Make popcorn, then read! Ed Peter’s eviscerates Maureen Dowd.

The Canonical Defender, Prof. Ed Peters, has drawn the ire of the Id of the Washington Beltway, the atrabillious Maureen Dowd.

My emphases and comments:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Oh no! Maureen Dowd doesn’t seem to like me!

America’s 43rd most influential liberal doesn’t seem to like me, and that’s a scary thought. Not.

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times is well-known for her acerbic (sometimes snide) writing style, [That’s a nice way to put it.] and for her frequent substitution of ad hominem attacks for sustained and reasonable argument. Such writing appeals, I guess, to those taxed by thinking but amused by rudeness, but beyond seeing her popularity as yet another example of De gustibus, I don’t get it. [I’m glad Prof. Peter’s is on our side!]

In any case, Dowd’s June 18 NYT column ridiculing New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan for his stand against New York’s endorsement of “gay marriage” is nothing if not vintage Dowd. She scarcely engages Dolan’s reasoning, but disses Dolan as “the Starchbishop” (real grown-up writing, that) and attacks his Church as being “a haven for gay priests” that essentially ignores “the right of a child not to be molested by the parish priest”.*

With a predictability that borders on banality, Dowd thrice-in-one-column hurls the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the face of Catholics like Dolan who dare to take a stand on issues of morality contrary to the “spirit of the times” just as, in my recent Catholic World Report essay on the Cuomo-Communion controversy, I predicted would happen for the rest of our lives.

Dowd didn’t invent this style of attack, but she employs it with an excess that should embarrass even those who otherwise like her sassy shtick. Dowd does not blush from piggy-backing her “gay marriage” agenda onto the suffering of clergy abuse victims, like some politico attaching a dubious rider to a sure-to-pass bill in Congress, hoping to short-circuit a debate on the merits of the matter. Or maybe Dowd’s frequent reuse of such tactics is what happens when, as Belinda Luscombe opined in her Time report exploring whether Dowd had committed plagiarism, Dowd “plum runs out of inspiration on any given topic and falls back on less-than-original notions”. Either way, I say, let’s stick to the topic, and the topic, per Dowd, is the legalization of “gay marriage”, not clergy sexual abuse.

Fine, you ask, what does any of this have to do with me? I might have thought, nothing, except that Dowd decided to link my recent criticisms of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reception of Communion at a Mass celebrated by Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard (despite Cuomo’s open cohabitation with a woman not his wife), with Abp. Dolan’s criticism of efforts in the New York legislature to legalize “gay marriage”, the ‘link’ being that Cuomo is a strong proponent of “gay marriage” and would sign such a bill if it reaches his desk.

Okay, yes, I think that Cuomo’s signature on such a bill would add to his Communion-eligibility problems under Canon 915, but Abp. Dolan is not making that argument: he is arguing natural law on marriage and common sense, not sacramental discipline. (I know, I know, one would have to have read and understood Dolan’s arguments to see that point, but even if Dowd didn’t or doesn’t, some of her readers would have and do). So why does Dowd not discuss Dolan’s arguments on marriage in her article about Dolan on marriage, and later, if she wishes, tackle my arguments on holy Communion in an article about me and holy Communion (assuming I was worth her time in the first place)? Why smush these two strains together?

Because Dowd apparently thinks she has discovered some “ah-ha” contradiction in the Church’s logic. She writes:“Therein lies the casuistry. On one hand, as Peters told The Times about Cuomo and Lee, ‘men and women are not supposed to live together without benefit of matrimony.’ But then the church denies the benefit of marriage to same-sex couples living together.”  [CRICKETS CHIRPING]


That’s not right. That doesn’t even rise to level of being wrong. Instead, that’s what comes from someone who is not even pretending to be interested in what the other side actually holds.

* Memo to MD: You might want to temper your insinuations that “gay priests” are linked to clergy child abuse, or, as you state later in your column, that it is “absurd” to deny a link between homosexuality and sexual misconduct. Considerable effort has gone into denying any connection between homosexuality and/or the gay life style with sexual exploitation of youth, and your comments in this article undermine those efforts.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Dr. K says:

    Dr. Peters is my hero :-)

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    The New York Times now expects people to pay them for the pleasure of reading more than twenty articles per month. I hope that Ms. Dowd’s excursions into the realm of the sophomoric can be made not to count against the total, perhaps by means of a separate browser cookie.

  3. Tom says:

    Black bile. Yes, that’s about right.

  4. All the more reason that we need to clean up the seminaries and the personal lives of the clergy. The past liberal agenda within the churches has led to the liberal press turning aginst their own when it suits their needs. Kuddoes for Archbishop Dolan and his frank, gentle and humorous openness to the Gospel values.

  5. teomatteo says:

    …his divorce and his living in “sin” with the Food Network star Sandra Lee. (Dowd)
    The fact that Dowd used quotations are sin and not around the word star says it all.

  6. benedetta says:

    Since Pres. Bush left office I think she has been rather adrift, looking for new targets to accomplish her mission of turning us into a one party country. If she had any faith at all I do not think she would say half of what she says with such apparent relish.

    But this piece is loaded with time-honored anti-Catholic bigotry. The sort of stuff that plagued the Irish and refused welcome to our shores at one time. Caricatures of Archbishops, the notion of “casuistry”, all the favorite stereotypes. It is textbook bigotry and broadcast readily and widely from the good old Times. I guess if you can’t win an argument you have to smear, any unethical institution will do as much.

    Expect successive columns with similar caricature of Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, fallen away of various affiliation, environmentalists. If she was having a legitimate discussion based on the facts about those who oppose what she wants then I guess she will have to include, well, everyone.

    If she had such a fine moral conscience that directs necessity to speak out against all forms of injustice, then she would not happily exclude the innocent unborn from the benefits of justice. Perhaps she is one of those feminists who feels that her very status and achievements, her dignity as a woman rests upon the ability to kill offspring. Obviously there have always been feminists who well predate that horrendous and macabre casuistry and there always will be feminists who were not duped by the propaganda. I hope that she does not cry when she reads this.

  7. robtbrown says:

    Although I disagree with her main arguments, Dowd nevertheless makes an oblique point: Because of the sexual scandals in the priesthood the laity is not all that interested in hearing what the clergy has to say about morality. I still don’t think that bishops and priests realize the damage that has been done.

    In fact, I heard loyal Catholics complain that JPII was harping about the morality among the laity at the same time there was serious moral failure within his own clergy.

  8. Maltese says:

    “atrabillious: Adjective: Melancholy or ill-tempered.”

    I love it! Great word, Father! I love words that say in one word would normally take five to say.

  9. Andrew says:


    Accusare avaritiam et latro potest. Sacerdotis Christi os, mens, manusque concordent. (S. Hieronymus, ep. LII)

  10. AnAmericanMother says:

    Well, we’re doomed then.
    Jerome was talking about the individual priest’s responsibility to practice what he preaches, not some sort of collective responsibility on the part of any given priest or bishop for the misdeeds of every other priest and bishop in the world. The idea that Abp. Dolan cannot speak or teach because somebody, somewhere, did something horrible, is an idea that the media simply LOVES because it silences criticism that they don’t want to hear. And they will not let that idea go, regardless of how hard the Church tries to clean house or how many safeguards the Church puts in place. They will find something, or if they can’t find anything they will continue to throw past scandals and even invented scandals in our faces.
    We will never be able to ensure that every single priest (or for that matter every single layman) leads an upright, sober and Godly life, and if every Catholic is to be blamed for that, as I said, we’re doomed.

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    And this is also why the Church is wasting its time enacting draconian penalties and lack of due process on accusations. It’s the same impulse that leads certain politicians to think that if they just do thus-and-so, the media will finally LIKE them.
    They won’t. They never will — at least not unless you change your core beliefs to conform to their views. You are wasting your time.
    Plus of course (as in another context with the ethics allegations against Palin), once the enemies of the Church discover that they can use a process to harass and attack and abuse . . . they will use it with abandon. They are not constrained by any moral considerations, the ends justify the means.

  12. While atrabillious is a great word, the word that springs to my mind with Ms Dowd is always ‘incoherent’ – I’ve tried following her train of thought (such as it is), and I was always left wondering how anyone so incoherent gets a job writing for an organ that supposes itself to be upholding some journalistic standards. I guess she must be saying, in her frothing way, what her editors want to hear.

    What concerns me is what kind of effect her writi9ng has – are there people out there who don’t already, using the term loosely, think like her who even read her? If so, would she convince anyone? Or is her harm in adding to the chimera of ‘educated consensus’? I really don’t know the answer.

  13. robtbrown says:

    American Mother,

    This is not merely a matter of the media against the Church–the media is only covering the scandals that involved criminal acts.

    This town has 4 parishes, and every one has had a scandal involving celibacy: In one case a priest, who used to leave every Tues with his secretary, left the priesthood and married. His replacement, who was a goof, was a practicing homosexual. HIS replacement was a popular, effective pastor who left after it was revealed a few years after going to another parish that he had been fooling around with a male who had been a high school student where the priest had been chaplain (of age–not a criminal act). Another pastor, 65 years years old, left to marry a parishioner.

    And I never said that someone like Abp Dolan cannot speak on morals. Rather, I said that the people are not listening.
    I do agree, however, that the draconian measures of the USCCB are mostly PR.

  14. So let me get this reasoning of Dowd’s.

    “Men and women are not supposed to live together without benefit of matrimony. But the Church won’t let necrophiliacs marry their favorite corpses and settle them down in a suburban lovenest.”

    “Men and women aren’t supposed to live together without benefit of matrimony. But the Church won’t let lonely farmers marry their sheep and cows and move them into the house. Not even one. Mean ol’ Church, insisting on sapience, humanity, and the ability to consent, much less all those pesky details of male and female.”

  15. mike cliffson says:

    Ed Peters, perhaps, and many commentators seem to be in the same , honorable , error that I thought was limited to the prewer generations (or at any rate presixties): the belief that truth and reason and logical thought have, even should have, much to do with the nature, let alone being the winner, of public debate and argument. In the long run , the copybook heading “the truth will out” comes thru- an example of the Lord of truth ruling in His own domains. Meanwhile, the more Godless, the worse it gets. Tweedledum and Tweedledee rule.

  16. robtbrown says:

    Mike Cliffson,

    I think we need to distinguish among various readers/listeners of debates. The Peters article isn’t necessarily written to convince Dowd or her crowd. What he says, however, can convince people who are confused by the current situations. It can also provide fuel for those who are already in agreement with the author.

    And your penultimate sentence has me confused: I don’t know whether you are referring to philosophy of history or Eschatology.

  17. Centristian says:

    @Robtbrown: “Because of the sexual scandals in the priesthood the laity is not all that interested in hearing what the clergy has to say about morality.”

    I think it may be true that the moral credibility of the clergy has been so eroded by the endless clergy scandals that were a priest to preach to his congregation with respect to some moral issue or other (especially of a sexual nature), many might well roll their eyes. I don’t know, though: I can’t remember the last time I heard a priest attempt to tackle anything morally controversial in a homily.

    Unfortunately, I think it’s true that the laity are in no mood any longer to be preached to by the clergy, whom they regard as a class of people even less morally credible than themselves. The situation is so much the opposite of what I remember as a young boy. I still retain whisps of childhood memory of the way the clergy were very much venerated by the Catholic laity “back in the day”, when they were still universally trusted and respected. When a priest entered a room, everyone stood up. Men removed their hats when greeting them. And Catholics expected to be preached to from the pulpit on issues of morality. And I’m speaking of the early 1970s, now. That was already beginning to change.

    Today, the Roman Catholic priest is a punchline, even in the minds of Roman Catholics. Alas, it seems the clergy are going to have to, as a class, work across time to rebuild and to regain the respect and trust of the laity before they can credibly preach to them about issues concerning personal morality once again. Imagine a guest arriving at your home 25 minutes late for dinner, unsuitably dressed, filthy and unshowered, and then having the nerve to complain that your cutlery doesn’t match.

    This is one good reason (of many good reasons) why the Church should be positively insisting upon the reform of the liturgy. While the clergy’s words may, today, in many cases fall upon deaf ears, their actions (for better or for worse) are noticed. Were a contemporary parish priest to desist with sermons altogether and simply reform his manner of celebrating Mass on Sunday to recapture the traditional ethos and majesty of the Roman Liturgy, he would soon enough have people coming to him to ask his take on this moral issue or that, so impressed would they be by his priesthood. So impressed would they be by the Catholic priesthood, itself, in a way that their parents and grandparents once were. If this generation could see in the priesthood what previous generations once saw, people would hearken to their words, once more.

    Let the Catholic clergy clean up its tattered image by reforming its own approach to liturgy and by reclaiming for itself the traditional meaning and importance of the priesthood (an approach that will greatly temper alot of the actual immorality, incidentally). Mean something, and show us that you mean something. Once we’re convinced, again, that you acually mean something (because we are not at all convinced of that, today), we’ll begin to respect you and to trust you and, one day, even to listen to you preach to us again. One day, we’ll not only tolerate your sermons, we’ll welcome them.

  18. Fr Martin Fox says:

    American Mom:

    Without dismissing your concern, we’re not doomed. We’ve always had clergy who failed, and we’ve always had enemies who made the most of that fact.

    As far as the penalties against errant clergy…what discourages me is that, amidst the many needed reforms, there is so little interest in due process for priests.

  19. shane says:

    Robtbrown: “In fact, I heard loyal Catholics complain that JPII was harping about the morality among the laity at the same time there was serious moral failure within his own clergy.”

    That is an excellent point.

    Wikipedia has a list of John Paul II’s apologies here:

    One thing that really stands out for me is that while John Paul II had no problem apologizing for the sins of Catholics in the past (the Inquisition, the Crusades, Gallileo etc.) he never seemed to make many apologies for his own personal failures — both as a pastor and as a pope.

    It’s easy (and arguably rather pointless) to apologize for the faults of others. It takes considerably more courage to recognize your own personal shortcomings and ask forgiveness from those you’ve wronged. I may be wrong but I can’t recall a single instance of John Paul II ever doing this — at least publicly.

    John Paul II viewed uncritically both the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reforms that followed it as perfectly good things in and of themselves and seemed reluctant to consider their imperfections. In declaring the excommunication of Archbishop Lefebvre, he made much about the Archbishop’s duty of obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and his violation of canon law, but likewise seemed hesitant to concede that Lefebvre had many valid points.

    He also spoke about the crisis in the Church, but did not recognize his own culpability (or that of his predecessors) in sustaining that crisis.

    The Vatican should make a serious examination of conscience for its own part in the paedophile abuse scandal and the wider crisis afflicting the Church since the 60s, liturgical and doctrinal.

  20. robtbrown says:

    Fr Martin,

    I agree with what you say. My point is that these problems cannot be blamed on the Church’s secular enemies. The New York Times didn’t cause the sexual scandals, the Protestantization of the liturgy, and the collapse of the seminaries/religious orders.

  21. AnAmericanMother says:

    I guess we’re fortunate in our diocese . . . your area sounds kinda snakebit. Is there some overarching explanation?
    I don’t necessarily disagree with your points . . . I was trying to make a different point and probably didn’t make myself clear. Where I do disagree with you is that the media is supposedly only covering ‘criminal acts’. They are covering criminal acts, ancient history, allegations, rumors, and outright fabrications, accepting just about anything that anybody alleges as indictment, conviction, and sentence.
    While it is true that the Church shot itself in the foot on this and many other issues, that’s a given and there’s nothing anybody can do to change the past. What’s not a given is how others react to it, and how the Church can best address restoring/regaining damaged trust and credibility. THAT is where the New York Times et al. and the Church’s reaction to their continued attacks comes in.
    Insofar as the bishops’ efforts to clean up the fallout from the molestation scandal are directed as cleanly as possible at helping the victims AND preventing any recurrence by identifying the causes and addressing them, it’s absolutely necessary and a good thing. Insofar as their efforts are directed at public relations and political considerations, they are doomed to failure. No public relations campaign will ever assuage the media, the trial lawyers, dissenters, and others who stand to gain from the mulcting and/or destruction of the Church. And to the extent the bishops are considering political correctness or political expedience rather than the truth, their efforts will backfire because the same suspects will exploit the opportunities created.

  22. Charles E Flynn says:

    *crickets chirp*

    Please note that mugs, t-shirts and magnets with this definition are available.

  23. claiborneinmemphis says:

    @American Mother:

    Well said, as usual.

    Succinct summary; well-thought-out commentary.

    And, most unfortunately, quite accurate.

  24. mike cliffson says:

    This is a bit off thread by now, nonetheless for the record :
    I believe it entirely right to expose, if wittily, so much the better,the lies and inconsistencies and illogicalities of the culture of death on the public square.One may and should hope to convince as many as possible,and leave it at least on record, but it is a mistake to take for granted that one will “win” in the eyes of “the world”: on the contrary, one may expect jeers and persecution. Have you seen the video of peter hithchens being booed at the bbc .(on triplew rhrealitycheck dot org) for pointing out truth about sex education etc, or, from reports, daily in your media?
    I’m not clever enough to be escatolical or even erudite or logical, just from 61 years on this world Ive seen the wordlywisdom of one of the “gods of the copybook headings” sayings :”Truth will out”* eventually, and I prefer to refer that to Christ, that’s all. One day that” eventually” will be the end times, sure.
    Had every single priest in the Anglosphere this past century been visibly simon pure and with cement underclothes,the media would still be following their most recent rolemodel, Dr Goebbels. with something real but irrelevant, exaggerated or a big lie.
    *A more Christian version might be “tell the truth and shame the devil”, and quite probably, get it inthe neck immediately afterwards in this life.
    And it’s getting worse.Never mind.It’s the next life that counts.

  25. robtbrown says:

    AnAmericanMother says:
    I guess we’re fortunate in our diocese . . . your area sounds kinda snakebit. Is there some overarching explanation?

    Are you sure this diocese is so different? Maybe I’m just aware of what has happened.

    Where I do disagree with you is that the media is supposedly only covering ‘criminal acts’. They are covering criminal acts, ancient history, allegations, rumors, and outright fabrications, accepting just about anything that anybody alleges as indictment, conviction, and sentence.

    Isn’t that the MO of the media? Didn’t most TV media outlets say that the public demonstrations for democracy in Egypt caused Mubarak’s exit? Of course, it turned out to be little else than a military coup.

    How many times have we heard: “If convicted on all counts, Joe Schmoe could receive a sentence of up to 85 years.” They fail to mention that simple probation could also follow from conviction.

    You might have noticed that after JFK, jr, stuck his plane in the ocean, the national news decided to report every crash of a small plane for the next two weeks.

    And now the Anthony murder trial is often the lead story on the national news. It’s a terrible tragedy, but I fail to see its national significance.

    Maybe you git the jist . . .

    I have no doubt that many members of the media are liberal and love to see the Church unraveling, but few reporters are actually competent enough to understand the events they are covering (some are foreign correspondents–John F Burns is excellent). If you’ve ever known a news event from the inside (or known someone well who was directly involved in the event), you know how little reporters actually know about what happens. They fill in the gaps with sensationalism, ideology–or both.

  26. robtbrown says:


    JPII was a complex figure, who ascended the throne of Peter in dire circumstances and made a substantial contribution to the Church. Did he disappoint in not doing more to reform the Church, incl the liturgy? Yes, but remember this: No Papa Wotyla, no Papa Ratzinger.

  27. benedetta says:

    Agree with robtbrown. But it is interesting where priests feel a chilling effect about addressing the moral life with their flocks at parish level that people seem hungry for guidance and seek after it from priests and knowledgeable lay leaders alike. It is somewhat dubious this idea that lay people want “the Church to stay out of bedrooms” which totally prevents pastoral communication of basic truths, some totally uncontroversial, at all. If a priest feels sidelined for whatever reason then there are other very good avenues and resources which may be offered, say, to help couples convinced or curious of the wisdom of Church teachings after laboring under the baggage of the mainstream porn culture or the one that says that women should take all sorts of artificial substances, and not just Catholics are seeking relief from this but atheist environmentalists as well. There seems to be an overall failure to acknowledge current events, to flexibly respond to what is happening, which is mired in political polarization and not in pastoral concerns at all. If it was pastoral it would not shirk from what is happening in order to please a lockstep agenda which has failed Catholics on many levels for quite some time now. Obviously the theology currently offered in many places is a disconnect. If the emphasis is on the fact that we are all equally sinners before God in need of healing and mercy, then, confession should be preached and offered mercifully all the more so. But instead it is essentially withdrawn. In many places people receive the sacrament the one time in their lives and never again, period and this is very common. The same goes for the Eucharist. If we are all sinners all of these legitimate and helpful means, to overcoming what the sinner himself as determined as a matter of conscience he will need sacramental help in order to overcome and stay or grow along the path, should be offered, more reverently and that much more. Not less. And this could be done regardless of whether a priest feels he may preach prolife from the pulpit, or not for whatever reason.

  28. AnAmericanMother says:

    For my sins, and for various reasons familial and professional, I was well aware of the goings on in this archdiocese. Long before I was Catholic. I was also aware of all the goings on in the Episcopal diocese, including who among the higher clergy had boyfriends or preferred teenage boys, who was an ‘item’ in the choir, and when the cathedral became a well known homosexual hookup site (where do you think all the limericks about Anglican clergy came from, anyhow?)
    But the media had and still has absolutely NO interest in any of that, since TEC hews to the media’s preferred party line on all moral and political issues.
    One of the reasons I converted was that I saw very early on that this archdiocese did not flinch from taking steps to clean up the mess, while the Episcopalians not only didn’t do anything about the mess, they denied there was a mess, and still don’t see that there’s a mess.

  29. pjsandstrom says:

    As the New York Times has its Maureen Dowd, so the Boston Globe has its James Carroll.

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