Jesuit University President Attacks George Weigel

Deal W. Hudson
March 29, 2008

The February 20 issue of the Denver Catholic Register published a column on the Jesuits titled “Some Questions for Father General” by George Weigel. In response, the president of the University of San Francisco, Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J., published “Attack on Jesuits Out of Place” in Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Father Privett not only attacked what he termed the “mean-spirited assault” of Weigel, but he was also sharply critical of the Denver archdiocese for publishing it. Father writes,

The readership of Catholic diocesan newspapers deserves more civil, balanced, and professional fare than that served up and passed around by the Denver Catholic Register.

I don’t know of a single instance in the history of this country’s Catholic Church when one diocesan newspaper attacked another by name.

Weigel asked the new Jesuit Superior, Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, S.J., questions on four issues: Jesuit obedience, the Catholic identity of Jesuit educational institutions, the Jesuit attitude toward the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, and the order’s theological commitment to the “unique salvific role of Jesus Christ.”

Anyone even superficially familiar with the history of the Catholic Church since Vatican II would not be surprised by these questions. The issues of Jesuit obedience and Catholic identity were raised by the secular media in its coverage of the recent election of the new Father General. In addition, the Vatican pressure that led to the resignation of Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., from his editorship of America magazine got national attention.

Father Privett’s outrage suggests that he is unaware that Weigel is merely speaking aloud questions that are shared by Catholics around the world. He specifically charges Weigel with making unfounded allegations about two Jesuits in particular, Rev. James Keenan, S.J., and the late Rev. Robert Drinan, S.J. Wiegel puts both forward as examples of Jesuit attitudes toward basic Church teachings on abortion and marriage.

About Father Drinan, Weigel writes, “He did more than anyone else to convince Catholic legislators that the settled teaching of the Church on the grave immorality of abortion had no bearing on their legislative work.” Father Privett’s reply to Weigel: “His stunningly sweeping statement… lacks any supporting evidence.”

I’m sure that Weigel would be surprised to hear that he needed to document the career of Father Drinan, whom I call in my recent book the “Jesuit priest who invented the pro-abortion Catholic politician.” Perhaps Father Privett needs to be reminded that, after being elected to Congress in 1970, Father Drinan wrote in support of Roe v. Wade and Clinton’s veto of the ban against partial-birth abortion. After being forced by John Paul II to leave Congress in 1981, Father Drinan continued as a pro-abortion lobbyist both within the Democratic Party and as head of Americans for Democratic Action.

Father Privett also takes issue with Weigel’s description of Father Keenan’s highly publicized testimony before the Massachusetts legislature in support of homosexual marriage. Father Keenan’s argument, according to Weigel, was ” that the principles of Catholic social doctrine did not merely tolerate ‘gay marriage,’ they demanded it.” But again, Father Privett objects: “He did not do so. Father Keenan testified against unjust discrimination against gay couples. He did not testify in support of gay marriage or approve the homosexual activity.”

What Father Privett does not make clear is that Father Keenan, a moral theologian at Boston College, argued for gay marriage on the basis of homosexuals’ possessing a “right” to be married. Weigel is correct.

The most sensitive issue raised by Weigel is the attitude toward homosexuality among the Jesuits. He rightly calls it the “third-rail” issue, as anyone who raises it can expect some kind of thrashing.

What must have provoked Father Privett is one example Weigel supplies from the Jesuits’ California province:

[I]t was not that long ago, after all, that the Web site of the Jesuits’ California Province featured photos of “Pretty Boy” and “Jabba the Slut” in gay drag at a novices’ party.

Father Privett explains that these photos are not “gay drag”; rather, they were “taken at a Halloween party seven years ago at the novitiate” and were “mistakenly put on-line and immediately taken off for fear it would be malevolently misinterpreted by the likes of Mr. Weigel.”

Let me add to this discussion a story I heard and verified, on a recent trip to San Francisco. A graduate student at the University of San Francisco was rejected for a position in the resident halls because, as he put it, “Father said I do not have the right attitude toward homosexual conduct, as I disapprove of such conduct.” After being turned down for the position, it was suggested by a Jesuit that he read Gays and Grays: The Story of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish, written by Rev. Donal Godfrey, S.J., a professor at USF.

On page 134 of Gays and Grays, Father Godfrey posits the question, “Is it less appropriate for gays to imagine Jesus as gay than for African Christians to picture him as black, Asian Christians as Asian?” This, shortly after acknowledging on page 132,”I will not feign academic objectivity: if such a thing really exists. I firmly believe in a new approach and a new vision for this area of ministry. In this, I do have an ‘agenda.'”

Not surprisingly, the graduate student has been hesitant to pursue “some questions” he has about the USF Jesuit community’s doctrinal approach to homosexuality, for fear that his questions might be wrongly construed as an “attack on the Jesuits.” It’s not difficult to see where he might have gotten that impression.

Local Catholics familiar with the situation at USF told me that this is not an isolated incident and that some Jesuits in the community are deeply concerned.

For one, the theologians at USF were offered the mandate, in accord with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, but none responded to the offer. In fact, Sacred Heart Sr. Theresa Moser, associate dean at the University of San Francisco, urged USF theologians to adopt a stance of noncompliance: “‘The appropriate strategy is to do nothing’ by way of requesting a mandate, she said, or, if one is offered, to ‘very respectfully decline.'”

The questions asked by George Weigel about the future of the Jesuits shouldn’t have been so shocking to Father Privett; they have been asked publicly, in both secular and Catholic media, for decades. Weigel’s questions didn’t surprise the Catholic residents of San Francisco, but Father Privett’s outraged response did.

Sed Contra: Reading Madeline St. John

Deal W. Hudson
September 1, 2000

Crisis readers, I am sure, will want to know about the recent publication by Carroll & Graf of three novels by Madeleine St John (pronounced “sin-gin”), an Anglican and a Londoner, of Australian birth. St John’s work deserves to be widely read by Catholics who are in the habit of recommending only writers now long-deceased. If this sounds like an unabashed recommendation to read St John’s novels, it certainly is!

To my mind, St John belongs to a small but growing group of writers—such as Ron Hansen, Oscar Hijuelos, and Torgny Lindgren—who are required reading for thinking Catholics who crave good fiction. St John would undoubtedly be surprised to find herself mentioned in such company. Her books contain nothing of the historical gravitas of Hansen’s recent Hitler’s Niece, the exotic lyricism of Hijuelos’s Empress of the Splendid Season, or the confessional realism of Lindgren’s recently translated masterwork, Sweetness. St John’s books are disarming in a way the others are not: Her characters inevitably, under the pressure of life-changing events, calmly pause for tea. Composed entirely of two- to four-page chapters and largely of dialogue, her novels begin with the offhandedness of a soap opera and end with the wallop of an Ibsen play.

I suggest starting with A Pure Clear Light, published four years ago in the United Kingdom but just released in this country. It traces the return to Christianity of Flora, whose husband, Simon, is carrying on a red-hot affair with Gillian. The halting steps of Flora toward her recovery of faith are convincingly presented. Her two children accompany their mother to church but are puzzled by her sudden change of habits. Her daughter finally asks why she should go to church: “‘Because,’ said Flora, ‘there are two possible worlds, the one in which Jesus is real, and the one in which he is not, and it actually does matter which of these two worlds you believe you’re living in.’” The emptiness of the relationship with Gillian is gradually revealed to Simon by the “clear light” of Flora’s example.

Another reflection on the difference between love and narcissism is found in The Essence of the Thing, nominated for the Booker Prize in 1997. This tale is both more acerbic and troubling than A Pure Clear Light. It begins with the sudden and unexplained breakup of a relationship that appeared, to both family and friends, headed for the altar. In Jonathan’s decision to leave Nicola, the exposure of his shallowness, and, especially, the onslaught of Nicola’s painful loneliness, St John catches the sad spectacle of serial relationships devoid of marital purpose. After Jonathan moves his things out of their apartment, Nicola returns to her bedroom, “a habitation now only for denial, desolation and grief: for whatever dark spirits are sucked into the vacuum left by the departure of tenderness, love and trust.”

In St John’s last published work, A Stairway to Paradise (1999), Alex, a married journalist, and Andrew, a newly divorced academic, duel for the favors of the India-bound Barbara. As in her previous novels, St John explores the reasons men cheat on, and sometimes leave behind, the women who have loved them and borne their children. All the men in St John’s fiction create capsules of insulated time and space where their false loves can gestate. The women grow tired of this fantasy, as in the case of Barbara telling Alex she can no longer pretend their affair does not affect his wife and children: “It’s not separate from the rest of our lives, or the rest of our selves, or the rest of the world,’ she said. ‘It only feels as if it is. That’s the whole point of it. Don’t you see?’”

There you have some flavor of St John’s work and perhaps her temperament. She is not timid: Her characters talk about choosing between a world where Jesus is real or He is not, and they come to conclusions about what real love may allow and what it will not. Yet in spite of grappling with the big issues, her writing remains lithe and lively, her ear for the moral undertones of conversation unparalleled in this generation of writers.

Sed Contra: Mortimer J. Adler, Catholic

Deal W. Hudson
July 1, 2000

The most influential American philosopher of the 20th century was received into the Church this past December. Those familiar with the trajectory of Mortimer Adler’s work, not just the Great Books Program, should not be surprised. Born December 28, 1902, Mortimer has been a Catholic philosopher all his long life, and now he will spend his final years in the arms of the Church.

Mortimer’s conversion must not elicit any Catholic triumphalism. There is no need to besiege him with requests for his conversion story. The story can be written—most of it can be found in his books, especially his two volumes of memoirs. The rest can be filled in by his friends.

I spent three summers with Mortimer at the Aspen Institute in the early 90s, serving as the institute’s first Adler fellow. In addition to assisting with Mortimer’s fabled seminars, I would meet him in the late afternoon and talk shop, and naturally, the conversation would turn to Catholicism. Mortimer had been a practicing Episcopalian since 1984 when he was baptized in a Chicago hospital room. He had resisted becoming a Christian, saying he had the “will to believe” but lacked the gift of faith. Finding himself, miraculously he says, repeating the Lord’s Prayer in his hospital room, Mortimer asked for a priest. His wife Caroline, an ardent Episcopalian, helped her husband of many years to join her church.

Mortimer became very active in his Aspen parish and started writing more explicitly about religion, even risking his longtime friendship with Bill Moyers by criticizing his interviews with myth-guru Joseph Campbell. Mortimer was a man of prayer, to the one true God, and a reader of Scripture, about the revelation of His only Son, Jesus Christ, and made no bones about it.

It was clear that Mortimer the Christian was a great gift to the Episcopal community, and his conversion must have deepened his bond with his wife and their two sons. Catholics, like myself, who kidded with Mortimer, in front of his Aspen friends, about failing to “cross the Tiber” were treated with unfailing politeness but slight discomfort.

Only one time did this discomfort with the Catholic question become public. During my third summer at the Aspen Institute, I organized a conference on Mortimer’s legacy to celebrate his 45 years at the Institute. Some names familiar to Crisis readers were there—Ralph Mclnerny, Russ Hittinger, Jeff Wallin, and Otto Bird. During the question-and-answer session, an Aspen Institute official complained that most of the invited speakers were Catholics. I’m still not sure why that was objectionable, but my reply was obvious: Nearly all the philosophers who continue to read his work and pass on his legacy are Catholic. Why? Because they are metaphysical realists in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas! Bird, I remember clearly, was quite eloquent later at the banquet in his explanation of Mortimer as a Catholic philosopher. Bird’s tribute, however, left the Aspen audience puzzled.

Mortimer’s fans have forgotten or never knew, that his entire career was propelled by an initial encounter as a Columbia University undergraduate with Aquinas’ “Treatise on God” from the Summa Theologica. His earliest works were written in a densely scholastic style, and although he learned to communicate with a broad audience, the Thomistic habit of dialectical thinking was infused into everything he touched.

It may have been this dialectical gift that allowed him to be beloved by both relativists and realists. Relativists could revel in his unparalleled gifts for comparative analysis and safely avoid any conclusions. Realists could devour books like How to Think About God and be grateful that there was still a philosopher who followed rational inferences to conclusions about what is real and not another half-baked version of radical doubt.

Why did Mortimer become a Catholic? He followed the path he started at Columbia in the early 20s all the way to the end. Mortimer would not stop, as long as he drew breath, with less than the entire truth. That’s the man I came to know during those memorable summers in Aspen.

At the closing of our final seminar, I noticed Mortimer sitting alone and looking sad. I thought he would be feeling nostalgic, so I went over to say something about his great legacy. He waved these comments aside saying, “Why did all those philosophers listen to Kant?” That’s Mortimer J. Adler, always wrestling with the truth, never looking back. We should know better than to be surprised.

Sed Contra: The Death of a Great College Program

Deal W. Hudson
April 1, 2001

The new president of the University of San Francisco (USF), Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J., recently announced the reorganization— the effective dismantling—of the St. Ignatius Institute, which for the past 25 years has offered the university’s undergraduates the option of a Catholic great-books program in addition to their other courses.

Founded in 1976 by Rev. Joseph Fessio, S.J., a rare conservative Jesuit in a famously liberal order, the institute had quietly established itself as a blue- chip example of what happens when a Catholic college takes the Catholic intellectual and humanistic tradition seriously. Imagine a general-education curriculum that includes courses on the early Church fathers, the “medieval synthesis” of classical and Christian learning, and, for a full academic year, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Father Privett’s stated reason for his decision is predictably bureaucratic: USF can save money by eliminating courses that duplicate its regular curriculum. That avoids the real issue: Father Fessio’s creation has always been a thorn in the side of most of the university’s other Jesuits, who have been biding their time for an opportune moment to pull the plug on what they consider a reactionary operation. The institute bans its faculty from openly dissenting to Church teaching—how shocking!

Any chance for reconsideration of Father Privett’s action lies in the hands of USF’s 40 trustees, one-third of whom are Jesuits with little affection for Father Fessio. The other two-thirds are unlikely to be swayed by the negative press that the pending shutdown has received in conservative Catholic newspapers and the Wall Street Journal. University trustees often base their actions only on what dissembling administrators tell them. They believe what they hear in order to keep their sentimental memories of their own college days intact.

I have talked to many trustees of Catholic colleges who are frustrated by their institutions’ flagrant disregard of Catholic tradition and the Church’s magisterium. But they are reluctant to follow my suggestion that they protest with their checkbooks, arguing that they can have more influence by remaining at the board table. Continuing to financially support dissenting institutions only deepens the problem, however.

In the early 1980s, just before I converted to Catholicism, I visited the Institute for a weekend at the invitation of Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, one of several outstanding scholars who has devoted most of their adult lives to serving its mission. That weekend changed my life. I remember jogging with Father Fessio, giving a guest lecture in his theology class, and then sharing a sandwich on the waterside at Sausalito with the great French theologian Louis Bouyer. Leiva-Merikakis arranged for me to visit the Carmelite monastery adjacent to the campus, a sojourn that pushed this hesitant Baptist into the arms of Mother Church.

I have no doubt that USF students and visitors alike have been similarly exposed to the converting spirit of the St. Ignatius Institute during the 20 years since I made my pilgrimage there. Given the turbine-like power of the Catholic intelligence produced by its great-books program, I suppose we should be surprised that the attack from the Catholic left did not come sooner. It hates—and I use this word purposely—successful efforts to sustain Catholic tradition, which refute its assumptions about the irrelevance of that tradition.

Two years ago, Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan was criticized for putting his money into the creation of a new Catholic law school instead of, say, the Catholic University of America, which needed the funds. Monaghan defended his decision by saying that there were too many variables at existing Catholic colleges that made him doubtful about the future of his investment. Monaghan’s fearful scenario is being played out at USF.

We are witnessing the efforts of many good, talented, even heroic people at the St. Ignatius Institute being overthrown by Father Privett after only a few months in office. The institute’s teaching staff and alumni never had a chance to make their case.

Knowing how good a case this is, and how eloquently it could be delivered by the likes of Leiva-Merikakis, Father Privett took the Machiavellian option: Strike quickly and without apology. Those who had the privilege of studying at the institute will understand this strategy because unlike most college students nowadays, they will have read Machiavelli.

Seeking a New Visual Literacy

Deal W. Hudson
December 13, 2014

The first commercial television network, the DuMont Television Network, began to broadcast in 1946, but programming was limited to viewers between New York and Washington, DC. Over the next two years, NBC, ABC, and CBS began regional broadcasting. It wasn’t until 1951 that national broadcasting emerged with all four networks using AT&T’s microwave radio relay lines. Dumont, which first broadcast the Rev. Fulton Sheen and launched Jackie Gleeson, went out of business in 1956, leaving the American public adjusting their “rabbit ears” to view the programming of the “big three” networks.

The movies, as a visual medium, were already integral to the daily life of American culture and consciousness; the film has already passed through two “golden ages,” one the silent era and another in sound. The presence of televisions in the home grew quickly, from 6,000 in 1946 to 12 million in 1951. By 1955 television had entered one-half of all American homes. The three networks dominated TV screens; color was added in 1964; cable TV arrived in the 70s.

Viewers were given more power over their own viewing with the arrival of the VCR in the 60s, a format not widely adopted until the mid-70s. The DVD went on sale in 1997, but its rentals did not surpass the VCR until 2003. The first Blu-ray titles appeared in June 2006 and grew steadily until Internet “streaming,” which had begun with a performance by “Severe Tire Damage” on the Internet June 25, 1993.

By 2011, more Americans were streaming visual content than DVD and Blu-ray combined: 3.4 billion via online streaming, up from 1.4 billion in 2010, while disc-based watching decreased from 2.6 billion in 2010 to 2.4 billion in 2011. One large factor: consumers paid 51 cents for movies consumed online, compared to $4.72 for disc-based titles.

Through these media, viewing movies, TV shows, and the attendant commercials became a significant presence in our lives. But then came a complete game changer: The backbone of the World Wide Web or the “Internet” was years in development, but its popular use didn’t begin until the 80s, rising to prominence in the mid-90s. In 2005, 16% of the world was using the Internet; this increased to 39% by 2013. In the developed world, the range was from 51% in 2005 to 77% in 2013.

The “new media” made possible by the Internet and the availability of the PC and the PDA (any kind of personal data assistant — phone or tablet) has captured and joined together the reading world, including books, newspaper, and magazines, and the visual world of film (TV, DVD, Blu-ray) and made them available to people worldwide, anywhere they happen to be, at home or elsewhere.

This massive switch of reading from print to the digital medium has made it possible to use visual means for many kinds of communication — such as in journalism, education, advocacy, and politics — that were once largely confined to print.


My generation, the heart of the post-WWII “baby boom,” learned its visual literacy through experience, not by formal training. We were taught to read, interpret texts, and to use language effectively, both written and spoken (remember when public schools taught cursive writing.) These skills, combined with a knowledge of history, literature, math, and science, were considered to create a literate citizenry, a citizenry capable, among other things, of participating in a democratic society.

Visual literacy can be understood by analogy to literacy in the language arts. We learn not only how to read a text — its use of narrative voice, metaphor, simile, symbol, imagery, plot, character, action, spectacle — but we learn how to write, how to create a text. Reading and writing enrich each other, making that form of literacy more penetrating and sophisticated. When it comes to visual literacy, there is very little formal education offered in the public schools and even less in the form of continuing education for adults.

Given the dominance of visual communication in this generation, it’s ridiculous that our school curricula don’t include requirements in learning the basics of “reading” images as well as the basics of creating those images.

In a world where our minds and hearts are, on a daily basis, being shaped and informed by images, whether stills or moving, becoming visually literate is a goal we should all pursue and should certainly provide for our children. This will mean that we learn not only to understand the “grammar” of image representation but also the skills to create those representations. In other words, we all need to learn how to make a film. More on this later!

A Letter from China

Deal W. Hudson
December 16, 2014

Publisher’s note: This past September I had the great privilege of visiting China to help with the work of the University Foundation Education Instruction Centre. Alan Zou, its president, and Phil Sheldon, vice president and son of the well-known evangelical leader Lou Sheldon, are evangelical Christians who started this ministry to provide opportunities for Chinese high school students to enter top universities in the United States. Along with Phil and Alan, who translated, I spoke to hundreds of students at elite high schools all over China.

The presentations were very well, actually enthusiastically, received with many students being interested in my graduate school

Phil Sheldon greeting some high school students.

Phil Sheldon greeting some high school students.

alma mater, Emory University. Alan and Phil use those presentations to make modest, and appropriate, mention of their Christian faith. Naturally, I made a pitch, also modest, for the Catholic faith and the importance of its rich intellectual and cultural tradition.  Again, the students, as well as the teachers, were not mere gracious but grateful for our presence.

Knowing of the launch of The Christian Review, Alan Zou has written the following note to me, which I greatly appreciate.  I look forward to publishing the thoughts of our Christian friends from China, both Evangelical, and Catholic.  In a quiet way, China is undergoing a spiritual revolution that will one day change the world.


Dear Deal,

On the occasion of Christmas Day, I, on behalf of UFEIC Bilingo-China, am writing to extend my warmest greetings to you and my congratulations on the launch of The Christian Review.  Merry Christmas!

The past year witnesses our sincere communications on International Education Program and joint efforts in bringing the best potential students to the US top universities. We will never forget your excellent speeches, charming elegant demeanor, whole-hearted emersion, friendly cooperation and the broad perspectives you’ve brought to our team in the campaigns. It is your participation and guidance without reservation that makes us feel more confident in our ability to help the students in China. Now we have built a preliminary communication channel between our students and your university, which is actually the dream of nearly all the Chinese students preparing to apply for your university.

However, the best educations always favor those elites, so it’s not surprising that the top universities are usually rigorous and critical in reviewing each student’ application. However, some students were not born with superhuman genius, or may not be smart enough; but in the eyes of the God, they are equal and each student has his own special talent. The reason why we tend to ignore their glittering points is that we teachers from Chinese traditional education system have seldom tried to discover and develop their heavenly inner world with our heart. UFEIC Bilingo-China is such an organization who feels a great sense of responsibility for each student’s future success. To find the best solutions to those students’ plan of education and career, we’ve never felt reluctant to devote more time and more energy to our daily job; meanwhile, we still need your continuous support and more of your instructions on application issues.

As we all know, the way to success is full of difficulties. However, with your warm-hearted support, everything seems not so hard or too far to reach. During the days when you’re not here in China, we are missing you so much. Sincerely look forward to your visiting China again. We are expecting you’re bringing good news from the other side of the world. Once again, I would like to present all our blessings of a beautiful Christmas season. May happiness follow you everywhere …just like we do. Take care, let’s keep in touch, and may The Christian Review proper and grow!

Sincerely yours,

Allen Zuo

How Catholic Universities Fool Their Donors

By Deal W. Hudson

During my eight years at Crisis, the conversation that most often reoccurs is the one about the fate of the Catholic university and college. It begins inevitably with an alumnus complaining about the latest anti-Catholic outbreak on the hallowed grounds of their former college campus and ends with their asking me for advice. I always respond by asking them whether or not they’ve spoken to the administration with their wallets, either threatening to end donations and/or actually pulling the trigger. Nine out of ten times they shake their heads sadly saying, “No, I can’t do that; it’s better to keep a place at the table or the problem will only get worse.”

Wrong answer.

Most college graduates are nostalgic: Carefree days filled with books, sports, and sporting around. It’s difficult to get hard-hearted toward all that, especially when you add nuns and priests who taught you the Faith and the lessons of life. When the experience becomes multigenerational, the bonding to a particular campus is almost irresistible. And Catholics are nothing if not loyal. History has shown that they’ll forgive anything—from a decade of losing football teams to a theology department full of professors eager to bash, or slyly subvert, the Church in the national media.

By staying in touch with these alums, I’ve been able to observe how their colleges try to soothe them and keep them assured of their Catholic identity. The most obvious scheme is for the development department to ask them for a targeted gift—one that goes directly to some program that seems to reinforce orthodoxy. So programs in Catholic studies, lecture series, or campus ministries are created and offered to skeptical donors as a way of sticking with the institution while—wink, wink—the tenured faculty retires or moves on and younger, more faithful professors are hired.

Such philanthropy may salve the donor’s conscience, but it does nothing for the Catholic identity of the institution except distract everyone’s attention away from its primary concern: what’s being taught in the classroom. What good does it do to pay for a tasty dessert when the main course remains undercooked? Does an occasional lecture from George Weigel change the character of a university? (Even Weigel isn’t that good!) Does taking a group of existing courses from different departments and lumping them together under “Catholic Studies” ensure the Magisterial position is being taught and defended in the classroom? No—in fact, such programs may compound the problem, since the course on feminist interpretations of the “three Marys” is no longer solely in the province of the English department.

Next in line is what I call the “Ex Corde Ecclesiae Shuffle”—quite popular among college presidents and development directors. Concerned alums ask how the implementation and mandatum are going only to be warned of “those people in the Vatican” who are afraid of an educated laity. The inside story of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the alums are told, is that mean old Cardinal Ratzinger was uncomfortable with the “academic excellence” of the U.S. Catholic colleges and universities and didn’t really understand the tradition of “academic freedom” in this country. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, they’re told, is just another attempt by the Vatican to control the U.S. Church.

Perhaps the Vatican is concerned about an uneducated laity…one that’s uneducated in the Faith. Indeed, the anti-Roman antagonism on Catholic campuses rarely shows its face directly; rather, blunt comments are limited to the ears of those cognoscenti who earnestly wish for a “progressive” successor to John Paul II. For outsiders, it’s there to be seen and heard in the body language, the silences, and emphatic focus on “peace and justice” issues.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t appear that any of the major Catholic institutions that fit this profile have any financial problems, although some smaller and mid-size schools have struggled and gone out of business. It may be that the more established schools have passed successfully through the period where donor pressure might have produced reforms: It’s unlikely that graduates from the 1970s will care enough about Catholic identity to withhold their money. Sadly, it appears that Catholic schools since the early 1970s have been producing the perfect donors: well-educated in the world of commerce and able to make enough money to give it away, but uneducated in the Faith and incapable of knowing when their beloved alma mater has drifted from its mission.

Published in Crisis Magazine, May 1, 2003

How to Vote Catholic: Part II-Marriage and the Family

By Deal W. Hudson

“A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This institution is prior to any recognition by public au­thority, which has an obligation to recognize it. It should be considered the normal reference point by which the different forms of family rela­tionship are to be evaluated” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2202).

The Catholic Church teaches that the institution of marriage comes prior to the state and therefore must be ac­cepted as normative. Indeed, all the nations in the world over the past 20 centuries have never questioned this stan­dard, until recently.

On February 3, 2004, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state laws restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman were based upon a reli­gious prejudice. This decision unleashed a national debate on the meaning of marriage and spurred many to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifying the legal meaning of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.

The pope and bishops around the world have directly rejected the idea of “same-sex marriage”: “It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female; it can­not cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union” (USCCB, Between Man and Woman: Questions and An­swers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions).

The Church must defend traditional marriage not only because it was instituted by God, but also because the fam­ily is the foundation of all society: “The family is the com­munity in which, from childhood, one can learn moral val­ues, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society” (CCC 2207).

The Catholic view of marriage should inform public policy in several ways. As the U.S. bishops have said, “Poli­cies related to the definition of marriage, taxes, the work­place, divorce, and welfare must be designed to help fami­lies stay together and to reward responsibility and sacrifice for children” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility).

The specific policies are a matter of prudential judg­ment, but what is behind them—the firm belief that marriage between a man and a woman should be protected by the state—is a non-negotiable principle of Catholic teaching.

The USCCB is strongly supportive of the consti­tutional amendment to defend marriage recently introduced in the Congress. A majority of Catholic senators, unfortunately, voted against it, in spite of the bishops’ lobbying effort.

Politicians will disagree prudentially on how best to protect marriage through law and public policy. The option being considered by some states, that of recognizing “civil unions” between homosexuals and affording to them some or all of the benefits of married persons, should be judged by its impact on the common good and especially on mar­riage and children.

The Pontifical Council for the Family has criticized the prospect of civil unions: “This would be an arbitrary use of power which does not contribute to the common good because the original nature of marriage and the family proceeds and exceeds, in an absolute and radical way, the sovereign power of the State” (Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions, 9).


“The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primor­dial and inalienable” (CCC 2221).

Parents should know that it’s their job to oversee the education of their children. “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public au­thorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC 2229).

As public schools have become more secular in their curriculums, with some even hostile to the expression of religious views, parents have been forced to find alterna­tives that are “consonant with Catholic convictions.” This has led to a modest revival in diocesan and private Catho­lic education. It has also led many parents to enroll their children in private schools without religious affiliation or non-sectarian Christian schools. For those who cannot find or afford private schools, homeschooling has become the most viable option.

The problem of choosing a private school is that many Catholic parents cannot afford it, even at the reduced pric­es often available at parish schools. For this reason, some Catholic leaders have made a prudential judgment to sup­port the idea of school choice.

Choice in education means that parents who qualify can receive an annual stipend from the government for use at private schools. Some would argue, however, that the state should not provide financial support for those parents who choose to send their children to parochial schools. Their argument is based on the perceived threat of such contributions to the separation of church and state.

Yet if the voucher system is limited only to public schools and non-sectarian private schools, the majority of private schools will be left out of the mix. Furthermore, most non-sectarian private schools are well beyond the fi­nancial reach of parents, even those who receive govern­ment subsidies.

So, in essence, a voucher program that excludes paro­chial schools is really a public school program. For reasons already discussed, this is not much of a choice for those Catholic parents who are concerned with the direction of public education.

Economic Issues

“A business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’, it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the neces­sary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labour” (Centesimus Annus, 43).

The well-being of our families, communities, and na­tion depends on the success of business and industry to cre­ate wealth. The greater the growth of industry, the more stable our society becomes: “Another name for peace is development. Just as there is a collective responsibility for avoiding war, so too there is a collective responsibility for promoting development” (Centesimus Annus, 52).

Businesses and industries create the wealth that provides financial support for their workers, both blue and white col­lar, and their families through earned wages, medical bene­fits, life insurance, disability, and pension plans. Without these wages and benefits, most workers would be unable to obtain the necessary goods of life. They would also be un­able to support the present levels of government services and programs through the payment of taxes. The quality of life for all citizens, regardless of their income brackets, is thus proportionate to the success of their nation’s business and industry. It is therefore in the interest of every citizen that the economic sector grows and prospers.

Government, as a promoter of the common good, has an obligation to ensure that social and economic conditions promote business development. More often than not, as ar­gued in John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus (1991), this can best be achieved by allowing market forces to act freely. As shown by the decline of communism, the state does not generally make the best allocations of capital when it is the sole decision-maker.

The more that regulations are imposed by government, the less room is left for entrepreneurial enterprise and cre­ative decision-making. According to the principle of sub­sidiarity, corporate executives and managers should be allowed to control their own economic development, within the boundaries of law and morality.

At the same time—and again in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity—the government has a responsi­bility to protect the weak and vulnerable from unethical be­havior. Government also has a duty to protect the rights of workers by ensuring decent working conditions, establish­ing fair wages, and holding corporate leaders accountable for breaking the laws governing corporate behavior.

Accountability is thus a social partnership between the private sector and the government. Private industry profes­sionals and associations play an important role in setting appropriate standards for particular professions, businesses, and industries. Legislative and executive bodies also must set standards for responsible conduct through the passage and enforcement of appropriate laws to protect society as a whole from abuses.

Often referred to as the backbone of the U.S. econo­my, small businesses account for 99 percent of employers and, with the recent movement of formerly American facto­ries and jobs offshore, now create between 60 percent and 75 percent of net new jobs annually. Pope Leo XIII wrote, “The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (Rerum Novarum, 46).


“In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contribut­ing” (Mater et Magistra, 132).

Every citizen has a moral obligation to contribute to the common good. In financial terms, this responsibility is car­ried out primarily through a person’s labor and the wealth it creates. But a citizen also contributes through the payment of taxes, which are used to fund the cost of government.

Balancing this tax burden is a matter of prudential judg­ment. Taxes that are adjusted to income levels are designed to place more of the burden on the wealthy. However, some argue that this policy penalizes those who are successful and may actually deter others who would otherwise work to earn more. In response, some have suggested a flat tax, in which all citizens pay the same tax rate, or a consumption tax, based upon what an individual spends.

How the combination of progressive and regressive taxes is balanced is a source of much debate. Regardless of the solution, taxation policy should not become a weapon in class warfare. Citizens should work together to create a solution that is fair to all sides. The common good should be the goal of any taxation policy, not the interests of one particular class.

A just tax system is one that is based on a citizen’s abil­ity to pay. In supporting their nation and communities, tax­payers should not find themselves unable to provide for their own families or maintain their businesses. Workers should earn enough money to pay their taxes and still take home a “living wage.” Traditional families should also be encouraged. This means that a husband working full-time should be able to support his wife and children at home.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Many moth­ers are forced to leave their children in order to earn second incomes because of the amount of tax the fathers must pay out of their incomes. This economic pressure adds to the stress and emotional cost to parents and their children. This is why the USCCB has supported family-friendly tax legis­lation, such as tax credits for children and direct rebates to low-income families with dependents. The bishops’ confer­ence has also supported adjustments that would reduce the “marriage penalty” by increasing the qualifying amount for married workers.

Large corporations, small businesses, and other institu­tions that employ workers also have a significant impact on family stability, as well as on society as a whole. In addition to paying workers’ wages, corporations provide financial support for the common good by paying federal and state income taxes. These taxes represent another major source of revenue for the government.

To sustain the corporations and businesses that provide employment and financial support, the government should ensure that corporate taxes are low enough for both large and small companies to operate at optimal levels. “Govern­ments must provide regulations and a system of taxation which encourage firms to preserve the environment, em­ploy disadvantaged workers, and create jobs in depressed areas. Managers and stockholders should not be torn be­tween their responsibilities to their organizations and their responsibilities toward society as a whole” (USCCB, Eco­nomic Justice for All, 118).


“Those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of char­ity which remain indispensable always and everywhere” (Libertatis Conscientia, 68).

This “preferential option for the poor” challenges Catho­lics to make a special effort to help those in poverty. How this is translated into public policy is a matter for prudential judgment. But it’s clear from other aspects of the Church’s social teaching that Catholics must be careful not to under­mine any person’s right to self-determination and autonomy, as has been witnessed by some forms of welfare assistance.

The principle of social justice combines the notion that persons are responsible for exercising their freedom to obtain the goods of life, and that these goods are propor­tionate to their inherent dignity. But there are some who cannot obtain these goods without assistance. One of the most contentious issues in modern politics is the question of what and how much should be provided by the community or the state.

Catholic social teaching does not justify the growth of a federal welfare state. A wealthy state that provides for the less fortunate is to be preferred to the socialist state where everyone is equally poor. The goal of Catholic social teach­ing is to provide the conditions for persons to obtain the goods appropriate to the dignity of their existence.

One way in which the government can most appropriately weed out the roots of poverty is through a sound fis­cal policy. At a minimum, the Church advocates regulated income levels and working conditions that promote self-respect and self-sufficiency: “The amount a worker receives must be sufficient, in proportion to available funds, to allow him and his family a standard of living consistent with hu­man dignity” (Pacem in Terris, 20).

The federal government should also enact legislation that motivates the unemployed to move from the welfare lines to the workforce. We should not embrace policies that encourage the unemployed to become dependent on the government, thereby losing their incentives to be­come self-sufficient.

Health Care

“Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good. Concern for the health of its citizens requires that society help in the attainment of living conditions that allow them to grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance” (CCC 2288).

The number of uninsured in our country continues to be a major problem. As Catholics, we are called to respect the dignity of people by defending their basic right to health care. The principle of subsidiarity teaches that government must become involved when there is a problem that cannot be solved at the local level.

Throughout this country’s history, Catholic hospi­tals—622 as of 2002—have steadfastly fulfilled the moral obligation to care for the sick. But faith-based medical ser­vices, along with publicly funded hospitals and clinics, are strained to take care of the uninsured.

Insured patients are also financially strained to meet the rising costs of health care. Most rely on their employee benefit plans, which are less expensive than private insur­ance policies. However, the costs are still high, and some companies are scaling back their benefit programs. Other companies and professions do not offer any benefits at all.

Another health-care issue that has surfaced is that of conscience protections. Following the passage of Roe v. Wade, Congress protected the rights of health organiza­tions and providers to refuse to perform abortions under the conscientious objection principle. Today, this question is returning with a vengeance.

In recent years, “reproductive rights” advocates have pushed for expanded health-care coverage that would force all employee health plans to include contraception and “emergency contraception.” The Catholic health-care ministry is based on the protection of life and preservation of the dignity of people. Procedures that are contrary to this mission (abortion, euthanasia, and contraception) cannot be provided by Catholic hospitals or supported by Catholic health-care plans.

Religious Liberty

“This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that . . . no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits” (Dignitatis Humanae, 2).

Because they are created by God, human beings have an intrinsic dignity. Their desire to practice religion is an expression of their dignity and must be considered a fun­damental human right. Since religious belief is not uniform, the duty to respect religious liberty requires tolerance and respect for pluralism. The state must govern in a manner that allows full religious expression according to the dic­tates of the particular faith.

The goal of religious liberty is twofold: freedom of re­ligious expression and suppression of those individuals or groups who would impose their beliefs on others. Protec­tion of the common good can take precedence over an in­dividual’s right to religious expression. Therefore, religious liberty does not protect those who promote violent demon­strations of faith or call people to commit violent acts.

The issue that most people identify with religious liberty—the display of religious symbols—is the easiest to resolve. The founding of America was rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings that were incorporated into our legal system and fundamental democratic charter and documents. In this regard, the distinct influence of the Ten Command­ments cannot be ignored.

In the interest of respecting the complementary prin­ciples of religious tolerance and respect for historic tra­ditions, the Ten Commandments have long been posted in our public places. Likewise, Christmas manger scenes should be allowed in public places along with menorahs or other symbols that show respect for religious tradi­tions. Recently the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance has come under attack, signifying the intent of secularizers to remove any symbol or mention of religion from the public arena.

During the past 35 years, government authorities have implicitly established secularism as an official state religion. Secularism has taken many forms: the removal of voluntary religious instruction in public schools; the banning of voluntary private prayer in public schools; employment dis­crimination against those who openly practice their faith; the promotion of an atheist “ethos”; and mandatory con­traceptive coverage in health plans. “It is therefore difficult . . . to accept a position that gives only atheism the right of citizenship in public and social life, while believers are, as though by principle, barely tolerated or are treated as sec­ond-class citizens” (Redemptor Hominis, 17).

For the first 125 years of the American experience, government authorities relied upon the charitable work performed by faith-based organizations. It is only in more recent years that government social-service and education agencies have withheld financial support.

This is discriminatory. Secular organizations and faith-based organizations should play on a level playing field in competing for government funds. However, faith-based or­ganizations that accept government funding must not be forced to sacrifice their religious liberties. A Catholic ma­ternity center that receives a government grant must not be required to hire an abortion advocate.


“Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own country, and, where there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there” (Pacem in Terris, 25).

Persons emigrate from one country to another for a va­riety of reasons. It may be for reasons of stark persecution, the desire to escape poverty, or to seek greater opportunity. The Church views immigration as a right that should be recognized by every nation. That right is rooted in the be­lief that each person should have access to the basic goods that constitute the universal common good.

The willingness for one country to accept persons across the borders and offer them a home is emblematic of the unity of the human family and an act of human soli­darity. Some political leaders have spared no effort to re­strict—and, in some cases, end—legal immigration to the United States. They argue that new immigrants do not as­similate to the American way of life and pose a threat to the jobs of U.S. citizens.

Some immigrants may just need time to adjust to American life and culture. In fact, a period of living in eth­nic communities may be what immigrants need to prepare for mainstream society. Given the core of Catholic social teaching, any political candidate who impedes this process or betrays a hostile attitude toward immigrants would be found wanting.

The prosperity of the United States is not only attrac­tive; according to the Catechism it places a special obliga­tion on its citizens and elected representatives: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (CCC 2241).

The Church also recognizes that a country has the right to monitor and set reasonable limits on immigration, espe­cially now when the threat of terrorist infiltration raises con­cerns about immigrants from the Middle East. The United States may also protect its cultural patrimony, which some ply intelligence when making decisions that affect the immigrants to America do not share. But citizens should not fall into nationalist rhetoric that would reject most immi­grants both now and in the future.

The Environment

“Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray” (Centesimus Annus, 37).

Man’s relationship with the environment is subject to various principles of Catholic social teaching, such as soli­darity and prudence, and the preferential option for the poor. The Church does not think environmental issues can be resolved through economic or scientific means alone—the underlying moral and cultural causes must be addressed if changes are to become permanent.

Since creation, the Church teaches, men and women have been made the stewards of this world. Despite this authority, we do not have an unfettered rule over the environment. Our control is subject to the same restrictions that are imposed on governing bodies: Just as governments serve to protect the common good, so too must we recognize our solidarity with nature.

Prudence requires that nations and their leaders apply intelligence when making decisions that affect the environment. Unfortunately, some are more concerned with meeting their economic and consumer goals than in responsibly carrying out their stewardship roles. As a result, the common good has been threatened from an array of environmental issues, including pollution and nuclear waste.

Arguably the more significant factor in environmental crises has been the rise of consumerism and over-consump­tion: “In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these cause. Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative conse­quences of the careless habits of a few” (John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis).

Rather than addressing issues of protecting natural re­sources or curbing consumerism, the affluent nations tend to focus more on reducing third-world birth rates. Foreign aid packages that are sent to Africa from USAID and other federally funded relief organizations often contain materi­als directed toward population control, such as contracep­tion and voluntary sterilization. Even if these initiatives were successful, the impact on the environment would not be nearly as significant as reduced consumption. The sheer number of people is not the problem. Some of the most densely populated areas of the world are both affluent and ecologically secure.

To be fair, the leaders of the developed world have tak­en steps to curb their excessive consumerism. But men and women, the natural stewards of all creation, must continue to focus their creativity on more responsible development: “Even as humanity’s mistakes are at the root of earth’s travail today, human talents and invention can and must assist in its rebirth and contribute to human development” (USCCB, Renewing the Earth).

Published in Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2006

Why Catholics Should Reject the Jesus Seminar

Published December 1, 1999

Deal W. Hudson

Normally the average Catholic need not worry about a group of academicians who meet every year to discuss the “historicity” of the Gospels. These debates have been going on inside ivy walls for over a century. But with the recent national road-show of the Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 and led by Protestant scholar Robert W. Funk, we are witnessing more than innocuous speculation for the initiated few—we are witnessing a well-funded, public assault on the Jesus Christ held in faith by the Church.

For the past 15 years, the members of the Jesus Seminar, composed of a who’s who of colleges, universities, and seminaries, have met annually to vote on the words and deeds of Jesus they consider to be historically accurate. They have come to the conclusion that more than 82 percent of what he said in the four Gospels is not historically accurate. Of the deeds of Jesus in the Gospels, 176 in number, only ten are historical. Thus, Jesus was not resurrected from the dead and did not pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus, as taught by the Jesus Seminar, is a not a Savior whose redemptive death is the way of our salvation but rather an ancient cynic philosopher with some interesting things to say about the importance of love and relationships. This message is something the “Jesus Seminar on the Road” is taking to the Christian layperson across the country. Its two-day seminars have or will be offered in California, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, British Columbia, Rhode Island, and Ohio. I became concerned about them when some Catholic friends of mine attended a seminar at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and came back very confused.

Everyone knows that our Protestant brethren are more savvy when it comes to matters of biblical authority and interpretation than average Catholics in the pew. Catholics, it seems to me, have a strong but vague reverence for the words of Scripture. They lack exposure to the direct attacks on the authority of Scripture, while being more familiar with the dissenters’ attacks on the authority of the Magisterium. What Catholics need to realize is that Catholic dissenters, having failed in their attack on the Magisterium, have now begun using the avenue of the scriptural controversies raised by the Jesus Seminar. The literature of dissent is becoming more and more steeped in the appeals to Scripture understood historically apart from the faith of the Church.

This strategy is most clever. At the heart of the scholarly debate is a blatant challenge to the centuries-old faith of the Church, and indeed the entire Christian community. These attacks, under the guise of scholarly pursuits, threaten to undermine the living and apostolic faith in the Per-son, Divinity, and mission of Christ; the Church He founded; and the authority of the pope.

If the consensus of the Jesus Seminar prevails, the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John will be dismissed as mythical elaborations of the real Jesus found in Mark and a hypothetical document known as “Q,” itself a controversial and much-debated document whose existence remains speculative.

At the heart of the debate is the question of whether Matthew and Luke rely on the Gospel of Mark and Q (the “Two-Source” theory). If Mark is the earliest Gospel and the source for the others, then something has to account for the presence in Matthew and Luke of what is not found in Mark, thus the necessity of Q.

The place given to Q as a source of Jesus’s sayings has led some scholars to accept the importance of the Gospel of Thomas, an apocryphal Gospel discovered in 1945 but written in the late-second to fourth century. Thomas, like Q, contains nothing about Jesus’s redemptive death and resurrection but rather absurd sayings, such as:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

If the Jesus Seminar vision of Christianity were to prevail, we would be left with a very strange Jesus indeed. And in the name of scholarship and enlightenment, these scholars would leave us less in our Church and in our Faith than what they have left us of Jesus’s words and deeds.

‘The Right Is Mean, and the Left Is Foul’

Deal W. Hudson
Published April 2, 2009

The rising temperature of the debate over President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Notre Dame has created some heated rhetoric on both sides. Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg criticized Notre Dame’s decision but was himself criticized for complaining about the “uncivil and venomous” comments made by those opposing the honor being bestowed on President Obama.

Bishop Lynch is exactly right in raising this concern. Here is what he says:

The rhetoric being employed is so uncivil and venomous that it weakens the case we place before our fellow citizens, alienates young college-age students who believe the older generation is behaving like an angry child, and they do not wish to be any part of that, and ill-serves the cause of life (emphasis added).

Granted, some will label as uncivil any assertion about the truth of the Catholic Faith. These tactical accusations of incivility are exactly what they appear to be – an attempt to silence and discredit all who defend the Church. Putting that tactic aside, it does weaken our case for orthodoxy when it is couched in vicious name-calling, profanity, and unsupported generalizations.

Some say the coarseness of their rhetoric is justified by the truth they speak or by the crimes they decry, such as abortion. In my opinion, they either don’t care about persuading anyone who’s listening, or they don’t know they’re providing an excuse for people to ignore what they say. A good illustration of that approach is the effort of Randall Terry at Notre Dame. Terry has gone to such an extreme that Archbishop Raymond Burke had to dissociate himself from the use Terry was making of his comments.

The last thing orthodox Catholics need to do is bring discredit to a bishop who has the courage to speak his mind.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, another bishop who speaks his mind, recently spoke in an interview with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about his experience with e-mail rudeness. He attributes the vitriol to the “immediacy” of Internet communication, “which means we immediately speak out of our emotions rather than write a letter.” Just as important is anonymity behind which most people hide when making comments or posting on Web sites.

Some of the most vicious e-mails Archbishop Chaput has received, he says, are from “Catholic conservatives” who want him to excommunicate pro-abortion Catholic politicians. But he has noticed an interesting difference between how conservatives and liberals are impolite.

“The Left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that, call me names like that. The Right is meaner, but they’re not as foul.”

The Right is mean, and the Left is foul – that observation matches my experience in the virtual world. The Left often resorts to expletives to express their disapproval; whereas the Right, including Catholic conservatives, will indict your faith, your intelligence, and your love for your mother if you happen to disappoint them.

Rudeness has nearly become the rule, rather than the exception, on the Internet. Blogs, forums, e-mails, and comment sections are hothouses for the unedited savagery of the miscreant, the coward, and the Pharisee. Yet it is the place where we have chosen to speak with a Catholic voice. As Archbishop Chaput has said of his own reaction to hateful e-mails: “The Lord reminds us that we are sheep among wolves, but it’s important for us not to become wolves ourselves because of our experience.”

It’s a sore temptation to respond in kind to such attacks. Most Catholics will agree with Bishop Lynch and Archbishop Chaput that our best chance for changing minds and being successful evangelists is speaking with a tone of voice that offers no excuse to turn away.