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A Catholic “Culture Warrior” Print E-mail
By James Flynn   
Thursday, 28 July 2011

Michael Sean Winters has a tough job. A regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter and America magazine, he speaks for the strain of American Catholicism that most identifies with the generation that embraced the Age of Aquarius. Unfortunately for Winters and others, that constituency is dying out. As the “new faithful” come of age, and “evangelical bishops” are appointed to influential positions, the Church in the United States is experiencing what John Paul II elegantly called “the springtime of a new evangelization.”

If this is the Church’s new springtime, Winters is aptly named. His newspaper, which claims, in the “inspiration of the Second Vatican Council,” to possess an “independent” spirit, is struggling to stay germane to Catholics now being evangelized by priests, bishops, and laity who seek not an “independent” spirit, but a Holy Spirit, intimately familiar with the Father and the Son.

Despite growing obsolescence, however, Winters presses on, struggling to stir up distrust and opposition to the Church’s magisterial hierarchy. Sometimes doing so requires a kind of intellectual gymnastics that, were it not so sad, would be impressive.

Consider Winters’ NCReporter blog post last Tuesday, “Chaput: The Problem with Culture Warrior Bishops.” The piece suggests that Archbishop Charles Chaput, newly appointed to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has chosen for his ministry “paternalistic” cultural skirmishes, rather than a life of pastoral engagement.

The evidence for this is quite scant. Unsurprisingly, Winters mentions that during the past few years Archbishop Chaput offered public commentary on Notre Dame’s honoring of pro-choice President Obama, and that he made a pastoral decision about the Catholic-school education of children from homosexual families. He spins these two decisions, of course, as scowling, paternalistic, intolerant, and discriminatory. Chaput, says Winters, is more apt to “throw bombs” than “provide balm.”

Anyone who knows Archbishop Chaput knows how ridiculously off-base this is. Just watch Chaput on television or YouTube. He looks far more like a grinning schoolboy than churlish headmaster. Listening to him talk, you often have the feeling that a self-deprecating joke is waiting just beyond his serious point. And it often comes. 


         Archbishop Charles Chaput

But the ad hominem aside, Winters’ argument just doesn’t hold together. First of all, he doesn’t know enough about Chaput’s stance on the issues he cites to judge whether they were born from and handled with pastoral sensitivity. Pastoral care is directed towards salvation, not comfort. That Chaput takes uncomfortable positions doesn’t mean he’s not pastoral. If Winters means that Chaput isn’t polite, he certainly doesn’t provide much evidence. If Winters means that Chaput is improperly “paternalistic,” he’s forgotten that the bishop is ordained to be a patriarch, a father in faith.

On Catholic school admissions, Winters offers a counter-argument to Chaput’s position, and then inexplicably states that the only reason Chaput might disagree with him is “to score a point in the culture wars.” Perhaps Winters has forgotten, or his readership requires him to forget, that reasonable people can disagree on policy matters, and for motives grounded purely in reason – or that charity requires presumption of good intentions – not the attribution of evil motives to support a thesis. The tactic Mr. Winters uses is classical circular reasoning, which makes all judgments but his “intolerant.”

On Notre Dame, Archbishop Chaput stated that Catholic universities are bound to observe Catholic policy, and uphold Catholic doctrine, at all times. Winters’ response is to suggest that a pro-abortion stance might be less significant because President Obama is not Catholic, and condescendingly to point out that, were the president not invited to Notre Dame, African-American Catholics might be offended. Does Winters prefer Catholics be told the truth, or risk feeling bad?  

More fundamentally, Winters’ problem is the presumption that a bishop cannot lead a diocese in a public, vocal way, and also engage it pastorally. The people of Philadelphia, he says, “need someone who can focus like a laser beam on the ‘ad intra’ difficulties facing a local Church…not someone who seems only to be stirred by ‘ad extra’ concerns. But why can’t a capable bishop do both?

If you’re writing for a newspaper whose “inspiration” is the Second Vatican Council, you should be familiar with Christus Dominus, the Vatican II decree on the life and ministry of bishops. This document calls on bishops to use the media to “seek out men and both request and promote dialogue with them” and to “faithfully direct and coordinate all the works of the apostolate in the diocese.” In other words, Vatican II calls bishops to engage in both “ad intra” and “ad extra” concerns. 

In the judgment of the Holy Father, it seems, Archbishop Charles Chaput can do just that, and his  track record confirms it. He is equally comfortable among the poor and in the halls of power. He has supported, with equal zeal, a traditional defense of marriage and the rights of undocumented workers. He is as adept in building Catholic seminary culture as he is in advising political leaders. It would be unfair to characterize him as focused on matters inside or outside the Church, or, for that matter, “liberal” or “conservative.” Like the Holy Father himself, Archbishop Chaput defies labels.

Winters, though, abandons his sometimes more sophisticated touch to engage in flat caricature of Archbishop Chaput as a “culture warrior.” “In the culture war world,” he explains “all disagreement is total, it is always us vs. them, one always places the worst possible interpretation on other’s intentions.”  If this is the standard, it seems that Michael Sean Winters can teach Archbishop Chaput quite a few things about the ways of the culture warrior.

James Flynn, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a canon lawyer who lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

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Comments (14)Add Comment
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written by petebrown, July 27, 2011
Welcome to CT, JD!!! Good points. Let's not get too prematurely triumphalistic though with the idea that people in the Church that think like Winters are aging aquarians while people that think like Chaput are young, rising and ascendant. This, I fear, is a mirage.
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written by Martinkus, July 28, 2011
Yes, welcome to CT, JD. Thanks for your critique of Winters and his ilk. To add to petebrown's comment, as an employee of a Catholic institution in which orthodox Catholics are marginalized, if not harrassed, by the usual masking of an anti-Magisterium agenda with equivocations, ambiguities, and half-truths, I can assure you that it is a mirage that the Aquarians are fading away to any significant degree so far. They may be fighting for their lives, but they are doing so successfully, including by mentoring younger Aquarians. George Weigel recently pointed out the bright spots that the dioceses of Denver and Phoenix are. Would that the list were much, much longer--including my own diocese. Would that every orthodox Catholic that wants to serve his bishop would find support from that bishop. If present trends continue, even with "evangelical bishops" who are not yet making a big enough dent fast enough, there will only be more parish and school closings in the future.
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written by Ray Hunkins, July 28, 2011
It is indeed a mirage,petebrown. For example, I am old, descendant, and gravity is working its will....but I think like Chaput!
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written by JD, July 28, 2011
Pete- how are you, sir? Great to "see" you. I'm not sure this is an easy thing to quantify. I doubt CARA has a "proportion of young orthodox Catholics" study readily available. But we are experiencing considerable renewal in many Catholic institutions. Even our own, second, alma mater, on Michigan Avenue, is at the precipice of a beautiful renewal. So keep hope alive!
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written by petebrown, July 28, 2011
Well you know JD, that Winters is associated with CUA also as a visiting fellow!!!! And he's only a few years older than we are...not nearly an "aquarian" in other words.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for this renewal of which you speak. But I haven't seen it yet.

BTW What's CARA?
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written by Mouse, July 28, 2011
It angers me to hear the Archbishop insulted like that. Who do they think they are to speak of one of our shepherds, and a good one, like that? But Jesus said "no servant is greater than his master." If NCReporter is insulting Abp Chaput, he must be doing something right! :) We the younger generation who actually love the Church and her unchanging teaching are quite grateful--from what we see so far--for Abp Chaput.
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written by yorkrealist, July 28, 2011
To petebrown regarding "finding" the renewal: For what its worth---I am not sure what circles you "run" in, but as a 30-year old, rookie scholar and professor I find I often ONLY see Catholic renewal amongst students and young academics. The last six years I've been living in Europe, the UK and in the States. ALL of the Italians and Spanish I met and lived amongst were intensely involved in Fr. Guissani's movement Communion and Liberation (CL)--all seeking a love of the Mass, involving immense life transformations (relationships, sexuality, dignity, firmly principled). In the UK, the serious Catholic students INSIST on either the Novus Ordo in Latin or just plain Tridentine Mass. They are booky, and passionate about orthodoxy. Chesterton has found a (small) new generation there (though you wouldn't know it by catching British pop news.) In Germany, I was shocked to find the Tridentine Mass full with young euro-hipsters and a slow but growing following amongst university aged students to attach to the Fraternity of St. Peter. In the states, my experience has been on both the west and the east coast, young people are tired of wishy-washy toleration rhetoric. Their hearts ache under pop-cosmopolitan, liberal democracy. Both Catholic and Protestant students alike crave firm principle, a sense of the properly ordered sacred, they desire to worship, they desire fixed laws. I have been shocked to find blog after blog of 20-somethings chatting about proper liturgy, the Propers of the Mass in Latin, demanding modesty, etc. Finally, several of my closest friends are converts from Protestantism who have an infectious curiosity and insist on everything traditional. Three cheers for renewal!
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written by Deacon Jason Miller, July 28, 2011
Don't forget - it is DEACONS, priests, and bishops doing this work of the new evangelization. We frequently get left out in that line and we are a major part of the course correction taking place. During our training, my class of 48 frequently took on the handful of priests from the Age of Aquarius, as they spoke against Church teaching on marriage, contraception, and the correct interpretation of scripture. A few even tried to plant the seed with our wives that they had an unrecognized "right" to be ordained (happy to say our wives did not take the bait and opposed their assertion). The re-establishment of the permanent deaconate is vital!!
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written by JD, July 28, 2011
Pete- MSWinters is at LEAST 20 years older than I am, so speak for yourself on that one!! :-)

But to your broader point, I've been reflecting on it all day. I work in ministry on a national level, and I see good things going on in a lot of places, but I also recognize that I live in a unique place.

But here's the thing. +Dolan is PRESIDENT of the USCCB. +Burke is prefect of the Signatura. +Gomez is Archbishop of LA. "Evengelical" bishops are making a dent. Martin, I feel for you. But good bishops begat more bishops, and that's happening.

Pete- I'm pretty sure you've read Belitto's "Reform and Renewal." If you haven't, you should. I'm not a prophet, but I believe we're in a time of both, perhaps being borne out of the crises the American Church has weathered in the past 40 years.

JD
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written by JD, July 28, 2011
Deacon, a beloved friend and deacon called me to remind of jsut that this morning. I stand corrected!
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written by DA, July 29, 2011
Those who invoke the "spirit of Vatican II" have never read the documents. For example, the section on Sacred Music emphasizes the use of Gregorian chant.

What is called the "spirit of Vatican II" merely means the personal whims of the person (mis)using the term.

Truth and logic will contine to cast light upon the darkness, however, and the gates of hell will melt away (like poor Mister Winters).
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written by Mike Rooke, July 30, 2011
Mention of the use of Gregorian chant brings to mind the allegorical music of Christ's ascension in heaven which fades into plainsong denoting the Church temporal written by Mgr. Marco Frisina.. The music ASCENSIONE DEL SIGNORE by Mgr. Frisina, who is Rector of the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and is director of the Choir of the Diocese of Rome. Since 1991 he is the director of the Liturgical Office of the Vicariate of Rome and Master of the Pontifical Lateran Choir.
Many will have heard his music written for the Beatification of John Paul II.

Here is a you tube link for the video Ascensione del Signore (who) “was lifted up and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh-etC9qaVM

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written by Nancy D., July 31, 2011
Regarding the Signs of The Times, and our need to stay awake and always be ready to be culture warriors, I am wondering if you have a comment regarding the lack of clarity due to the lack of veracity in this statement of doublespeak from the YOUCAT that distorts and dismisses the Truth of our Faith, that can be found in the margin of page 224:

"The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins."
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written by Graham Combs, July 31, 2011
Archbishop Chaput reminds me of another, the late Cardinal John O'Connor. He was also vilified by the media when he came to New York. Yet in his demeanor and respect for others and pastoral care he could not have been more different from the image manufactured by Manhattan's cultural and political elites. A New Yorker then, I was mightily impressed. He contributed to my much later decision to become a Catholic. No one has mentioned his excellency's book, RENDER UNTO CAESAR. In another time, Archbishop Chaput would have been invited to lecture at prominent law schools on church/state relations. I had law professors and instructors who would have discovered in him a formidable constitutional mind. As someone who knows first hand about the scandals of the 60s and 70s, I also owe the archbishop belated gratitude for his work there as well. His excellency has been given tough assignments -- a kind of episcopal troubleshooter -- for which he will be given future grief by writers such as Mr. Winters. I have read the online text of one of the archbishop's press conferences with several reporters from a variety of news outlets -- he held his own in a way that, again, reminded me of Cardinal O'Connor. And, of course, there have been rumors and speculations about the future of the new Archbishop of Philadelphia. Perhaps therein lies the animus, even fear, directed toward him. I have my reservations, even disagreements, when American bishops speak en banc, but I've learned to look at them one at a time. In no small part thanks to this descendant of America's tribal peoples -- not a culture warrior, but a warrior for Christ and His Church. We need every one we can get. Thank you Mr. Flynn for your excellent defense. Although I suspect his excellency could be his own first chair.

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