Update: The Franciscan University of Steubenville has assured LifeSiteNews that Rebecca Bratten Weiss is no longer teaching at the university.
Update 2, 5:45 PM Eastern: Franciscan University's Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Daniel Kempton, sent a statement that is reproduced in full at the bottom of the article.
September 14, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – One of the greatest threats to the prolife movement in the past 40 years has been the “Seamless Garment.” It’s a strategy and a slogan aimed at dissolving prolife sentiment like a pinch of salt in a vast swimming pool of almost unrelated issues. The heart of the life issue is simple: Should the government let individuals take human lives in pursuit of their sexual freedom? That’s what abortion is. It was foisted on America by unelected judges, and dangled out of the reach of citizens and voters. So laymen rose up, with a little assistance from clergy, and chose to fight. In much the same way, 150 years ago, Christians looked at the unjust laws permitting slavery, and formed the abolitionist movement.
And today as in 1830, many chose not to fight. They were too addicted to a cozy relationship with liberal politicians, who promised to take the burden of the corporal works of mercy away from Christians—handing them over to the government and the taxpayer. So they wouldn’t do the obvious thing—and reject those politicians. Instead they developed the elaborate, tortured rationalization that we call the Seamless Garment. As Jason Jones wrote at LifeSiteNews in 2015:
Christ came to give us life more abundantly, but in Cardinal Bernardin’s time (as in ours) major Catholic politicians were serving the cause of death, claiming that they were “personally opposed” to abortion, but wished to leave its victims completely unprotected by the law. Cardinal Bernardin protected such politicians, giving them political cover with his so-called “seamless garment,” which stitched together non-negotiable demands of basic human rights — such as an end to legal abortion — with highly debatable policies for promoting the best interests of poor people and immigrants. Bernardin treated unlike, incommensurate issues as if they were all of equal weight. This allowed pro-choice politicians to cherry pick the body of Catholic social teaching — fishing out the parts from which they could profit politically — and pretend that they were faithful Catholics, or at least no more unfaithful than pro-lifers who differed with Bernardin on immigration or Medicare. Nobody’s perfect!
It’s the mission of Serviam, the new non-profit I am helping Jones to found, to expose ideological counterfeits that replace the church’s wise guidance with the shrill pursuit of utopia. Indeed, the “seamless garment” has served pro-choice politicians as a poison pill, intended to kill off the pro-life movement by loading it up with unrelated items on an unachievable, incoherent leftist wish-list.
Because the phrase “Seamless Garment” is worn out and discredited, its supporters have tried again and again to rebrand themselves. First, Robert Christian of Democrats for Life tried to steal the name of Jones’ non-profit, “Whole Life.”
Now Rebecca Bratten Weiss, a former instructor at Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS), has been trying the same trick again. Only this time, the slogan chosen is the “New Pro-Life Movement” (NPLM). I’d been shaking my head at her rhetoric for months, so I decided to do some digging. Just how genuinely prolife is this movement? What can we learn about it from the writings of its founder—who up to very recently taught at what has been one of the most faithfully Catholic universities in America? What I found wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t sincerely prolife. And it should alarm any Catholic.
Bratten Weiss co-founded the NPLM with fellow Catholic Patheos blogger, Matthew Tyson. In their manifesto, they list “10 Pillars” of the movement which they say should replace the traditional prolife movement. Only two of their ten points remotely relate to protecting innocent lives from state-sponsored violence. The rest are liberal boilerplate. Alarmingly, Bratten Weiss appears to leave a loophole for abortifacient contraceptives. NPLM condemns only the kind of act “that directly and purposefully ends the life of a child in the womb.” That’s bad, but we’re just getting started.
Joining the Leftist Resistance
In the wake of the election of Donald Trump on a solidly prolife platform, Bratten Weiss and her allies signed up for the “resistance movement.” They endorsed the Women’s March, claiming that the pro-life movement has “sold its soul to the Trump regime administration.” As Tyson wrote:
Whether this resistance wants us or not, we stand solidly against Trump, and will fight on their side.
We will fight for healthcare and education. We will fight for an end to systemic racism and xenophobia. We will fight for the rights of immigrants, minorities, homosexuals, and citizens of all religious backgrounds. We will fight against nationalism and white supremacy. We will fight to protect our environment and our workers from exploitation and corporatism….We will fight, hard, for the rights of women. We will fight for equal pay and equal justice under the law. We will fight against sexism, against rape culture, against sexual abuse, and against ‘locker room talk’.
Then he adds, almost as an afterthought: “But we will also fight for the rights of the unborn….”
The NPLM’s “10 Pillars” have multiplied exponentially, embracing every item on the radical left’s wishlist. And unborn children have fallen to the bottom of the list, after the fight against “locker room talk.”
Bratten Weiss and Tyson caricature the pro-life movement as a “one-issue approach,” which has “lost its way.” Overturning Roe v. Wade “would not be a true pro-life win,” they claim, because it would turn the decision over to the states. Now, real prolifers know how much progress we have made in state legislatures across the country even with Roe v. Wade in place, advancing carefully-crafted protections for one category of unborn American after another. Just imagine what we could achieve if that wicked and unconstitutional decision were reversed! But Bratten Weiss and Tyson want us to just shrug and surrender the legal, political fight to protect unborn children’s rights.
Similarly, they dismiss the March for Life as a “largely futile effort” which has “failed to address the issue properly.” Bratten Weiss says that she skips the March to “send the message” that “the life issue is a social justice issue.” In fact, Bratten Weiss bizarrely claims that pro-lifers have little concern for women’s needs, while “pro-choice advocates are often the ones who offer solutions for women in difficult situations.” She praised the “p*ssy-hatted” radical feminist Women’s March as more representative of a “consistent life ethic.” In fact, she wrote: “We are in solidarity with social-justice feminists across the board.”
Bratten Weiss even echoes Planned Parenthood’s pro-choice talking points, falsely warning that pro-life laws could send a woman to prison for having a miscarriage. Is this the kind of rhetoric that the pro-life movement needs? That Steubenville parents are paying for impressionable students to hear?
Bringing Radical Feminism to Steubenville
NPLM co-founder Rebecca Bratten Weiss had taught for several years at Franciscan University of Steubenville in its Department of English, despite the fact that she apparently never completed her Ph.D. How did such an outspoken radical feminist, with only a Master’s Degree, gain a platform at a traditionally faithful Catholic university? I don’t have sources at the school, so I really can’t say. I can, however, point to some interesting connections. Bratten Weiss seems to have close ties to Steubenville English Department chair Stephen E. Lewis, whose academic interest in literature of the “erotic” dovetail with hers. See Lewis’ article, “A Law without Flesh: Reading Erotic Phenomena in Le Très-Haut.” Lewis’ wife, Suzanne, also teaches in the FUS English department, and co-edits an online literary journal (called Convivium) with Bratten Weiss. The Lewises are leaders of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation in Steubenville. Together they are organizing a major CL event at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh in late September, with Bratten Weiss as a featured speaker.
In her online writing and social media musings, Bratten Weiss repeatedly echoes the claims of feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir that male and female, masculine and feminine, are not divine creations. No, they are “social constructs” infected by male domination, imposed on young people by force. In one blog post after another, Bratten Weiss demonstrates her deep resentment at having to “perform femininity,” and her contempt for the cultural icons of beauty, “feminine, modest, submissive, obedient.”
Bratten Weiss seems especially revolted by traditional concepts of modesty. Here’s what she wrote on that subject. First she complains:
I was told it was my job to keep men from sinning, that once a man saw between a woman’s legs it was all over, that we don’t even understand what happens to men when they see us. The rhetoric of modesty wove a pattern of creepy anthropology, according to which women were passively, helplessly, blossoming all over with deadly sweets for male corruption, and that men were a sort of werewolf, transformed into ravening beasts with twitching monstrous appendages, whether they wanted it or not.
Eventually I got tired of feeling creeped out and guilty, and decided modesty was a lot of bunk, just another way to control women. If I’m a weapon of mass destruction, I thought, let’s see what I can do?
When men say that some women dress provocatively, she writes, they are really just trying to control women instead of controlling themselves. “If a man feels sexual desire … this is his own act, for which he himself must take responsibility.” Even nude sun-bathers can be “modest” in Bratten Weiss’s Utopia. Somehow or other, she finds a way to make the discussion of modesty turn on partisan politics:
We often hear sermons or admonitions against scanty dress in women, but rarely do we hear admonitions against the flaunting of wealth or power. If I get called out for my spaghetti straps, why isn’t that businessman being called out for buying yet another expensive sports car? Perhaps concentrating the meaning of modesty in sexuality is a good way for those in positions of religious power to deflect their own guilt for kowtowing to the wealthy, instead of treating every single person as a member of the body of Christ. In the American church, at least, the worship of wealth is a disease – as manifested in the fact that Catholics who ought to know better are admiring Trump, instead of being embarrassed by him. Our obsession with sexual sin is certainly connected with our unwillingness to sunder ourselves from the American (heretical) dream of prosperity.
Defending Nudity, Incestuous Sex Scenes, and Graphic Violence
Bratten Weiss is apparently a big fan of Game of Thrones. That’s a widespread weakness. But not everyone twists Catholic language and concepts to defend his or her addiction to trashy TV. See Bratten Weiss make the case that there’s nothing pornographic about GoT’s lurid, often incestuous sex scenes:
Pornography by its nature dehumanizes the body and reduces it to a sex object for gratification and use. This is different from representations of the human body which elicit heightened awareness of personhood. Such representations are not always necessarily lovely. The crucifixion, a bodily image at the heart of the Catholic imagination, is proof of this….
I would suggest that for the most part the representations of sex and violence in Game of Thrones are intended to elicit this heightened awareness of humanity. Yes, much of the sex is exploitative, but this is portrayed as negative, intended to awaken a sense of justice.
Somehow graphic sex scenes depicting incest and rape are linked to Jesus’ crucifixion and serve us up a “heightened awareness of personhood.” So we can watch them with a clear conscience, as we would The Passion of the Christ.
Forcing Explicit Sex Books on Catholic Students
Bratten Weiss applied the same kind of sophistry when drafting mandatory reading assignments when she taught at Steubenville. In a blog article entitled “why controversial texts should be read in Catholic schools,” she argues that no student should be excused from reading explicit sex scenes – like the child molestor’s fantasies and actions in Nabokov’s Lolita – just because it makes them “feel uncomfortable by exposing them to realities they didn’t want to consider.” In her classes, the only way out is to disclose one has a psychological disorder, which might be “triggered” by reading sex scenes. She pretends that reading sex scenes is spiritually beneficial:
Part of the bonus of reading about sex in books is that it makes one less likely to have impure thoughts, and this makes one better able to relate to persons as persons instead of objects.
So the apparent benefit is that such books desensitize young people to sex. In fact, that might be crucial preparation for marriage. Bratten Weiss compared students who haven’t read explicit sex scenes to the “man who has never seen a woman’s ankle [and] may swoon at the sight.” She warns: “Such a man would be a very poor doctor – or missionary – or priest – or, for that matter, husband.”
Bratten Weiss has written elsewhere that lack of exposure to explicit materials makes one unfit for marriage. She opined on Facebook on March 29, 2014 (see screenshot):
One thing about contemporary culture that I appreciate: we can finally talk about sex without pretending we’re talking about something else. Though admittedly this does reduce a bit of the sneaky satisfaction of pulling a naughty euphemism. However there are a few such repressed communities still, for those of us who relish such discourse.
So is Steubenville one of those “repressed communities”? Apparently so. Bratten Weiss goes on to write:
…it SO sucks to be a lit teacher and have to worry that my college students might issue a complaint because I assigned a reading with sex in it. Makes you just hope they don’t get that MRS any time soon.
Giggling Over Perversions
In Bratten Weiss’s classes at Franciscan University of Steubenville, she spoke flippantly but positively about the tragic, sinful proclivities of transvestites. She raises the question of what kinds of dresses men should be wearing: In another Facebook post (undated—see screen shot), she wrote:
I was just discussing in class how these stupid designers have no idea how to do dresses for men. I could design some fab ones. This is just pathetic.
(Yes, we sometimes do philosophy of fashion in class.)
In her blog post “In praise of the disgusting,” Bratten Weiss makes a virtue of the sordid, the grotesque, and the vulgar. “Sometimes there is piss, shit, and vomit. Sometimes the body is torn. It’s not clean. Eating isn’t clean; digestion isn’t clean. To be human is to be disgusting.” According to Bratten Weiss, since Christ became man, he too, can be disgusting. This means there is “a sacramental hint of the Eucharist” in the body that “shits and farts and sweats and oozes and grows old and dies and is eaten…the vile is the glorious.”
I wonder where to find the “glorious” in the crass and prurient discussions in which Bratten Weiss engages on social media. See below, where she engages in a perverted exchange with sex-obsessed leftist blogger Artur Rosman — who told the world on social media that he applied to work at the FUS-based Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute in 2015. The topic? The sadistic fringe male homosexual practice known as “fisting.” (For a definition, click here — WARNING, the material is obscene.) Bratten Weiss notes that writers need to be “up on this shit.”
Bratten Weiss also enjoys posting extensively on other unnatural sexual practices. She offered “witty” commentary on a “condom cookbook,” writing: “I swear to God my immediate first thought was: that latex will NOT be a good addition to the flavor.”
Her online activity throws a stark light on Bratten Weiss’s classroom behavior and academic interests. In a recent conference panel at Notre Dame, Bratten Weiss led a discussion, “Finding the Sacred in the Profane: the Role of Vulgarity in Religious Art,” The discussion ranged from vulgarity in the Bible, to the power and earthiness of the “f-word,” to drawing Dante’s Satan on the board during class as an act of sodomy or in her words, “a gigantic anal violation.” Bratten Weiss complained that students are uncomfortable with vaginal symbols but not with phallic symbols.
At one point in the panel discussion, Bratten Weiss speaks about her artistic attraction to larvae as “gross, disgusting, pro-life stuff.” The larvae leave their “piles of green shit” among her tomatoes. She considers her “respect for larva” as a “pro-life” epiphany: “I look at them as tiny little lives and they want to live and this is what being pro-life means to me.” Keep that in mind the next time you read about the “New Pro-Life Movement.”
Until recently, Bratten Weiss was an instructor at a university reputed for its Catholic orthodoxy. Stop and think about that for a moment. Bratten Weiss is partnering with the Chair of the English Department at Franciscan University, Dr. Stephen Lewis, and his wife, Suzanne, in a three-day event, Communion and Liberation’s “Festival of Friendship” at the Pittsburgh Cathedral. This “festival” will reunite Bratten Weiss and her “Vulgarity” panelists and feminist colleagues from the Notre Dame conference, in a panel sponsored by Convivium, the online literary journal which Bratten Weiss co-edits with Suzanne Lewis, also of the FUS English department.
The keynote speaker, Jessica Mesman Griffith, recently circulated a petition on Facebook via Change.org promoting Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer gender identity for the 2020 census. Will Bratten Weiss preach to the parishioners of the Cathedral about why modesty is compatible with nudity? Why reading explicit sex scenes is crucial preparation for marriage? Why the graphic incest and rape scenes in Game of Thrones are not pornographic? Why pro-choice advocates care more about women than prolifers?
Doug Grane is Co-Founder and CEO of Serviam, www.serviamusa.org, a non-profit that defends and advocates authentic Catholic social teaching.
Statement from Dr. Daniel Kempton, Franciscan University's Vice President for Academic Affairs
Like Life Site News, Franciscan University of Steubenville wholeheartedly supports the Catholic Church’s pro-life teaching. As part of this commitment, the University expects our faculty to publicly support, and minimally to not publicly oppose, Catholic teaching. This includes the Church’s clear teaching on life issues.
Our longstanding policy is not to speak publicly about current or former employees. This policy is consistent with basic Christian charity and is integral to the law.
My decisions as to whom to recommend for adjunct appointments were made over the course of the summer prior to the current story being posted.