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I don’t often read Michael Sean Winters, who blogs at the National Catholic Reporter site, and his attack the other day on Archbishop Charles Chaput (which I discovered thanks to RealClearReligion) confirmed the wisdom of my habitual negligence. On the basis of a few words reported by another journalist who attended Chaput’s Erasmus Lecture hosted by First Things on Monday evening, Winters leapt to the most unjust and uncharitable conclusions, beginning with the proclamation in his headline that Chaput offered a “Remarkable Challenge to Pope Francis.” Since I was there Monday evening, I was interested in what “challenge” Winters could mean.

Matthew Schmitz has already supplied the full text of the answer Chaput gave to a question about the recently completed Extraordinary Synod. He did indeed say, as Winters quoted him, “I was very disturbed by what happened. I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.” From this statement Winters infers the following:

  • That Chaput thinks the bishops attending the synod, such as Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington and Archbishop Roberto Gonzales of San Juan, were themselves confused, or thought the “principal outcome of the synod” was confusion.
  • That Chaput was “clearly criticizing the process of synodality if it means wrestling with difficult issues” that Winters is convinced Chaput and other “Burkeans” (a category typified for Winters by Cardinal Raymond Burke) would rather not discuss.
  • That Chaput believes that “to break bread with a Democrat [is] not kosher.”
  • That this reply during Q&A, as well as a statement in his lecture about the purifying effect of conflict, reveals Chaput to be “a culture warrior in full battle array.”
  • That Chaput’s response to our cultural predicament “preach[es] a Gospel with all the warmth of Javert in Les Miserables.” (Winters indulges in much more of this kind of vituperation, such that it is hard to identify the nadir.)
  • That “Archbishop Chaput sees confusion where Pope Francis is . . . trying to soften the landscape so that the Church can be surprised by God again.”
  • That the World Meeting of Families, set for next year in Philadelphia before the Ordinary Synod convenes in Rome, “is a train wreck waiting to happen” because Chaput is in charge of it.

Winters is also certain that “there was no confusion at the synod.” This will come as news to the many synod fathers who recoiled from the ill-considered language in the interim relatio of October 13, who made sure that the discussion thereafter was more transparent, and who adopted, by strong majorities, very different—and yes, less confusing—language in the final relatio of October 18.

Was Archbishop Chaput saying that the Holy Father was confused, or that the synod fathers collectively were confused, or that the synodal process should be closed off from discussion of what to do about all the very real challenges to marriage and family in the Church’s current pastoral situation? Hardly. The very next sentences Chaput uttered after saying that “the public image that came across was of confusion” were these: “Now, I don’t think that was the real thing there. I’m anxious to hear from Bishop Kurtz,” who was there as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Unlike Winters, Chaput knows how to withhold judgment until he knows what he’s talking about.

Winters never quotes these words from the same impromptu reply on Monday evening, though they were quoted by the reporter on whom he relied: “None of us are welcome on our own terms in the Church; we’re welcome on Jesus’ terms.” I wonder if he disagrees with that.

As I said, I don’t often read Michael Sean Winters, so I will not venture to say that he fits the following mold, but he puts me in mind of a certain kind of “progressive” Catholic who reasons thus:

A) The Church stands already for my prejudices. B) But many in the hierarchy don’t know it yet and I must instruct them. C) Some of the prelates I oppose are right about doctrine but too rigid about “enforcing” it. D) Any enforcement of doctrine will inevitably represent this rigidity. E) Therefore doctrine must change but without our admitting it has changed. F) This change we will call merely a change in pastoral care in the name of mercy or charity. G) This enables me to start over at A.

Now that is either confused, or an effort to confuse others.

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