Michael Sean Winters and the Mushy Middle

Michael Sean Winters didn’t enjoy his cameo in my Newsweek piece about Catholic politics in the wake of new revelations about sexual abuse scandals and their far-reaching cover-ups in the Church hierarchy. It’s a shame; I have read MSW for years and enjoyed his book.

But there a few things to think about.

One is that MSW loves to give Newsweek the agency of his criticism: “Newsweek Puts Me…” “Newsweek, in an article by Tim Fernholz, has accused me…” No, no.  Tim Fernholz, in an article published by Newsweek, has accused you of occupying the mushy middle. And my meaning should be pretty clear: MSW and Peggy Noonan are both playing against ideological type, with the lefty going to strenuous lengths to defend the Pope and the conservative calling for feminist(ish) revolution in the Church.

MSW goes on to say that there is no ideology in this fight, but that doesn’t conform to my reporting. Morna Murray, who MSW cites from my article, also told me she thought people were falling into pretty standard ideological roles in response to the crisis; in fact, everyone I spoke to for the piece generally agreed with that sentiment.

But I was not trying to determine who is more outraged over the horror and tragedy of these scandals, as MSW misreads my piece. I was curious to see whether differing responses to the crisis from different factions within the Church, coming a time of great political division within the laity, would affect the political manifestation of Catholic ideas, and that’s what I wrote about.

Then there’s the whole question of the apparently very offensive subhed on the article, which I indeed did not write and would have worded somewhat differently: “The Catholic left hopes to disentangle Catholic morality from the church hierarchy.” MSW makes this into a battle of theological first principles:

The editors at Newsweek* may try and conflate the failings of Christians with the authority of the Church, but they misunderstand the source of authority in the Church. There is no ideological spin to place upon the acute fact of the empty tomb.

My first response to that is, well, obviously.  The fact of faith and the resurrection are not changed by this scandal. We don’t believe in Christ because we think the Pope is so great or so terrible.

But, my God, MSW is missing the point in such a huge and terrible way that my heart aches. The Church and its hierarchy, the Pope especially, are Christ’s representatives in the world today. Their failings certainly reflect on the Church as an institution, if not in MSW’s eyes, then in the eyes of non-Catholics around the world and, I would posit, a significant and growing bloc of the laity.  If MSW wants the Church to grow and thrive and live the Gospel, this should concern him, and greatly.

“It is our confidence in the fact that our sins are forgiven that makes us holy,” MSW writes.  Is it also this confidence that made the hierarchy so callous and unrepentant about these scandals? This is not a discussion of what makes us Christian, this is a discussion of how we live as Christians.  That, to my view, demands much firmer moral clarity about what has gone so wrong in our Church.

*There’s probably a whole other post to be written on this idea of Catholic media victimization; “The editors at Newsweek” didn’t write this article, a believing Catholic did.


One response to “Michael Sean Winters and the Mushy Middle

  1. Pingback: Remarkable* « TIM FERNHOLZ

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