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Progressive Revival

Tim Russert: Not a Catholic…

Russert--CUA.jpgWho knew?! Luckily, Hadley Arkes is here to straighten us out. In an essay at “The Catholic Thing,” Arkes bravely ventures back onto the hallowed ground surrounding Russert’s passing in June, when he first wrote (read “Tim Russert: The Story Untold”) a rather firm word of dissent from what he called “this out-of-scale display for Tim Russert,” whose central accomplishment, Arkes, said, was to undermine the church’s teaching on abortion by not stressing it firmly and publicly enough. (Russert is wearing a tie in the photo, and the pope, who is apparently still a Catholic, is wearing white.)


In a follow-up today, “Russert and Catholicism II: Every Man His Own Church,” Arkes responds to what must have been a wave of criticism for his take on the beloved newsman. He stands his ground, and says he has seen no evidence that, despite a couple of somewhat pointed exchanges with the likes of Al Gore, Russert ever asked pro-choice Catholics Dems “to explain how anyone could be justified in regarded the offspring of homo sapiens in the womb as anything less than human, given the findings of embryology and the force of principled reasoning. Were human offspring less human when they were shorter, without arms, not yet gifted with speech? And did one need justifications less compelling to destroy the lives of small humans?”


Arkes concludes:

I’m as ready as anyone else to credit Russet’s account that he considered himself a Catholic and a fan of the Bills. But the argument was, Who are you to call into question Russert’s understanding of his faith? That criticism implied that Russert’s understanding of Catholic teaching must be respected because it was his. The implication is that any of us would be free to offer our own version of Catholic teaching that fits more comfortably with the state of our own lives and moral shadings. But that could be the case only if there were no Catholic teaching with a coherence and integrity of its own. Evidently there are many Catholics who have made themselves suggestible to these notions. But the truth that has not yet broken in on them is that, as they have backed themselves into this understanding, they have backed themselves out of Catholic teaching and the logic of what it means to be Catholic. With a certain serenity, and without quite realizing it, they have ceased to be Catholic.


This kind of talk cycles back to Steve Waldman’s post about Rick Santorum’s blast that liberals are not Christians–only its easier for folks within a church or denomination to invoke their interpretation of “house rules” to kick out those they disagree with.

In this case, Arkes makes an impressive leap by declaring that simply not asserting something strongly enough can undo someone’s Catholicism. How strong is strong enough? Who judges? Arkes? The Pope? Or, more likely, the Holy Office of the RNC… 

Comments read comments(12)
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Paul, seeking wisdom

posted August 5, 2008 at 2:47 pm

The Roman Catholic Church also condemns divorce. I don’t see them jumping up and down screaming that we not elect McCain because he is divorced and has remarried.
By the way, have we ever elected a president who was divorced? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. I always felt that if a man cant be faithful to his wife and family, he cant be faithful to his country. Isn’t that the same argument against Clinton?
Tim Russert was a good man, he does not need this trash soiling his memory. And if the RCC excommunicated everybody who disagreed with doctrine, there would be very few people going to mass.

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He was baptized

posted August 5, 2008 at 2:49 pm

He was baptized and knew it and that’s it.
You fancy progressives should stop politiczing religion while hypocritically pretending to be in favour of Church-State Separation. Russert was a good man so let him rest.
In my America, every Session of Congress would begin with a prayer in favour of the Holy Vicar of Christ. Abortion and pseudo-procreation would not be allowed.
The Central Bank would be regulated so that money does not come out of the blue from groups like the mafia, hence there would be less credit issues.

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posted August 5, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Well, Paul, seeking wisdom, your answer is that there was one divorced President: Ronald Reagan.
In terms of the question on whether Russert was a Catholic, there are very few of them left, especially if following all the Churches teachings are the standard. Most would be kicked out for not following Humanae Vitae. Arkes and maybe the RNC can judge, but of course for Russert there’s only one vote that really counts as to whether he lived a good life. Let’s hope all of us can throw ourselves on the mercy of the court, including Arkes and Santorum.

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David Gibson

posted August 5, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Paul: Ronald Reagan, of “family values” fame, was divorced and remarried. I believe he was the one and only. In any case, it’s not marital fidelity, but party loyalty that determines one’s family values in these cases, it seems.
PS: Dear Baptized: It wasn’t us “fancy progressives” who are disturbing Tim Russert’s eternal rest.

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James M. Surprenant

posted August 5, 2008 at 10:13 pm

I for one am glad I don’t live in your America, baptised! 😉
a still recovering Catholic.

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gocart mozart

posted August 5, 2008 at 10:18 pm

A good Catholic does not support wars of aggression and therefore can never have voted for Bush or McCain.

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Reaganite in NYC

posted August 6, 2008 at 8:18 am

Thanks for linking to both commentaries by Hadley Arkes. Otherwise, I would not have had a chance to read what he wrote and to obtain the sense that you have mischaracterized Arkes’ meaning.
The title, “Tim Russert: Not A Catholic …” is misleading, is it not? Did Arkes say that? I think not.
Your conclusion also mischaracterized Arkes’ position: “its easier for folks within a church or denomination to invoke their interpretation of ‘house rules’ to kick out those they disagree with.” Did Arkes’ say that Russert or anyone else should be “kicked out” of the Catholic Church?
And, what is the “Holy Office of the RNC” ? Nice try at satire … but I suggest you keep your day job and leave comedy to the professionals.
Obviously, you’ve covered all these folks (Arkes, Santorum, Russert) for many years … and you know more about them than I do. However, is it accurate — or fair — to associate what Arkes is saying with Santorum’s recent statement? Honestly?

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posted August 6, 2008 at 9:26 am

What is pseudo-procreation?

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posted August 6, 2008 at 9:37 am

When is Arkes going to start recommending the excommunication of Catholics who support the death penalty, use artificial borth control, fertility treatments………….
The essense of Catholicism is not defined solely by the pro-choice isssue. There is far more to being pro-life than banning abortion.

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posted August 6, 2008 at 9:46 am

Amen! The religious right in general is about as hypocritical as they can get on this issue. 99% of the Pro-life crowd are really just “anti-abortion.” They’ll gladly pull out a pistol and kill someone attempting to break into their cars, and when a convicted killer is executed, they’ll be the ones clapping the loudest.
So the religious right is not really a Christian group, as they contradict most of Christ’s teachings; they are more of a political group that exists to propagate a narrow ideology.

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posted August 6, 2008 at 11:12 am

An unfortuatley they’ve been doing it lately with the full complacancy of the American Catholic Church.

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posted April 24, 2009 at 9:19 am

Tim Russert ,more appearance than substance

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