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Catholic Support for Robert Spencer

Fr. Rev. Deacon Robert Spencer kneels before the altar.

Fr. Rev. Deacon Robert Spencer kneeling before the altar.

Richard Bartholomew notes Rev. Deacon Spencer’s associations with radical extremist organizations some of whom have the ear of Conservative politicos in the Republican establishment.

By Richard Bartholomew (Barth’s Notes)

From a book review in the National Catholic Register:

Robert Spencer, perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country, has written a new book entitled Not Peace But a Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam (Catholic Answers, 2013). Spencer has advised the highest levels of the military on the Islamic threat to the United States, and has authored several books for the general public on the topic of Islam, including Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith.

Spencer’s Catholicism was discussed in February  (he’s a deacon in a Greek Melkite diocese). He has indeed advised “the highest levels of the military”, but so have a number of other problematic individuals. I’ve found Spencer’s polemical comments on the subject of Islam to be slapdash and blustering, rather than what one might expect from “the foremost Catholic expert on Islam” in the USA. When inaccuracies are brought to his attention, he either lashes out with accusations of support for Islamic extremism, or he quietly deletes material from his website without making corrections (see here and here). He also also of course identifies completely Pamela Geller, whose anti-Obama diatribes include birtherism.

The review of Spencer’s book is by “Opus Dei Father C. J. McCloskey”, a man described by the New Republic as “priest to Washington’s conservative establishment” and by Slate as “the Catholic church’s K Street lobbyist”. According to a Beliefnet profile,

McCloskey is credited with facilitating the conversions of such luminaries as failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, “Crossfire” co-host Robert Novak, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, conservative book publisher Alfred Regnery, economist and commentator Larry Kudlow, and one-time New York gubernatorial candidate Lewis Lehrman. Abortion doctor-turned-pro-lifer Bernard Nathanson was tutored by McCloskey, as was indicted Tyco International counsel Mark Belnick.

C. John McCloskey is also close to Rick Santorum; some sites further claim that he facilitated Newt Gingrich’s conversion, although McCloskey’s name does not appear in Gingrich’s conversion narrative.

Spencer’s book comes with a designated website, where there are other endorsements: from Scott Hahn of Franciscan University of Steubenville (“shows us how to take Islam seriously without falling into alarmism, hatred, or bigotry”), Patrick Madrid (“calm, lucid, accurate, and uncompromising”), Robert R. Reilly (“his usual clarity and insight”), and William Kilpatrick (“must reading not only for Catholics but for all Christians”).

Spencer’s publisher, Catholic Answers, was founded in 1979, originally to oppose fundamentalist anti-Catholicism.

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  • Ken Sponburg

    With all due respect, Opus Dei is not a radical organization, but a Catholic group dedicated to living the Catholic faith. I don’t call Muslims who practice their faith to be radical, neither should you call Catholics who do so radicals. Just because he has someone in Opus Dei helping him is irrelevant. There are people with all kinds of personal opinions in religious organizations. Don’t judge the organization by personal opinions.

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  • sustapha

    I am not against whatever Fr. Rev. Deacon Robert Spencer is saying about Muhammad whom he understood Islam to belong to him alone. The Catholics should however know that what is said about Islam and in particular the actions of Muhammad is false. There are equally Muslim followers of Muhammad who know his actions in the same capacity and degree known by his immediate companions. They follow his actions to the latter. There are the ones the Catholic should engage with in explaining the role of Muhammad in the world. If the Christians in Najran in 632 accepted Muhammad for any Christian to reject him today is something that must be explained by the Catholics today. We have also written books and this should be read by all. We reject all books written distorting the true meaning of Islam. To us Islam began with Adam.

  • Ilisha

    I see your point, and I suppose we could put that sort of disclaimer in every article that mentions any group. But is that really necessary?

    What part if this article implies “all Catholics”? I’m not seeing it. I suppose if you’re hypervigilant, you could take the position all articles mean the whole group unless expressly stated otherwise.

    I tend to view it the other way around. Unless there’s some evidence the article refers to the entire group, I give the author the benefit of the doubt.

    I suppose failure to preempt a question could open us up to criticism, but we’ve had many similar articles and rarely get complaints. If someone raises the issue, we’ll be happy to clarify.

    Emperor posted the article, so he can make an update if he agrees.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Fair enough on the headline.

    But, what’s the harm in an introduction that does remove ambiguity? (My original conclusion was: “I suggest that a similar disclaimer is justified for this article.”)

    I think that a clear headline and a clear initial disclaimer is an appropriate balance in this case. Having just the title that you say “might be ambiguous” leaves Loonwatch open to criticism that, well, it promoted a statement that you admit is ambiguous.

  • Ilisha

    I can honestly say if I saw an article with the tile, “Muslim Support for Antisemitism,” I wouldn’t assume it refers to all Muslims, nor would I be offended. I certainly wouldn’t accuse the writer of Islamophobia, just based on the title alone.

    I think it depends on the context and content of the article. If the article was on Jihad Watch, then I think we know what to expect. If the article made broad, sweeping generalizations, or even promoted falsehoods to demonize Muslims, then that would also be a problem.

    But it could be that is simply the title because that’s the subject, and the actual article is thoughtful and clearly not an indictment of Muslims general.

    I could also see someone asking for clarification, since the title might be ambiguous. And of course it’s important to be sensitive to generalizing and stereotyping, but we don’t want to be so limiting we can hardly have a fruitful discussion on certain topics.

    It seems to me it’s fair to talk about “Christian Zionism” or “Muslim Antisemitism,” or “Hindu Extremism,” and so forth, if that’s the actual topic of an article. I’m not sure it’s necessary to go through verbal acrobatics trying to make absolutely certain a headline is not the least bit ambiguous to anyone–there has to be a balance.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    As Ilisha points out, the title was from a cross-post. I could go for something like what Solid Snake proposes. Alternatively, I would be fine with the original title, perhaps with an asterisk, and a lead-in paragraph that points out that one should not accept the possible implication from Spencer’s publisher’s name (Catholic Answers) that he and they represent the sole or even the majority Catholic view.

    Let’s do a hypothetical. Say that Spencer publishes the following: “Contemporary Muslim Support for Reliance of the Traveler Muslims don’t believe in the American way. They believe that only people who think like them are to be liked. Here are recent quotes by Muslims supporting this book, which states the following …”

    I don’t see how Loonwatch could criticize that hypothetical title without having this article thrown back at the site as evidence of hypocrisy. Similarly, it would be hard to criticize the (clearly false) claim that Muslims could be generalized as un-American or having values counter to other places where they lived or that they respect only those who believe what they do if we were to make similar arguments about other groups: all groups may contain some people like that, but such generalizations are intellectually lazy.

    Finally, rather than reading Spencer’s Not Peace But a Sword, many Muslims, I hear, read a Jews instead during Ramadan. Much better choice! 😉

  • Solid Snake

    Still, something like:

    “Richard Bartholemew on Robert Spencers Catholic Supporters”

    Or something like that..

    I am pretty sure that LW regulars will not automatically group all Catholics as supporting Spencer but visitors and LW detractors might get confused or take advantage of the title.

    Having said that, it is an informative article.
    Its always good to know who Spencer is associated with and who is backing him up, so when Spencer does mess up badly it would be hard for them to distance themselves and play innocent.

  • Jon Diamond

    Instead of Catholic Support for Robert Spencer, what do you think it should be called.

    I would call it Some Catholic Support for Robert Spencer……Doesn’t have the same ring to it. lol

  • mindy1

    If he’s an expert on Islam, then I am a Ph.D on the topic 😉

  • Ilisha

    This is a crosspost, and the title was chosen by the orignsl author.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Interesting article title: “Catholic Support for Robert Spencer.”

    Can someone remind me how long ago it was that a commenter here was criticized for pointing out and/or focusing on the religion of people making bigoted statements about Oday Aboushi? I believe the resolution of that was essentially a clarification that the actions of some members of a religion or group should not be thought of as an indication that all members of the group feel that way. I suggest that a similar disclaimer is justified for this article.

    I do note that Spencer’s publisher is called “Catholic Answers,” so he and his publisher were the ones to introduce the idea of an implied religious basis for their views. But just because they may give the impression that they are representing a unified view held by Catholics is no reason to accept that as correct. Their actions are insulting to both Muslims and Catholics in particular, and to any reasonable person in general. We can and should be better than them.

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