Pinto Leads the Choir

Matt Pinto, founder and president of Ascension Press, the publisher of Christopher West, came to the defense of his star author the other day.  In the first sentence he resurrected Mark Shea’s “bayonet our own troops” line:

Over the past few weeks, I have watched a friend and fellow soldier in the Church get assaulted by his own troops . . .

There have been various ways in which the critique of West has been handled, but for the most part the thoughtful critiques were respectful and sedate.  In particular, I have made a point of trying to be constructive, as I said:

The problem is that sometimes the combox is too easy a place to lock and load, fire and reload. But the sword cuts both ways: I am not out to sentence and execute Chris West, so don’t suggest that a critique of his thought, even if you disagree with that critique, is an effort to, in Shea’s words, “bayonet our own troops.”

Matt Pinto, it seems, is counting on an easy dismissal of the critics based on the reputation of Christopher West.  He argues that the fruits are good, therefore, there is nothing meriting criticism.  One commenter (Which Fruits Shall We Pick?) notes the weakness of this argument:

For years, people defended the now disgraced pedophile and father of at least one illegitimate child Fr. Marcial Maciel by claiming that he couldn’t possibly have led an immoral life because “the fruits” of his work were so good. No less a Catholic intellect than the late Richard John Neuhaus made this explicit claim in an article still available at Catholic Exchange (a site Matt Pinto helped found). The article, available here bears a startling resemblance to Pinto’s current piece “By his fruits you shall know him.”

(I am not equating West to Maciel, but rather pointing out that an inadequate defense from 2002 makes a poor model for today).

It should serve as a cautionary tale to Pinto and all those who make the “fruits” argument. To them, I would caution – pardon the obvious pun – that you cannot pick your “fruits.” Are the fruits of those scandalized by West any less valid than the fruits of those who have seen benefit? How shall we weigh these obviously contradictory consequences?

Pinto, a publisher of West’s books and a colleague from West’s Institute has written an interesting response to David Schindler, but at the end of the day, I have a fundamental problem with his premise.

From the long-running discussion, and many people who have commented that West makes them uneasy, or worse, it is clear that there’s an abundant harvest here, at least some serious portion of which is not nourishing. Not all fruits are good. Perhaps those who make the fruits argument should remember Maciel, and, of course, the Garden of Eden…

In any case, Pinto completely avoids addressing any of the substantive concerns raised by the critics, apparently, in the hope of not having to, ever.  For the most part, this tactic will probably  work.  He is shooting the messengers:  “Bad critics. Nasty West haters, all of you.”

Another commenter (Where’s Waldo) asks:

Now that we have heard from West’s publisher, who is next? His literary agent? His copyright attorney? Or his Public Relations firm? Where is HIS response.

Good questions.  How will he respond to Schindler’s offer to discuss this with him over time in the pages of Communio?  I don’t think Schindler will be easily pooh-poohed by West or one of his choir boys.