In the blog of the left-of-center Catholic journal National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters takes the NYT’s Frank Bruni to school over his recent priest-bashing column, in which he (Bruni) favorably quoted a dissident Irish priest complaining about the contemporary “Inquisition.”  Excerpt from the exemplary hiding:

There is no coercion whatsoever. There is a call to fidelity. It is a braver man than I who would say, “I stand against hundreds of years of tradition and the current teaching authority of the Catholic Church, expressed in its most solemn form, to insist that I am right and they are wrong.” If Fr. Flannery’s conscience compels him to say that, he is free to do so. He is not free to do so in the name of the Church. I confess I find the actions of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith often clumsy and counter-productive, but I also think that someone in the Church must be charged with the admittedly thankless task of reminding us that just because a Catholic has a thought, doesn’t mean it is a Catholic thought that has been had.

Bruni writes that “the new book by Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written extensively about Christianity and the church, says that at the start, Christianity not only didn’t have priests but opposed them. The priesthood was a subsequent tweak, and the same goes for the all-male, celibate nature of the Roman Catholic clergy and the autocratic hierarchy that this clergy inhabits, an unresponsive government whose subjects – the laity – have a limited say.” Of course, Wills earned his Pulitzer for a book about Gettysburg, not about Gelasius. But, surely Wills understands, even if Bruni does not, that doctrine develops over time. Wills wrote a fairly decent, albeit brief, biography of St. Augustine, in which he discussed how Augustine came to discern the doctrine of original sin, which was not discerned in thin air, but in the tradition, where it was not yet explicit, certainly no one had used the phrase or explained the concept, but it was there. So, why is it wrong for the Church’s understanding of the priesthood to develop but not its understanding of sin? The Church also, in Augustine’s time and for many centuries, accepted the enslavement of human beings but, mercifully, we now see that it was wrong to accept such a cruel, inhuman institution, and our moral doctrine evolved to reject it. One may object to this or that development of Christian doctrine, but not on the ground that it is a development. And, is there not something a little bit strange about all these 21st century champions of 1st century Christian practices who seem to discern in that first Christian century a society that looks completely compatible with the more found today on the Upper West Side?

Oh. Oh. Oh.

In the same blog entry, Winters praises Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, for his recent Washington Post piece explaining the role that dogma plays in animating the Church’s life and mission. that you can’t separate the work the Church does in caring for the sick and the poor from its understanding of dogma and authority. Winters writes:

After noting all the various ministries of the Church, Wuerl writes, “The Church does not do these things for money or profit or because they’re nice to do. When the Church treats the sick and the injured, or feeds the hungry, or teaches, or provides assistance to those in need, it does so as an answer to the call made by Jesus Christ. We are obligated to do these and other works of mercy and to give voice to moral truth because He asks us to.” Obligations, and being obedient to them, flows naturally, better to say supernaturally, from our belief that Christ is Risen. Otherwise, why would anyone care what Jesus taught? Here is the New Evangelization, a call to remember that the works of the Church are rooted not in any do-gooder impulse, but in a divine mandate and a divine call.

Mr. Bruni should stick with evaluating tortellini and leave the theology to Cardinal Wuerl.

Amen to that. I rather enjoyed ex-restaurant critic Bruni’s analysis of tortellini. On that subject, he knew what he was talking about.