The Sands of Celebrity
The scandal that has felled Deal Hudson, and the controversy over Scott Hahn’s theological novelties, are two examples of why the neo-Catholic establishment is a house built on sand.

Christopher A. Ferrara

Editor’s Note: Due to the highly sensitive nature of the following story, Christopher A. Ferrara has asked to develop and clarify points he made in the original version. It cannot be stressed enough that, where Deal Hudson is concerned, our intention is not to revel in his misfortune or commit detraction against him. However, we believe that the fall of this outspoken critic of the traditional Catholic Church cannot and must not be passed over in silence. Nor should the neo-Catholic establishment, which provided a launching pad for Mr. Hudson’s rise to prominence, be allowed to avoid its share of the blame in this latest scandal for the Novus Ordo Church in America. Mr. Ferrara’s revised version of “The Sands of Celebrity” appears below. MJM

In my series The Neo-Catholic Heresy I discussed how at the turn of the 20th century those St. Pius X described under the heading “the modernist as reformer” advocated virtually the same program of liturgical, theological and disciplinary “updating” that the more liberal of today’s neo-Catholic spokesmen laud as a great boon of Vatican II¾the Church’s long overdue advance to full spiritual maturity as she finally shed her “Tridentine shell” (to recall the phrase employed by George Sim Johnston). This kind of thinking represents an ultra neo-Catholicism that goes beyond the more conservative neo-Catholic’s comparatively passive defense of the post-conciliar novelties. In the manner of a true revolutionary, the ultra neo-Catholic openly despises the Church’s past and rejoices in its burial.

Fall of a Neo-Catholic Icon

In America, I argued, this ultra neo-Catholicism is being amalgamated with the policies of the Republican Party, especially its war policy, to produce a modern-day version of the old Americanist heresy, which I would call American Republican Catholicism. This amalgamation produces a curiously selective loyalty to the current Pope. The American Republican Catholics who applaud every novelty of John Paul II do not hesitate to reject his leadership when it comes to the Republican Party’s war policy.

In the last part of my series, which has just gone to press, I noted that the foremost exponent of American Republican Catholicism is Deal Hudson, publisher of Crisis magazine, a staunchly Republican journal that has (not coincidentally) become America’s most prominent forum for the bashing of “Tridentine Catholicism”¾that is, the traditional Roman Catholic faith as it was always practiced before the Second Vatican Council. Knowing full well that John Paul II is against the Iraq war, Hudson did his Republican duty by rejecting any Vatican interference in the carnage:

The Vatican officials making these comments [against the Iraq war] might claim that they were not meant as expressions of policy. But bishops with titles like “prefect” and “secretary of state” really don’t have private personas that allow the Catholics reading their remarks in the press to know they’re speaking without official authority… One of the most serious consequences of official criticism is the undermining of our elected leadership….[1]

In short, according to Deal Hudson Rome has no business disagreeing with Washington when Washington wants war. Hudson’s brand of Catholicism is thus no small thing. The rise of American Republican Catholicism involves matters of life and death and political power on a global scale. As I noted, Hudson had somehow managed to become the leading spokesman for his own politico-religious constituency, the man the White House went to first for advice on how to sell Mr. Bush to Catholic voters.

But all that has changed. Just as the final installment of my series was going to press, Deal Hudson suddenly and spectacularly fell from his high pedestal. The thrice-married Baptist minister convert¾the beneficiary of two Novus Ordo “annulments” since his entry into the Church in 1982¾was toppled by his own remarkably sordid past. It seems we didn’t know the half of it.

On August 19th the National Catholic Reporter broke the story of Hudson’s sexual relations with Cara Poppas, an 18-year old freshman student of his at Fordham University, where he was a professor from 1989-1994. Hudson, then age 44, was already married to his current wife when he took advantage of Poppas in his car and office on “Fat Tuesday” in 1994. According to the written account Poppas supplied to Fordham’s legal counsel (none of which Hudson has disputed), Hudson knew beforehand that Poppas was emotionally disturbed and that her unfit parents had left her a ward of the state. The details of Hudson’s conduct as recounted by Poppas are not fit for publication, although NCR published them all.

Here it is crucial to note that Hudson was sent Poppas’s account and other documentation of the incident before the story was published, and that Hudson (through an aide) declined to offer any rebuttal. Instead, Hudson tried to preempt the story the day before it ran by attacking it as “low-brow tactics” in an article on National Review’s website. Hudson’s article concedes by its silence all the claims of the Poppas account¾claims any man would be insane to leave unanswered if, in fact, they were false. Instead of addressing those claims, Hudson’s article declared: “In matters of this nature, exaggeration, half-truths, and rumor often tend to overtake the truth — and I wanted truth to get a head start.” But what is the truth, if it is not exactly what NCR reported? Hudson failed to say. What were the exaggerations, half-truths and rumors in NCR’s story? Hudson indicated none. As of this date, every detail of Poppas’s account stands unrebutted by the accused.

According to Poppas, she had gotten falling down drunk at a drinking party in a West Village restaurant to which Hudson had invited her, even though he knew Poppas was three years below the legal drinking age. (Hudson helpfully promised not to tell anyone how old she was.) During the drinking party Hudson indulged in open displays of indecent affection with two other women, all the while holding court as the center of the table talk. In short, Poppas’ account depicts a wildly libidinous egomaniac, completely unconstrained by his marriage vows. After Poppas brought a grievance against Hudson with university officials, he “surrendered his tenure at Fordham,” according to vice president for student affairs, Elizabeth Schmalz. Thus unemployable in academia, Hudson reinvented himself as a magazine editor and Beltway insider at Crisis, which he joined in 1994. In 1996 he quietly paid Poppas $30,000 to settle her suit for sexual harassment, and that is where the matter lay until the NCR exposé.

The day before the NCR story ran, Hudson resigned his position as Catholic liaison on the Republican National Committee. His days of “A-level” White House access, and his control of White House access by other Catholics, are clearly over. And it seems doubtful Hudson can remain editor of Crisis since he will no longer be able to pronounce credibly on moral issues of the day. NCR was only too happy to point out the hypocrisy of Hudson’s prior statement that it is a “lie that a person’s private conduct makes no difference to the execution of their [sic] public responsibilities.” NCR quite rightly notes the relevance of Hudson’s conduct to his “political and public mission [that] relies heavily on public moralizing, often about personal sexual ethics.”

Hudson’s defenders will no doubt piously observe that this sort of thing “could happen to anyone.” No, it couldn’t. Natural virtue alone, even simple prudence, should be enough to keep anyone in Hudson’s position from behaving as he did. It’s not as if the sexual exploitation of students by Fordham faculty members was a commonplace, even if other sins might be. (We are all sinners.) What is more, Hudson had recourse to the sacraments, whereas many Fordham professors (as this Fordham alumnus knows) are not even Christians, let alone Catholics, yet Poppas was safe from them. Hudson’s conduct went far beyond an understandable example of human weakness. This middle-aged man pursued a vulnerable teenage girl and preyed upon her sexually, warming up to the deed by consorting lasciviously with two other women in a public place. This was pathological behavior.

Now, one ought to presume that Hudson was forgiven his sins, just as all of us sinners have been forgiven time and again in the confessional. No judgment on the subjective state of Hudson’s soul is implied by my discussion of this scandal. But forgiveness of sin by God and the temporal consequences of one’s conduct are two different matters. We have all had to suffer the consequences of our sins even after leaving the confessional, and Hudson is no different from the rest of us.

Now that his history has become known, Hudson’s objective conduct - his broken vows, public lewdness and abuse of trust - were such that not even the Republican National Committee could retain him in a position where he would be required to take public stands on moral issues. All the more is Hudson’s disqualification evident when it comes to making pronouncements on Church affairs under the auspices of Catholic organizations. It is no more detraction to point this out than it was detraction to call for the impeachment of Bill Clinton once his sexual misconduct became public knowledge.

The Poppas affair aside, one must ask how a man who was widely known to have had three marriages and two annulments before his adultery with Poppas became a neo-Catholic icon in the first place. In addition to his position as editor of Crisis, Hudson has his own show on EWTN, The Church and Culture Today, and is a frequent guest on EWTN anchorman Raymond Arroyo’s talk and news show, The World Over. Hudson was also lionized on the front cover of Pat Madrid’s neo-Catholic glossy, Envoy, where he was depicted as a knight in shining armor for Catholics in America.

Was no one concerned about this man’s obvious baggage and the potential for future scandal (which has now erupted), arising from the very pattern of infidelity Hudson himself revealed in his own published memoirs? Indeed, it appears Hudson still doesn’t get it: on a recent edition of The World Over, to the horror of Mr. Arroyo, Hudson recommended The Sopranos, an X-rated TV series, to millions of Catholic viewers. Is this really someone who should be presented as a sound authority on the Church and culture?

Yet it seems that Hudson’s magnetic personality and his star value as a Washington insider were all that was needed to insure his rise to the top of the neo-Catholic establishment. In fact, EWTN is already laboring to keep its star aloft, despite the scandal. On The World Over Arroyo covered up the incident at Fordham by characterizing it as “mistakes” that were “resolved in an upright manner.” Even in today’s utterly debauched society the careers of mere politicians are justly ended by such “mistakes,” as we recently saw in the case of Jack Ryan, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Illinois.

The neo-Catholic establishment, however, will not even adhere to the moral standards of secular politics when it comes to celebrity spokesmen who purport to give us “the Eternal Word.” And while EWTN minimizes public adultery and sexual predation of teenage girls as “mistakes,” it systematically shuns traditionalists and loudly deplores the “schism” of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and other faithful Catholic refugees from the Novus Ordo regime of novelty. Simply amazing.

It must also be said that the neo-Catholic movers and shakers who lauded and promoted Hudson as a lay paladin of the Church are just as responsible for Hudson’s fall as he is. We ought to pity Deal Hudson for what has happened to him. But what of those who calculatingly raised him up so high when they should have known it was only a matter of time before this thrice-married booster of X-rated television shows came crashing down? Who did they benefit by remaining silent about the red flags Hudson was waving¾Hudson or themselves?

Another Kind of Infidelity

It was not any traditionalist publication but rather New Oxford Review (NOR) that sounded the alarm about another former Protestant minister who has become a neo-Catholic icon: Scott Hahn. In a series of articles NOR has demonstrated Mr. Hahn’s dangerous propensity for theologizing without a net. A faithful husband and a devoted family man, Hahn exhibits infidelity of a different kind¾a penchant for dallying with suspect theological novelties of his own invention that has prompted NOR to call for the burning of one of Hahn’s books.

In an article entitled “Burn Baby Burn” (September 2002), NOR skewers Hahn’s bizarre theology of the Holy Spirit as expounded in his Doubleday book First Comes Love. According to Hahn’s self-proclaimed “findings,” the Holy Spirit should be seen as “maternal,” “the uncreated principle of maternity, “bridal” and “feminine.” NOR points out that Mary was female, from which it follows that “if the Holy Spirit is female or feminine, then Jesus had two mommies, and presto ‘gay’ is good and so is ‘gay’ marriage. Dr. Hahn goes so far as to say the Holy Spirit is ‘bridal’ and that ‘Mary’s maternity is mystically one with that of… the Spirit.’ The imagery is blatantly and scandalously lesbian.”

NOR is dead right: Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost. Thus Hahn’s positing of a female or maternal operation of the Holy Ghost necessarily implies nothing short of a homosexual abomination, as NOR rightly suggests. I mean this analogically, of course, since (to anticipate the banal objection) the Godhead has no gender in the literal sense. It is just that what one says analogically of God has profound implications for all of theology: the Holy Ghost is known as He for a reason; the Church has never called the Holy Ghost She for a reason; He who brought about Mary’s conception cannot also be, with Mary, the mother of Christ. Hahn’s novelty adds nothing to Catholic theology but confusion¾with which the Church is already too much afflicted.

Mocking Hahn’s “findings,” NOR takes him up on his statement that since his “findings” are only “tentative” he would “be the first to renounce them and gratefully consign them to the flames¾and then invite you to do the same.” Tentative? In other words, original with him rather than sanctioned by the Church’s tradition? So tentative, in fact, that Hahn is ready to see his whole idea consigned to the flames? That being the case, why in heaven’s name would Hahn publish this stuff for public consumption in the first place? To what end? His amusement? Our amusement? Or does Hahn think that after 2,000 years of Church teaching his “tentative” theory just might be a new advance in theology? Is that a reasonable view for a lay theologian, trained in a Protestant seminary, to take concerning his tentative ideas, which the Church has never taught in 2000 years?

After showing that Hahn’s notion of a feminine Holy Spirit is flatly contradicted by Magisterial pronouncements which insist that the Holy Ghost is to be referred to in the liturgy as He, and thus worshipped as He, NOR concluded: “Now that Dr. Hahn knows what the Magisterium teaches, we trust he’ll order Doubleday to recall all the copies of his book from Barnes & Noble and all the other stores and, along with the copies in the warehouse, pile them up in the parking lot and burn them. What a bonfire that’ll be.” I would be happy to cover that event for The Remnant.

In another article critiquing Hahn’s theology (“Scott Hahn’s Novelties,” NOR, June 2004), NOR took Hahn to task for his theory that the Holy Trinity is a “covenant family” whose “mother” is the Holy Ghost. (See also, Dr. Monica Miller’s devastating critique of Hahn’s “maternal” Holy Ghost theory in NOR, May 2003. Miller is a friend of Hahn.) Also critiqued in the same article was Hahn’s strange speculation that Adam was threatened with death by the devil if he did not eat the forbidden fruit. Hahn speculates that the serpent in the Garden was actually a dragon or other monster with which Adam should have engaged in mortal combat to protect himself and his bride, instead of eating the forbidden fruit to save his life.

Hahn thus suggests that the original sin was not disobedience to a divine command under temptation, but rather a refusal to sacrifice his life under a death threat: “Knowing the serpent’s power, Adam was unwilling to lay down his own life for the sake of his love of God, or to save the life of his beloved. That refusal to sacrifice was Adam’s original sin.” But this sin was never mentioned by any pope, council or catechism in the history of the Church. What is more, Hahn’s theory necessarily requires that the devil was capable of killing Adam in his natural state of immortality and bringing death into the world without Adam having first sinned. When did the Church ever teach this?

Hahn’s idea makes a shambles of the Church’s constant teaching on the Fall as the penalty for disobedience to a divine command, in consequence of which - and certainly not otherwise, such as an attack by the serpent - Adam would suffer death. First of all, if Adam sinned before Eve by failing to protect her from the dragon, rather than by eating of the forbidden fruit in disobedience to the divine command after Eve did so, then the Church’s entire tradition, along with every catechism, goes out the window.

For the Church has always taught, and Catholics have always believed, that Eve was first tempted by the serpent, who persuaded her to eat of the forbidden fruit, and that Adam then sinned by doing the same, thus bringing about the Fall of Man. "From the woman came the beginning of sin, and because of her we will all die." Wisdom 2, 24. "But I fear lest, as the serpent seduced Eve by his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted and fall away..." 1 Tim. 2:14. Did we not, along with every generation before us, learn in our catechisms this invariable teaching of the Church? For example:

Did Adam and Eve obey the commandment of God?
Adam and Eve did not obey the commandment of God, but ate of the forbidden fruit.
The devil tempted Eve to eat of the fruit, and she ate; THEN she gave some to Adam, and he also ate (Gen. 3:1-13).

[“My Catholic Faith,” Louis LaRavoire Morrow, (Kenosha, WI: 1949)].

Hahn thus reverses Church teaching, claiming that Adam sinned by not protecting Eve from the serpent, and then Eve sinned. That’s certainly news to Catholics. But a more serious problem arises: If Adam sinned before Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, then his own eating of it could not have been the Original sin but only Adam’s second sin. Now, the Church has always taught that it was not Eve’s sin but rather Adam’s that caused the Fall: “Adam’s sin is the basis of the dogma of original sin…” (Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 106).

Indeed, if only Eve had sinned there would have been no Fall. Therefore, Hahn’s novelty would make the entire account of the eating of the forbidden fruit irrelevant to the Fall. This is because, as Hahn would have it, the Fall occurred before Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit (when he originally sinned by failing to combat the serpent); whereas, by everyone’s account, Eve’s sin in eating the forbidden fruit did not cause the Fall.

Under Hahn’s theory, therefore, the Fall would have occurred even if neither Eve nor Adam had eaten of the forbidden fruit, since Adam had already committed the Original Sin in failing to combat the serpent. If that is so, why does the Genesis account present the eating of the forbidden fruit as the event triggering the Fall and banishment from the Garden, rather than Adam’s supposed sin earlier on, which Genesis does not mention but which Hahn detects between the lines?

Or does Hahn contend that the Fall required two original sins by Adam: the first, when he refused to engage in mortal combat with the serpent, and the second, when he ate of the forbidden fruit in violation of the divine command, after Eve did so? But this would involve a kind of “two strikes” theory of Original Sin; the Original Sin of Adam would become the Original Sins. Here we see what happens when one endeavors to be a “creative theologian” who “finds” things in Scripture the Church has never taught before¾a hopeless mess ensues.

Hahn’s strange novelties alarm even good faith neo-Catholics who are by no means traditionalists. In an online bulletin board maintained by Catholic Answers, a poster who had read NOR’s critique complained: “I had always been vaguely troubled by his [Hahn’s] inferences because I wondered why we had never heard any of this before. Did the Church not come to any of these conclusions until Scott Hahn came along?... I am a little concerned as to whether his exegesis is in line or within the boundaries of Catholic teaching.”[2]

That’s putting it mildly.

Hahn’s response to these public concerns about his theological views is utter silence. He has yet to defend any of his “findings” against critiques by NOR and others. Instead, Hahn allows his novelties to circulate far and wide in highly profitable best sellers that are absorbed by untold numbers of gullible Catholics left theologically defenseless by the postconciliar “renewal.” Given the Church’s current condition, there is no one in authority who will correct Hahn’s errors. Indeed, nearly all of those in authority are theologically more liberal than Hahn. His novelties aside, the popular theology Hahn dispenses is far closer to authentic Catholic teaching than what the non-traditionalist Catholic will receive almost anywhere else. That is how serious our situation has become.

A House Built On Sand

Like Hudson’s magazine, Hahn’s theological franchise operation is no small thing. His books, marketed by mainstream commercial publishers, reportedly sell in the hundreds of thousands. And, like Hudson, Hahn has his own show on EWTN¾two shows, in fact. His influence has become so great that people speak of being “Hahn-verts” to the Church. [3]

But as NOR observed, “Christ wishes us to make converts not ‘Hahn-verts’.” And it was none other than Christ who warned us that “every one that heareth these my words and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.” (Matt. 7:24-27).

The neo-Catholic establishment is a house built on the shifting sands of celebrity, including the celebrity of a hugely popular Pope who will not rule his Church, but instead basks in the adulation of a profoundly disoriented laity whose plight he does not seem to understand. The Church cannot be sustained in her mission by celebrities who hunger after novelty, whether that novelty be carnal or theological. The Church does not need knights in shining armor from Washington, or books that make Hahn-verts instead of old fashioned converts, or even a Pope who is always celebrated but never feared.

None of these celebrities can provide what the Church requires in the present crisis. Only the foundation stones of traditional Roman Catholicism, put firmly back in place by a militant hierarchy from the Pope on down, will be able to support the household of the Faith against the winds and floods that now assail it. How much more damage the Church will sustain in this crisis will be determined by how much more time it takes the hierarchy to restore the foundation. The fall of Hudson and the novelties of Hahn should make that clear to every Catholic who grieves over the state of the Church today.


[1] Sed Contra, Crisis, March 1, 2003.


[3] On one website, for example, a purchaser of a Catholic home school curriculum states: “My dd [dear daughter] is the first child of mine to use your material (we are "hahnverts" from Protestantism)...” (