed at the actions and inactions of our local leadership.
Reno laments the legislation ruling that there be no statute of limitation for new abuse, which, in his words, means “unlimited liability” and “perpetual lawsuits.” By this, I understand him to be concerned for the financial future of our archdiocese. I have a more basic concern: the credibility of our leadership, which has been totally undermined by recent revelations. Our God is a God of love and compassion for the poor and oppressed. It is hard to imagine a person more deserving of love and compassion than a victim of sexual abuseespecially at the hands of a Catholic priest. I find Jeff Anderson’s voice infinitely more credible on this issue than that of our local archbishop. And among Minnesota Catholics, I don’t think I’m alone.
R. R. Reno replies:
By all accounts Jeff Anderson is a hard-charging attorney who is a legal semi-automatic weapon. He has filed hundreds of lawsuits against the Catholic Church. Many have been successful. (He estimates earning $60 million from his wins.) But others have been tossed out by the courts. The cost: damaged lives and ruined reputations. There’s a long profile in City Pages, a left-leaning newspaper in the Twin Cities. Let’s just say the reporter found Anderson complex, and not in a way that makes him “credible.”
I don’t doubt for a minute that church leaders have used terrible judgment in the past. That bad judgment was compounded by a civic culture that pretended that priests could do no eviland a clubby Church culture in which bishops protected priests from the consequences of their actions. And no doubt there will continue to be misjudgments. The Church is run by human beings, not angels. In all this there’s an appropriate role for legal action. But no fair-minded person could say that Jeff Anderson is interested in what’s appropriate. I stick to my characterization. He has a zealot’s mentality.