Thursday, January 16, 2014

How To Win An Argument: Unleash the Straw Man

I feel compelled to take on NCR's Michael Sean Winters over his post yesterday.  This post was written to critique an article written for Religion Dispatches by theologian Mary Hunt.  I have thought for some time it was the lack of editing regarding MSW's daily opinion pieces which was partially fueling the anti gay and anti women animus of commenting on NCR articles.  MSW's attacks on female writers are much stronger in terms of personal put downs than his 'contra' articles on Robert George or other high profile conservative male writers.  MSW seems to reserve his most venomous side not for right wing males, but for liberal leaning women such as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times or Mary Hunt of Religion Dispatches.  It's an interesting phenomenon to say the least.  I have edited out paragraphs that made little sense in the interests of protecting his reputation as an intellectual in elite centrist Catholic circles.

Contra Mary Hunt

 Michael Sean Winters -  National Catholic Reporter - 1/15/2014
Mary Hunt's latest article at Religion Dispatches displays both Francis Derangement Syndrome (FDS) and If Only Pope Francis Knew What I Know Syndrome (IOPFKWIKS). It is one more piece of evidence of a trend I predicted shortly after Pope Francis’ election, an increasing divide between the Catholic Left that is thrilled with the pope’s emphasis on the Church’s social doctrine and the Catholic Left that, like its conservative counterparts, reduces Catholicism to a laundry list of neuralgic, mostly sex-related, issues....
 (Mary Hunt's article was more concerned with 'gender' related issues, not sexual.)

.....Humility is a virtue. It should extend to the entirety of a person’s life and, in the Holy Father’s case, it clearly does. That is why he resonates with so many people who had previously not paid any mind to the Church or the papacy. I loved Pope Benedict, but there was a remoteness to him. Francis is accessible. He more easily touches people’s hearts. They see a humble, loving pastor and respond. But, this is what worries Hunt. She writes, “All of the enthusiasm about Francis’ style does not change the fact that the institutional Roman Catholic Church is a rigid hierarchy led by a pope—the warm feelings in response to Francis shore up that model of church by making the papacy itself look good. To my mind, this is a serious danger.”
(Mary Hunt is right on with this observation.  It is a serious danger for the future of the Church to have a figurehead pope whose ability to generate warm feelings masks the intention of doing nothing of substance to reform the Church itself.)
One shudders to think what kind of leaderless Church she imagines. Certainly, one does not need much in the way of cultural insight to recognize that a more democratic model of Church governance would hardly be the panacea Hunt fancies: Fundamentalist churches elect their pastors after all. But, most disturbing is Hunt’s complete lack of awareness that the liberal temperament is never so dangerous as when it speaks breezily about overturning institutions. Ms. Hunt cannot want the Church as it exists to succeed because this would only strengthen the hierarchy she deplores is, as a matter of logic, no different from the Pentagon’s willingness to destroy a village in Vietnam in order to save it. Her worldview, so lacking in humility, is chilling. One easily imagines her knitting at the foot of the guillotine....  (Wow, I'm quite sure MSW has not bothered to read Mary Hunt's work. There is absolutely no excuse for the final sentence in this paragraph. It is the type of rhetoric that fuels sicko comments--and the Church reform Mary Hunt envisions is not at all like bombing a village to save it.)

......Hunt writes, “Of course there is a difference between a person and a role. But in this case, I daresay most people outside of Argentina would never have heard of a certain Jorge Mario Bergoglio if he had not been elected pope. It is the person in the role that matters.” This is true, but not in the sense that she fancies it. The man has, by reason of his office, been given the task of sanctifying and governing the universal Church. But, what is most attractive about the man in the role is that there is not a glimmer of disconnect between the man and his office, still less between the man and his words. There is no hint of inauthenticity in Pope Francis. He cannot be reduced to an agenda, not even his own, indeed, I think it misunderstands this papacy to conceive the Holy Father as having an agenda of his own. He has said, repeatedly, that his reform efforts are in response to what the College of Cardinals said they wanted. And, just as obviously, he believes he is carrying out the divine mission entrusted to him, the most important aspect of which is fidelity to the Gospel.  (MSW does not delineate the supposed agenda of Mary Hunt,  but instead argues against an agenda he has assigned her by telling us all his take on the Pope's agenda---which he also assigned to the Pope. No wonder MSW is always right.)

We are Catholics, not fundamentalists. We believe the Lord Jesus entrusted His Church to people, most especially the apostles. He did not draft a constitution for the Church. He did not write His own version of “What Then Must Be Done?” The Master was certainly aware of the shortcomings of His apostles. But, He promised to send His Spirit upon the Church. The Church is itself seized by the Incarnation, the inexplicable admixture of the divine and the human. Those who want the Church to be perfect lack faith, which is why Pope Francis constantly tells us not to worry so much about making mistakes. We will all of us rely on the mercy of God at the end of our days. Besides, Ms. Hunt does not want the Church to be perfect. She wants the Church to be an extension of her ideology. She wants a pope who would fit in neatly with the prejudices of early 21st century, affluent, educated, liberal Americans. How sad for poor Pope Francis that he can’t be enlightened by the literati. (Forget that Jesus never started a Church, much less the Roman Catholic version, MSW again resorts to assigning an agenda to Mary Hunt that he can then reduce to ashes with sarcasm.  Apparently MSW doesn't put himself in the 'affleunt, educated, liberal American' literati school of progressive Catholicism. How totally humble of him.)

I will stipulate that the Holy Father, like all the baptized, must come to grips with the role of women in the Church. We are all of us, to a degree, trapped in history and our Catholic history is mostly, certainly not exclusively, a male-driven narrative. Of course, the way the Church liberates Herself from history is by fidelity to Christ. Tradition is one of the surest antidotes to the grim slavery of being a child of one’s own age. Such a thought, I fear, is lost on Ms. Hunt. Who needs the Council of Nicaea when you have the latest issue of The Nation? (Referring to "Holy Mother' Church or referring to the Church as 'herself' does not qualify as coming to grips with the role of women in the Church.  Mary Hunt is imminently aware of how the TRADITION has mistreated women as a core part of it's 2000 year TRADITION.  Such a thought, I fear, is lost on Mr Winters.)
If you think I am being unduly harsh, I call your attention to this sentence: “All of the efforts at church reform—whether the ordination of women, married clergy, acceptance of divorced and/or LGBTIQ persons as full members of the community, and many others—are based on the assumption of widespread lay participation in an increasingly democratic church.” Certainly the reforms of Trent were not based on this assumption, nor the reforms of Vatican II. The issues she lists are not really like on another in their theological significance: Our Orthodox brothers and sisters, whose Churches are as apostolic as our Roman Church, permit married clergy and also bless a second union of those struck by the tragedy of divorce. And, what to make of the acronym? I confess, I had to look up what the “I” stood for – it stands for “Intersexual.” At what point do we get to stop adding letters to the acronym? I asked my housemate, who is gay (“G”), about this new acronym and he replied, “Oh, it’s just ridiculous.” It is a specific kind of ridiculous, the kind found among academics whose penchant for intellectual fads is as laughable as it is sad. In her defense of sexual libertinism, Hunt shows herself to be an intellectual libertine. That is not a compliment. (This entire paragraph smacks of misogynistic gay ("G") elitism.  God forbid real Gay elites be lumped in with those embarrassing ridiculous 'intersexuals'.  It's bad enough having to deal with the (L's)
Those who genuinely care about the role of women in the Church, or about developing the Church’s admittedly inadequate theological reflections on homosexuality, should understand that Hunt damages their cause, she does not advance it. Reading her writings about the Catholic Church, I entertain the thought that an alien from outer space could, within a few minutes, develop greater appreciation for the Catholic intellectual tradition than Hunt will permit herself. (It is far more likely a sentient alien race would be appalled at how a Church which purports to speak for God could treat it's feminine creative principle with such utter disdain. They might agree with Pope Francis that an exclusively male dominated church is by definition, 'sterile'.)


  1. "Who gets to decide these things?" Perhaps finite beings can only do the best that they can to make good decisions about the ever changing myths they live by. No authoritarian can order these changes, this type of leadership ends up simply not respected when the people see that that many of their beliefs do not hold water. In a more democratic or at least professional setting, we recognize that truth as we finite beings can know it is ALWAYS relative to the facts we understand. The important think is that we can learn and grow from our own mistakes.

  2. Michael Sean Winters seems to confuse orthodoxy with humility. I have found in the past this is a very common problem in apologetics.

  3. I can believe your statement that you have left childhood behind as well as 95% of the world---that is not to say you left it behind at all.

    I'm not at all sure what the question is you want me to answer. I do not intrude on other people's lives in an attempt to prove I know there history. Or would you want me to write about your father's intriguing issues, and your mommy's tolerance of same?

  4. This is a great observation. Apologetics does seem rooted in the writer's perception of their own humility. This is especially true when their own life is in conflict with the teachings they claim to believe in and act on.

  5. If Pope Francis thinks this different voice is important, does he also only think it is important because it is evil or at the very least opposed to God and God's Plan? It strikes me that this is the problem orthodoxy has with validating women's experience - Women's voices are too other to be allowed to come into the fold. Certainly this would explain the total scorched earth attack on women who insist they have a right to their own experiences and explanations of those experiences.

  6. Why not? My father's issues are intriguing-and will no doubt be even more intriguing once I find out what they were.
    No intrusion-they're both dead.

  7. Still the same-old, same-old macho view from Michael Sean Winters in the same-old, same-old tradition of female bashing, which is exactly the point of the concerns of the theologian Mary Hunt.

    MSW sort of proves Mary Hunt's point is the truth by the way he is bashing her. Nothing has changed in the Church and it is mirrored in MSW's verbal attack & view of her, and consequently the misogynistic view he harbors against all women.

    I really appreciate how Mary Hunt took the time to think about what Pope Francis said here and what it might mean.


    Then there was the speculation that if Francis really wants to include women in decision-making he could do so without much fanfare by adding a few to the College of Cardinals that will elect his successor. His reply was telling: “Women in the Church must be valued, not clericalized. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” Whatever could he mean?

    One might be tempted to think that he was dissing cardinals. But on closer inspection, it is clear that women ought not to book tickets to Rome just yet. Juxtaposing “valued” and “clericalized” is odd at best, pernicious at worst. In a church in which ordained male clergy have jurisdiction— that is, authority to make decisions about things that matter—to claim that women who cannot be ordained are valued is a hard case to make. Valued for what and how?

    We have heard from Francis all about women’s superior qualities, and how Mary trumped the apostles in importance. But who is naïve enough to believe that without any say in how the church operates locally or globally Catholic women are valued? To say that to think about women cardinals is a species of clericalism is beyond logical explanation. END QUOTE

    I agree with Mary Hunt totally. Women are not valued and it is a lie to say women are valued in the Church when they clearly are NOT. Of course, MSW did not really read or understand what Mary Hunt was saying, because he is a misogynist bully. He loves that role. He's content devaluing women theologians and women in the Church. Same-old, same-old stuff that I have been witnessing for way too many years & that for centuries the Church tradition of bullying women around is still on life support by MSW and his ilk. .

    Thanks for posting this, Colleen, and thanks to Mary Hunt for really thinking and caring. It is nice to know there are still thinking and caring people.

  8. Thank you for this post. I'm no fan of MSW ever since I saw the way he created Rosemary Radford Ruether at the time of Pope B.'s visit to New York some time back,
    I'm grateful you wrote this because it needed to be done and you've done a great job.

  9. THANK YOU, Colleen--for this critique of Winters. I have been in a blue mood after reading his attack on Mary Hunt. As you rightly say, Winters reserves a very special kind of venom for liberal women, and has a long, long history of mounting these vindictive personal attacks against women who speak out and say what he regards as unsayable.

    What appalls me most of all about this behavior is that he's implicitly reserving for himself the right to judge who is in and who's out, when it comes to the Catholic tradition. "In" happens, surprise, surprise!, to fit the center spot that he occupies as an objective, balanced male who sees the shortcomings of both left and right.

    Winters's church seems to have no room in it for outspoken women. Feminists in general are the enemy. I feel when reading him that I'm reading the gossip of a very immature boys' club, the kind of thing talked about among priests at rectory dinner tables.

    Such a crippling, stunted view of a church that calls itself catholic . . . .

  10. Bill, you hit the nail on the head: "I feel when reading him that I'm reading the gossip of a very immature boys' club, the kind of thing talked about among priests at rectory dinner tables". I had a very similar thought, that MSW should stop vetting this kind of attack piece around the kitchen table with his gay roommate.

    I can not begin to express how utterly angry I was with this piece and the fact NCR didn't edit it. How in the world can they expect the com boxes to be civil when they allow MSW to write this kind of article. It violated every single one of NCR's comment codes.

  11. Fran, I am at a loss at to why NCR doesn't edit some of his articles. This one should never have seen the light of day, or at least should have come with a disclaimer.

    Unfortunately, one of the traits of some of Francis' 'little monsters' is the penchant to look down on or bully women. Francis on the other hand, seems to want to put women on some sort of pedestal as his reason for leaving the priesthood and Church governance exclusively male. I have to admit I find his argument that subjecting women to this kind of 'clericalism' is to devalue them quite novel.....and totally disingenuous.

  12. That is an excellent point, Colleen, that NCR does not edit some of his articles. This article by MSW invites & reinforces a shouting match battle rather than eliciting any real mature dialogue. There was nothing reflective of any intelligent light that flowed through MSW's fuming blast against Mary Hunt. The more I thought about his article after reflecting on it and then reading what Mary Hunt had to really say, it became so obvious to me that he was just looking to fume & feud.

  13. Also, NCR should pull the article by MSW. They should really take it down, delete it & send him packing. This sort of article does not belong in a progressive Catholic website, imho.

  14. Oh Colleen, I don't know how you stand it, you and Bill Lindsey both. I found this such a depressing read and took a long shower afterwards. It highlights why I rarely venture into the NCR space. I may have my quibbles with Mary Hunt but I read everything she writes with respect, because she tells it like it is. A bit too much truth telling for the tribalists I guess, but what a vicious way to respond. Let's expunge the negative energy and move on. Blessings from Prague.

  15. My vision of the church has small circles of Catholics in a parish celebrating small group liturgies in a place provided by the parish using lay presiders.The groups are part of the parish and parish members can choose to attend either the large traditional liturgy with the usual priestly model or the small group liturgy. The whole parish would assist in helping parents provide for such things as the religious education of children.
    Something like this might provide a necessary transition to a church that has a better understanding of and appreciation of
    laypeople, especially women.

  16. Oh, what would life be without downers & trolls! LOL!

  17. In addition to MSW's misogynist attacks on Mary Hunt and other women in his columns there is another glaring contradiction/problem I have with this man who publicly in this day and age writes a column about matters Roman Catholic and holds forth on all matter of current controversial Church issues but who at the same time does not reveal to his readership that he is an out gay man who lives in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in DC. In the article on Mary Hunt once again MSW states "I liked Pope Benedict" which begs the question I would love to put to him - did you love Pope Benedict when he said gay people were an "intrinsic moral evil"? you believe Benedict correct in his assessment?....time after time so many of the Church's hierarchy have maliciously attacked us gay people and one could always count on MSW in his columns to suck up to these same homophobes in red dresses - or white - whose attacks on gay people have gone beyond the kin of Christian charity. He can print heaps of praise for these men of power while they rain down outright lies and distortions about the lives of gay people and attack our humanity...will MSW ever respond to this?...are we dealing with internalized oppression here or the grasping and holding onto to power.....what does MSW really think about all of these issues that he writes about....

  18. I wonder the exact same thing. The closest MSW has come to admitting he's an out gay man is the mention of his gay 'roommate' in this attack piece on Mary Hunt. I also wonder if his animus for her isn't fueled in part by the fact she makes no bones about having a lesbian partner and he fails to mention his own sexuality.

  19. Mary does tell it like it is from her perspective and sometimes truth hurts. What is depressing for me is that MSW's rant pieces against women writers is predictable as clockwork and NCR does nothing about it.

  20. heimerm, this is a most definite potential scenario for a transition from the current parish/priest model to something which will most likely have to evolve precisely because of the priest shortage. A larger parish which serves smaller lay communities would be a good model for keeping smaller parishes viable rather than just closing them. The Latin American Base Community movement was a similar construct. JPII actively suppressed the movement because it was 'blurring the lines' between the lay and clergy classes. They were 'clericalizing' the laity.

    I sometimes think our clerical caste will kill the entire Body of Christ rather than revamp the doctrines associated with the priesthood. This is one line of bull the laity will have to take by the horns themselves.

  21. Now I am wondering if Bezak didnt refuse to kiss black popes ring and accept jesuit oath ????

  22. and refuse to accept jesuit oath*