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By Timothy J. Gordon
To His Excellency, Archbishop Charles Chaput: I submit the following non-rhetorical, non-sarcastic questions in the utmost spirit of bona fides and filial respect that is due to Your Excellency. I admire much of your work, especially your latest book, which offers American Catholics many uncommonly profound insights.
Like your other admirers, many of whom are readers of Church Militant and the Lepanto Institute, I was disappointed to see the vigor of your counter-attack in "Civility and Church Life," published in First Things, against these benevolent outfits. I pose the questions below because I detect that your recent article bears just the slightest tincture of our epoch's moral relativism, even as the body of your admirable work stands starkly against relativism.
It has been admonished to judge an era not by its suppositions but by its presuppositions. If this is so, then our era's inverse valuation of content and tone, in arguments and disagreements, betrays its relativistic, anti-adversarial skepticism. Confrontation nowadays is a thing outlawed. And as is all too common in our day, relativism rather than truth may have been, I fear, served through your article's unintentional inversion in priority of a "first thing" — the content of a disagreement between two parties (e.g., Church Militant and Fr. Martin) — and a "second thing" — the tone of discourse between those two parties. I expand upon what I mean generally in the first four questions and specifically in the fifth question below:
1) It seems self-evident and fitting, at times, to decry loudly the world's murderous ideologies like Marxism or Nazism; is it not all the more appropriate to loudly decry — as the Church used to do — deceptive ideologies that cost not lives but eternal souls? Given that the expression of frustration about the apparent tolerance of facially heterodox ideas within the modern Church is by its nature (admittedly, necessarily) imprecise, is then the expression of righteous indignation therefore entirely to be excised from public discourse? Should outrage be excised from the life of the Church? What of the moral outrage of, say, a Bellarmine or a Catherine of Siena? What would these two have said about Fr. Martin's beguiling claims to our brothers and sisters in the homosexual community?
2) Can it, in your deliberate judgment, ever be proportional anymore to label as "heretical" an idea fatal to souls (if sufficiently credible) — e.g., the idea that homosexuals are not called to chastity? After all, once an idea is labeled "heretical," its author becomes a putative "heretic," a decidedly uncivil epithet: Is this millennia-old ecclesial device morally consistent with your view of the categorical imperative, civility? One fears that absolutizing civility relativizes the faith and morals about which sons of the Church bandy.
3) What is a "cyber militia"? Since you apply this term to Church Militant and to the Lepanto Institute, and since neither of these groups constitutes an actual militia, does this not constitute the non-collegial form of reproach of which you accuse them?
4) By all appearances, your books and articles share far more theological and philosophical ground with "cyber militias" like Church Militant and Lepanto Institute than with the work of Fr. Martin; yet you consistently express (mostly) fellow feeling for Martin and (mostly) scorn for Church Militant. How is one to account for this in terms of theology and philosophy? It is confusing.
5) How can intra-Catholic dialogue avoid the obfuscation — apparent everywhere in everyday relationships in 2017 — involving a righteously offended party being counter-accused of "harshness" after its direct address of a clearly errant party (supra)? This counter-accusation, not accidentally, comes to predominate any and all characterizations of the dispute thereafter. This seems to be the very goal of the rhetorical device, and it is used to effect almost everywhere in today's relativistic world. One cannot address the gardener, who left the gate open, without being accused of spite or vitriol. In other words, take this hypothetical: B definitely owes A an apology; A states to B the natural fact of his offense (perhaps with some emotion); B avoids redress by a form of counter-claim — a reference to A's tone, grammar, diction, punctuation, etc.; all bystanders will gang up on A. The secondary issue has swallowed the primary.
If Fr. Martin's modernist, villain-victim "shell game" somehow works on you, a faithful and knowledgeable Prince of the Church, how is there any reasonable hope for the continuing ecclesial parsing of orthodoxy from heresy? There is none. And without the capacity to root out error, like a canker from its own heart, the Church cannot survive.
This is how the tyranny of relativism seems to propagate itself, in 2017. In all candor, Your Excellency, you are "above" this emotionalist sort of reasoning. Ironically, it destroys — does not foster — the ability to "disagree without being disagreeable," the ability to do which is the very heart of civility. It is what I have striven to accomplish here, and what I expect from you, in good faith. Please, let our yes mean yes, and our no mean no.
I remain, Your Excellency, most respectfully yours in Christ,
Timothy Gordon, J.D., Ph.L., M.A.