Among the born again ultramontanists so much in fashion on the Catholic Left in this country since the advent of Pope Francis, is Michael Winters of the National Catholic
Fishwrap Reporter. Robert George has designated him the Wile E. Coyote of contemporary liberal Catholicism in a root and branch take down at First Things:
For reasons I cannot fathom, Michael Winters of the National Catholic Reporter seems determined to cast himself as the Wile E. Coyote of contemporary liberal Catholicism. His elaborate efforts to capture his prey—his roadrunners are those “culture warrior” bishops (such as Charles Chaput of Philadelphia) and Catholic intellectuals who are too zealous for his taste in defending the Church’s teachings on life, marriage, and sexual morality—inevitably backfire, usually comically and sometimes humiliatingly. But he intrepidly keeps at it, hoping against hope, I suppose, that his next effort will finally bring success.
Earlier this week, I was the roadrunner, as from time to time I am. I had offered four points to bear in mind about the teaching authority of the papal magisterium as we await the encyclical letter Pope Francis is preparing on our moral obligations concerning the natural environment. They were drawn from the teaching of the Church herself (in Lumen Gentium and the Catechism) about magisterial authority. But Wile E. Coyote perceived in my stating them a nefarious purpose:
Professor George . . . set[s] out a nearly pitch-perfect set of talking points for minimizing the impact of whatever it is the Holy Father will say, that is, advancing his own conservative political agenda.
And, he thinks, he can prove it!
He quotes this sentence from my post:
The pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by, for example, physicists and biologists, nor do popes claim such knowledge, insight, or authority.
Now anyone who knows anything about Catholic teaching on papal authority knows that this proposition is, not to put too fine a point on it, undeniable. If the pope wants to know whether it is going to rain tomorrow, he has no hotline to the Holy Spirit on the subject. Weather patterns are (to hew closer to the Church’s understanding of its authority) no part of the deposit of faith, complete at the death of the last Apostle, which the Pope and the bishops with him are protected from error in formally defining and clarifying over time. When it comes to meteorology, the pope has to do what you and I and everyone else must do: Consult the meteorologists.
But Wile E. Coyote nevertheless thinks he’s finally got the prey in his grip. So he goes for it.
The sentence, he labors to explain, “suffers from several difficulties. First, the pope does have knowledge that you and I do not have, and that I suspect Professor George does not have: He listens to the bishops throughout the world and knows what concerns they have regarding the environment and other matters of moral concern.”
Let’s hit the pause button for a chuckle. I had pointed out that popes have no special knowledge regarding matters of empirical fact of the sort investigated by natural scientists. Mr. Winters tries to contest the point by saying that popes “listen to the bishops throughout the world and know what concerns they have regarding the environment and other matters of moral concern.” Thus does Wile E. Coyote’s explosive go off in his hand. Continue Reading