Washington Post's Lisa Miller Is An Idiot. Part 2.

Earlier this month I posted on the attack by Lisa Miller, the Washington Post’s egregiously stupid religion correspondent, on Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney because they had large families. Miller found large families to be vaguely threatening to her self esteem and indicative of a “smug fecundity” and not valuing women for anything other than their ability to reproduce.


Today Miller doubles down and accuses Rick Santorum of being a “cafeteria Catholic.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a cafeteria Catholic applies to Catholics who dissent from Church dogmas. These are the “smells and bells” Catholics who have some cultural attachment to the Church but find that its teachings on sodomy, birth control, etc. gives them hives and boils on their butt.

For her evidence, Miller trots out the following killer evidence.

1. Rick Santorum has supported capital punishment.

2. Rick Santorum supports torture.

3. Rick Santorum would support bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities if they are not open to inspection.

4. Rick Santorum is against illegal immigration.

Before getting down to the specifics, let’s take a moment to examine Miller’s qualifications to challenge Santorum’s Catholicism. Short answer: she has none. According to her bio, she is Jewish. Her husband is Episcoplian.

And even if her bill of indictment is correct does that make Santorum a “cafeteria Catholic?” No, it doesn’t. Surprisingly, Wikipedia picks up on the key issue.

The term is less frequently applied to those who dissent from other Catholic moral teaching on issues such as social justice, capital punishment, or just war; this is because these areas of Catholic teaching are not definitively dogmatically defined by the Magisterium, and therefore not unchanging infallible (from a Catholic standpoint) dogmata.


Of the issues Miller raises, only one is even vaguely applicable. The Church’s teaching on the death penalty is nuanced:

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

To say the least, given the ability of a prisoner to kill other prisoners and prison staff or the chance that a very dangerous person will be released to kill again. This falls well within the exercise of prudential judgment expected of every Catholic.


The others are nothingburgers.

Just because Miller calls something torture doesn’t mean that it is torture. I don’t want to revisit the whole argument on this because I support John Yoo’s definition.

Catholic Just War doctrine, again being something governed by the prudential judgment of the policy maker, would not be violated by an attack on Iran and naturally we expect the Church to speak for peace and to teach peace. Miller uses a quote from a letter by Bishop Richard Pates, representing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to Hillary Clinton:

In Catholic teaching, the use of force must always be a last resort. Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive.

Miller’s pull quote is nothing short of dishonest. The actual letter reads as follows:

“Before military options are considered, all alternatives, including effective and targeted sanctions and incentives for Iran to engage in diplomacy and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), need to be exhausted,” he added.

“In Catholic teaching, the use of force must always be a last resort. Iran’s bellicose statements, its failure to be transparent about its nuclear program and its possible acquisition of nuclear weapons are serious matters, but in themselves they do not justify military action,” Bishop Pates said.

“Discussing or promoting military options at this time is unwise and may be counterproductive. Actual or threatened military strikes are likely to strengthen the regime in power in Iran and would further marginalize those in Iran who want to abide by international norms. And, as the experience in Iraq teaches, the use of force can have many unintended consequences,” he said.

“Iran is an example of the significant threat posed to global security by a proliferation of nuclear weapons. The specific situation of Iran should be viewed within the wider search for a just and peaceful world built on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. A morally responsible nonproliferation strategy must be tied to a clear strategy for reducing and ultimately ending the reliance on nuclear weapons by any country. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty itself ties nonproliferation to eventual nuclear disarmament.”


Not only did she portray the quote without indicating that she had excised a key sentence but she presented it completely out of context. Taken in full it actually conforms to Santorum’s position.

And while it is true that the Church has an expansive view of the right or people to move from one polity to another, that view should be given grave weight by any Catholic but the ultimate decision is based, again, on the prudential judgment of the individual.

It is really a crying shame when a religion reporter at a major paper can dishonestly attack a candidate’s religious orthodoxy but that is exactly what Lisa Miller did. Either she couldn’t be bothered to learn anything at all about Catholicism or she chose to ignore Catholic teaching to attack Santorum.


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