Although Douthat's recent column was "a bit less arrogant, a bit less aggressive, looking for a dialogue with people like me with whom he has disagreed for a couple of years now," he said, "there's the same lack of knowledge and of curiosity for what this Pope is doing."
"He doesn't know, he doesn't read what the other people are doing. And it's deeply, deeply unfair and false to make a caricature of them as the bolshevik of Pope Francis," he said.
Douthat and Faggioli have recently clashed over response to "Building a Bridge," a book by Fr. James Martin, SJ, addressing LGBT issues in the Church. Fr. Martin was recently disinvited to address seminarians at Theological College, a seminary in Washington, DC, after outcry and protests from online groups Faggioli has called "cyber-militias."
In a September 18 essay published by La Croix, Faggioli criticized the "campaign of hatred and personal attacks" against Fr. Martin, and said that "this sort of vitriol is profoundly changing the communion of the Catholic Church."
"It signals a new kind of censorship that uses verbal violence to intimidate individual Catholics, as well as institutions within the Church," he said.
In his September 20 column, Douthat responded that "Professor Faggioli's sudden concern about online campaigns was interesting to me, because it was just a short while ago that the professor was himself busy organizing an online campaign against myself."
Douthat was referring to an October 2015 letter to the New York Times, written by Faggioli and more than 50 other academics, objecting to a column by Douthat. Among the signatories was Nicholas P. Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer who served as chairman of "Catholics for Obama," and characterized President Barack Obama as "pro-life" in 2012.
In the criticized column "The Plot to Change Catholicism," Douthat speculated that the Pope sided with the proposal of Cardinal Walter Kasper that the divorced and remarried be allowed to receive communion, without first receiving a declaration that their first marriages were invalid. Pope Francis picked synod delegates who would be sympathetic to such a position, Douthat said.
In subsequent comments on Twitter, Douthat criticized supporters of the so-called "Kasper proposal" at the synod. "If you take a view the church has consistently rejected, you don't get to whine when the 'h' word comes up," Douthat said, adding, "Own your heresy."
The response letter questioned Douthat's credibility. "Aside from the fact that Mr. Douthat has no professional qualifications for writing on the subject, the problem with his article and other recent statements is his view of Catholicism as unapologetically subject to a politically partisan narrative that has very little to do with what Catholicism really is," the letter stated.
In response to that letter, Bishop Robert Barron defended Douthat, writing at the Word on Fire website: "If a doctorate in theology were a bottom-line prerequisite, we would declare the following people unqualified to express an opinion on matters religious: Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, William F. Buckley, W.H. Auden, or to bring things more up to date, Fr. James Martin, George Weigel, and E.J. Dionne. In point of fact, it is often the case that those outside of the official academy often have the freshest and most insightful perspectives, precisely because they aren't sequestered in the echo-chamber of politically correct faculty lounge discourse."
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While no debate has been scheduled, CNA has learned that details for the possibility of a debate are being explored, and may soon be announced.
Faggioli told CNA, "As long as it's not a debate like Muhammad Ali versus George Foreman; I don't want this to become a personal thing. But I'll be happy to meet with him and discuss with him."
Douthat also affirmed his openness to a debate. "I meant what I wrote," he told CNA. "I'm happy to debate him when our schedules, as fathers of young children, will allow for it."
Douthat told CNA that serious conversation about issues is important for Catholics. In his September 20 column, he wrote, "There is no way forward save through controversy. Postpone the inquisitions; schedule arguments instead."
If Douthat and Faggioli meet for a debate, controversy may well point a way forward.