A week ago, I drew readers' attention to a bold, clear statement by Anthony Annett at Commonweal which notes the many respects in which the Republican party line has not been, even pre-Donald Trump, in line with Catholic social teaching for some time now. Annett implicates Catholic neoconservatives like George Weigel and Robert P. George, who want to challenge Trump by claiming that he undermines Catholic moral teaching — Annett implicates these Catholic neocons in Trump's rise, as he notes,
The bottom line is this: George Weigel and many of his pals on this list have been actively undermining authentic and traditional Catholic social teaching for decades now.
What I did not stress in my posting about Anthony Annett's fine statement a week ago is how quickly many Commonweal regulars jumped into the discussion-board fray to challenge Annett and his critical thesis about the Republican party and about Catholic Republican voters. In fact, the second comment in the long thread of comments (a thread largely attacking Annett and his critique of the Republican party and Catholic Republican voters) responding to Annett's statement is by Chicago deacon Jim Pauwels, who upbraids Annett for undermining "constructive engagement" among Catholics in the American public square.
In light of the recent dotCom post on styles of prophetic rhetoric in the public square and constructive engagement with opponents on controversial issues, one wonders whether the Georges would receive this post as a constructive invitation to engage in dialogue on Catholic social teaching.
I'm struck by this comment, the tenor of which is to declare some Catholic conversations off-limits in the public square by attacking them as "unconstructive." The gist of what Deacon Jim Pauwels is saying here is that some things must not be said. Things like what Anthony Annett is saying about Catholic Republican voters — e.g., that by voting Republican they are appealing "to the worst instincts in human beings, seeking to demonize the other, deport the other, bomb the other," supporting "a party that brazenly pours fuel on the flames of America’s tragic racial legacy" — simply must not be said, Deacon Jim suggests here.
They're implolitic. They're rude. They're inflammatory. They cross a line and produce an unconstructive reaction among those to whom they're said.
They shut conversation down, rather than open it up.
This Deacon Jim Pauwels is the very same Deacon Jim Pauwels who invited me several years ago, in a public statement on the Commonweal blog, to email him and engage in dialogue with him about why, in my view, gay Catholics feel conspicuously unwelcome in the Catholic church in the U.S. I've written about this invitation here in the past, noting that when I accepted and responded to Deacon Jim's invitation and sent him an email discussing the alienation of gay Catholics in the U.S., he received that email in total silence.
I never heard from him again. Not even an acknowledgment that he had received the email.
It was as if I had ceased to exist, once he issued that effusive public invitation to me, which made him look so decent and nice. As if he no longer had any obligation to treat me as a human being, after he made that public gesture and I responded to it privately, by emailing him, as he asked.
As if my words did not count at all.
As if what I had to say in response to his invitation was somehow beyond the pale and not worth hearing — not worth even acknowledging.
In light of this encounter with Deacon Jim Pauwels, I have to admit that I'm a little confused that he now wants to suggest that Anthony Annett's critical discussion of Catholic Republicans and their complicity in, say, the deep racism of American culture, will shut down constructive dialogue in the American public square.
My encounter with Deacon Jim (who is a very typical Catholic centrist of the kind who frequent the Commonweal discussion board) had led me to think that he and other Catholics like him — many of whom vote Republican — don't really want dialogue with the likes of me. Or with fellow Catholics who say what they don't want us to say, who think what they do not intend to allow us to think.
How, I wonder, are we to have those constructive conversations in the public square when some things must not be said, and when those who say them are treated as non-persons as punishment for saying the unsayable — their words received in total silence, a pretense made that they are not even in the room as their lives are parsed and dissected by Catholic moral analysis? What in the Sam Hill is constructive about this kind of "engagement"?
And why would any sane and thinking person not conclude that the name of this particular game is actually non-engagement — not engagement at all?
I find this graphic at many sites online, with no clear indicator (that I have discovered) of its origins.