The police were famously shocked to find gambling at Rick's.
And I'm shocked to discover that Catholic Exchange is vociferously defending Chris West.
But, let's take apart a few of the sillier comments made by the CE representative, Heidi Saxton:
Differences in Approach or Content?
1) She states that the differences between West and von Hildebrand amount to different blind men around an elephant, that is, it is merely a difference of approach, not content. You may remember that Mark Shea launched this trial ballon on Inside Catholic within the last 48 hours. It seems the Westians are trying to establish a solid meme in multiple channels before The Chris returns from his sabbatical.
Is it true?
Well, shockingly enough, my conclusion is "NO!" (Betcha' didn't see THAT coming, eh?)
This cannot be a problem of the blind man and the elephant because there can be no conflict between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, as John Paul II pointed out in Catechesi Tradendae #22.
It is useless to play off orthopraxis against orthodoxy... Nor is any opposition to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional doctrinal and systematic catechesis...This revelation is not however isolated from life or artificially juxtaposed to it. It is concerned with the ultimate meaning of life and it illumines the whole of life with the light of the Gospel, to inspire it or to question it.This is a question of doctrine - how it is presented without distortion. West, supposedly a great student of John Paul II, seems wholly unacquainted with papal writings outside of a very narrow scope.
So, West's position is that this is a problem of approach.
The von Hildebrand position is that this is a problem of content.
The two positions are not mutually reconcilable.
It's similar to the difference between a clinician telling a general practice physician, "Your treatment is wrong because I wouldn't have prescribed that drug for pneumonia"
the clinician saying "Your treatment is wrong because the patient has a broken back, not pneumonia."
The first is a difference in approach.
The second is a difference concerning the facts.
Given that Saxton acknowledges, and West's own editor admits in a linked article, that some of West's positions are wrong, von Hildebrand's concerns are demonstrable and essentially admitted by all sides.
On the other hand, apart from repeated bald assertion by West supporters, there is no evidence West's contention is true. However, we must all remember the most important aspect to this part of the discussion: Joseph Goebbels' point that if you repeat a lie often enough, it is believed.
Does The End Justify The Means?
2) To say that many good people have come to Christ through TOB is really not relevant to the discussion. Catholics are not just concerned about ends - we also care about means.
To take a physical example, Christ has brought many people into existence through artificial insemination and rape, but this fact does not mean either artificial insemination or rape are therefore reasonable ways to give the gift of life.
To judge ONLY by the fruits is to implicitly accept the idea that the ends justifies the means. The continued harping on the fruits of West's work, with scant attention paid to his means, is itself a violation of how Catholics look at things.
How Thin is West's Skin?
3) Why would people take it personally when West feels himself treated in a trivial way? The very statement that this happens shows that the people who do this are not identifying with Christ so much as they are identifying with Chris - Christ without the "t", that is, Christ without His Cross, which is essentially what Chris preaches.
The inability to separate "doctrine" from delivery from deliverer is the definition of a personality cult. Indeed, Saxton herself virtually admits this. She points out that everyone agrees both of the von Hildebrands have done marvelous work in explaining the teachings of the Church, yet no one cares much if either one is somewhat marginalized. That is, Saxton admits that the personality cult does not exist for either of the von Hildebrands.
The very fact that this personality cult exists for West, that all sides agree it exists, and that it seems to have been encouraged at every step, is a serious mark against those who defend and those who follow West.
Catholic Exchange Distorts Catholic Doctrine?
4) Saxton implies that the Church has, at some point, taught that sex is 'dirty.' She needs to substantiate that implication or retract it.
To say that people have this understanding of the Church is to simply state that they believe a falsehood. It is the case that Chris West has done nothing to dissuade people that the Church at one time taught this. In fact, in the seminars I've attended and the recordings I've heard of him, he has actively encouraged that understanding. But let us scale back the assertion to accommodate critics and just say he has done little to correct it.
The fact that he has done little to correct the misunderstanding is a standing indictment of West. He is playing roughshod with the truth in order to "identify" with his audience. Again, NO catechist is permitted to adulterate the truth in this way - it is a violation of John Paul II's teachings in Catechesi Tradendae, #30-31:
Thus, no true catechist can lawfully, on his own initiative, make a selection of what he considers important in the deposit of faith as opposed to what he considers unimportant, so as to teach the one and reject the other... It can also happen that a particular sort of language proves preferable for transmitting this content to a particular individual or group. The choice made will be a valid one to the extent that, far from being dictated by more or less subjective theories or prejudices stamped with a certain ideology, it is inspired by the humble concern to stay closer to a content that must remain intact. The method and language used must truly be means for communicating the whole and not just a part of "the words of eternal life"(80) and the "ways of life."(81)Questions concerning the appropriateness of West's language are thus very apropos. As can be seen from the above quote, the Holy Father himself was concerned that the catechist's language must communicate the whole truth, that it must not be driven by "subjective theories."
But West's only defense for his language is the purely subjective theory that he needs to use such language in order to reach people. He has provided no evidence to show that this is true, neither empirical nor formal.
Given the following facts:
- Pauline Books and Media blog TOB offensive (four articles in 48 hours),
- Mark Shea's recent "coming out" article with Inside Catholic on TOB (and remember, he constantly professes to know nothing about TOB), and
- this Catholic Exchange series on TOB,
- All of these happening in the same week
Look for more spin in more venues - the next likely places are the Ignatius Press blog and probably something from Catholic Marketing Network to the Catholic bookstore community. Also, something from Maximus (a spinoff of Catholic Exchange) is probably in the works.
If they can figure out how to twist EWTN into this, they'll be on a roll.
Watch for the following points to be repeated ad nauseam:
- the West controversy is just one of approach, not content,
- the argument is not very important,
- West is being personally attacked and can't defend himself because he's "on sabbatical",
- West detractors are mean