Several leading Catholic bloggers have responded to Doug Kmiec’s criticism of “right-wing Catholic bloggers” whom he characterized as “online tormenters” who personally attacked him, distorted his position, and potentially poisoned the relationship between the Holy See and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
Kmiec, a law professor and a prominent pro-life Catholic supporter of the pro-abortion rights President-elect Obama, had written his essay “A Tangled Web: The Election & the Blogosphere” for Commonweal Magazine. In it, he assailed the “right-wing Catholic blogosphere” for its alleged coarseness and lack of civility.
“A hate-filled blogosphere,” argued Kmiec, “feeds a politics of odium, misleading people of faith and good will, diminishing and at times obliterating our ability to know one another.”
“Unless the sore losers of November 4 manage to poison the well, the Holy See and the Obama administration should be working more closely together in service to others than any administration in modern memory,” he commented.
“Sadly, neighbor-love is not what has overwhelmed my in-box since my Obama endorsement,” his Commonweal Magazine essay continued. “Instead, right-wing blogs and their readers have launched missiles of hate, delivering ad hominem invective of an astonishing vehemence and crassness.”
Brian Saint-Paul, editor of Crisis Magazine and InsideCatholic.com, was highly critical of Kmiec’s endorsement of President-elect Obama. He responded to Kmiec’s essay in a Tuesday e-mail to CNA.
“While I strongly disagreed with Dr. Kmiec's support for Barack Obama, I have also been sorry to see the personal abuse he's received from fellow Catholics as a result,” he wrote. “If those in the Church can't disagree without resorting to playground insults, we're a sad example to the rest of the world.”
“Having said that, I hope Dr. Kmiec doesn't use the immaturity of some of his critics as a reason to avoid the more legitimate concerns of others. There is a conversation that needs to take place here, and it will require thick skins all around.”
Thomas Peters, who runs the blog “American Papist,” was critical of Kmiec’s comments.
“Blog culture is not homogenous. Kmiec ought to be specific when he says he is being attacked by ‘the blogosphere.’ It's like saying ‘the press’ is attacking you, and then proceeding to only mention things said by the National Enquirer,” he told CNA in a Tuesday e-mail.
In his experience, Peters said, incivility, hate and falsehood are not serious problems on Catholic blogs. According to Peters, Kmiec's treatment by leading bloggers, was extremely well-behaved “considering the gravity and intensity of what is at stake here (once again, lest we forget - the lives of millions of unborn children).”
“I've written almost 100 articles that mention Kmiec and I would challenge him to find something I wrote that is not a fair criticism.”
Peters suggested Kmiec is engaging in misdirection.
“He has attempted to move the debate away from the original argument in question (specifically Obama's record on life issues) into the realm of the character assassination he feels he has been subjected to.”
“Kmiec constantly points out the vitriolic or silly criticisms he has received, while almost wholly ignoring the substantive disagreements that many prominent members of the pro-life movement have raised in response to his arguments. It shouldn't be surprising that he fares well when he matches himself up against this army of straw men, or in this case, these nameless, faceless ‘bloggers’.”
“When someone stops debating and begins merely describing what is happening, I tend to think he has run out of real arguments,” Peters told CNA.
“Kmiec was the face of Catholic Obama support,” Peters continued, claiming that Kmiec’s pro-Obama arguments were disseminated among Catholics by Obama supporters in “a coordinated, well-financed campaign.”
“Because of these facts, I would say his arguments were singled out for criticism, because they became the arguments for supporting Obama while desiring to be a faithful Catholic.”
Peters was dismissive of the idea that bloggers could “poison” relations between the Holy See and the Obama administration.
“I think that would be giving the blogosphere way too much pull. I think Kmiec is here preparing an escape hatch should Obama-Vatican relations sour. Such formless entities as the ‘right-wing blogosphere’ can be blamed if there is ever a break-down.
“If Kmiec trusts the Vatican so much, shouldn't he trust them to be able to pick out substance from fluff?
“There will always be shrill voices in the blogosphere, but just because they are typing doesn't mean everyone is reading or agreeing with them. The best commentary and blogs float to the top, and Kmiec prefers diving into the depths of comment boxes to find mean comments rather than engaging in a rigorous debate with the surface dwellers,” Peters charged.
Mark Shea, a Catholic apologist and commentator who blogs at “Catholic and Enjoying It!” explained his take on the situation to CNA on Tuesday, saying he was “extremely dubious” that blogging can poison relations between the Holy See and the incoming Obama administration.
He suggested that Kmiec received singular criticism because of his unique position.
“It's not like there was a huge field of one-time pro-life Catholic leaders who suddenly turned about and started making excuses for Obama's pro-abortion zeal,” Shea told CNA. “He was one of the most prominent alleged pro-life Catholic voices out there banging the drum for Obama, a man who has pledged to sign the single most destructive act of pro-abortion legislation in American history. What did he expect?”
Shea thought that Kmiec’s essay “exploits” the rough-and-tumble nature of blog culture in order to “play the hearts and flowers card.”
“Blog culture is, I will be blunt, quite nasty at times. It's characterized by a sort of frontier, libertarian streak of ‘I'll say whatever the hell I want and you can't stop me.’”
“James Joyce once described the Church as ‘Here comes everybody.’ The Internet is ‘Here comes everybody--without the guidance or protection of the Holy Spirit,’” Shea added.
“So I have little doubt that Kmiec could easily point to any number of crude, hurtful, untrue and nasty attacks on himself, his family, and even his parakeet. That's life everywhere in the blogosphere, not just among right wing Catholics,” he continued. “Things are tough all over.”
“I'm not interested in hearing Kmiec moan about how mean people from the bottom of the barrel were to him,” Shea told CNA. “I’m interested in hearing his responses to the very intelligent critiques of his position that were offered by a number of very respectable and honorable Catholics.”