Who 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?”
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…